The Indian Economy Blog

May 5, 2007

Dr Ambedkar on Villages

Filed under: Business — Reuben Abraham @ 5:04 pm

Responding to our Mint op-ed, a couple of readers wrote to me asking what exactly Dr Ambedkar had said about villages and life in villages. Well, Dr Ambedkar said a lot of things about villages and those who glorified it, including Mahatma Gandhi, but I did some quick digging around and found some of the most trenchant comments in Edward Luce’s excellent book, In Spite of the Gods.

“The love of the intellectual Indian for the village community is of course infinite, if not pathetic….What is a village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism?”

Anyone who reads about Dr Ambedkar at length cannot but come to the same conclusion he did, that the best way out for the rural poor in India is urbanization and consequent economic growth.


  1. Dr.Ambedhkar lived and suffered in villages in his youth on account of his caste. And hence his candid comments.
    it is a question of perception Vs reality. most of us urban bred and
    have only a romantic notion of village life tempered by bollywood
    movies and novels.

    And we adopted the Criminal Procedure Code (IPC) created by the
    much maligned Lord Macalay. until then it was arbitary justise by
    village panchayaths dominated by upper castes. and different yard sticks and punishments for different castes…

    The concepts of equality, democracy, basic rights, and independent and
    secular judicary are all from the West, for which we must be grateful..

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — May 5, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  2. and urbanisation is neither feasible nor desirable solution for the
    millions in villages. anyway the quality and standard of life in
    our villages is now far beter than in 1947. and with the spread of
    education, cable TV, and telecom, villages are no longer isolated,
    while caste hirerarches are falling due economic mobilty.
    For e.g : in a Orissa village poor Brahmins act as cooks for
    dalith functions as many daliths have gone up economically. unthinkable
    before some decades…
    still a lot of awareness and changes are needed.

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — May 5, 2007 @ 6:48 pm

  3. Exactly, Athiyaman, but the consequences of urban dwellers romanticizing villages are not felt by the urban dwellers, but by those they’re trying to romanticize. Therefore, urban dwellers should restrict themselves to watching the Bollywood movies and not try and implement policies based on an understanding of villages gleaned from Bollywood :)

    WRT to your statement about everything being imported from the west, read The Argumentative India. Amartya Sen would take strong exception to that characterization, I think.

    Comment by Reuben Abraham — May 5, 2007 @ 6:50 pm

  4. i meant the Western concepts of liberty, equality, parliamentary
    democracy, fundamental rights, etc. until then we had feudalisitc
    zamindars and inhuman suppression in the name of caste, gender and
    religion. Even this Engish is imported, otherwise there would be
    no effective communication among Indians..

    i knew about the great acheivents of Indians in various fields like
    science, astronomy, maths, medicine, etc. And our family values seem
    much prudent and condusive to happiness. i did not advocate blind aping of everything western.

    Comment by K.R.Athiyaman — May 5, 2007 @ 6:56 pm

  5. I am talking about democracy etc, not about mathematics, which is why I said do read Sen’s book.

    Comment by Reuben Abraham — May 5, 2007 @ 7:05 pm

  6. well, could it be that Gandhiji did not romantasize village *social* life (last i heard, he was greatly opposed to untouchability etc), but was arguing for small decentralized self-sufficient *economic* communities, instead of large, energy-hogging, earth-polluting, consumerist hell-holes that are cities today ? by the way, how many slum dwellers in our metros are romantisizing about urban life ? For that matter, should we romatasize the life of gadget hypnotized urban campers, who think that India is on its way to becoming a superpower, if only we could produce more junk ford cars and get that semiconductor manufacturing plant in our backyard and couple of similar other things ?

    Where is economic analysis on what it takes to “create” urban life on such a massive scale ? How much energy it would take and where would we generate that energy from ? From coal , and jack up the earths temperature by couple more degrees ? Oh, from neuclear with American help ? ( I wonder why Americans are not building neuclear plants themselves but fighting a war to get energy). How much of other resources like paper, matels, plastics etc would that take, to create the utopia for millions of villages now settled in urban paradise apartments with a plasma TV, a bike, and a refrigerator each. After all, these are necessities of life right ?

    The next time we propose something, can we base economic analysis on the ecological reality ? Oh, i forgot, they don’t teach ecological reality these days. It’s just an “externality” that we can push to future generations. Afterall, earths resources are infinite, right ?

    Comment by Madhav — May 6, 2007 @ 12:42 pm

  7. The point is that our villages are _already_ “small decentralized self-sufficient *economic* communities”. It has been this way for a thousand years.
    The problem is that this small-self-sufficient-decentralized village economic system can offer only the standard of living that our villagers enjoy today. If they want something better, like 24hr tap water or electricity or respite from the 45C summer heat, then we need to think about creating cities and more wealth.

    Comment by muttan — May 7, 2007 @ 3:49 am

  8. Not necessarily. The amount of capital that is utilised for say, provision of resources to 1 city can be utilised for provision of resources to about 50 villages. Villages cannot be self sufficient, I agree, if they want modern amenities. But does that really mean we should take the other extreme and move towards extreme urbanisation?

    Comment by Amogh — May 11, 2007 @ 12:36 am

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