Economic transition in rural India has been well documented in a number of studies since the early nineteenth century. Yet, long term accounts of villages covering recent mutations in education and amenities, emigration and ‘subsidiarisation’ of farming (against rising non-farm incomes as well as employment) remain scant. As a small filler in the terrain, this paper analyses the scale and limits of economic transition visible in a village called Dhantala (in Meerut district of western Uttar Pradesh) over the past eight decades, for which oral evidence could be tapped through focus group discussions with elders in the field. Apart from the approximate recollections of elders regarding wage rates, yields and prices etc. prevailing locally, since 1930s, the study charts the economic history of Dhantala more definitively from 1989 when the speaker first studied the site with the help of focus group discussions, interviews and some life sketches and followed up with extended visits in 2006 and 2012 again. Comparing the evidence from these revisits, the paper examines the impact of successive policy shifts and innovations in various sectors of the local economy from c. 1930. In what ways did colonial ‘peace’, the introduction of trains and tubewells, land reforms, the green and white revolutions, economic liberalization and measures for ‘inclusive growth’ etc. impact the farm and non-farm sectors in Dhantala ? What are the principal constraints on rapid economic growth in our agrarian economy and which theoretical perspectives help us most in explaining the bottlenecks, limited spurts and continuing underemployment and low productivity in one of our most fertile and best irrigated tracts today? In order to reflect on these and related issues, the study compares the economic trends noted in Dhantala with those discerned in other village studies in the region and also in national economic data, over the same period, before highlighting the peculiarities in Dhantala’s transition (following the distribution of agricultural plots to the landless here, in 1982). The paper concludes with some pointers for future research and policy implications emanating from Dhantala’s economic trajectory and its location in the national economy.
Dr. Devesh Vijay is Associate Professor in the department of history at Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi. Presently he is Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Dr. Vijay has written in Hindi and English on underdevelopment, ideology and history. His writings include: Writing Politics: Left Discourses in Contemporary India; Sanskritik Itihaas: Ek Tulnatmak Sarvekshan (a comparison of European, Chinese and Indian cultural traditions) and ‘Culture and Migration: Reflections from a Delhi Slum’, Urban India, Vol. XXVII. Presently he is engaged in a long term comparative study of the poor in a slum and a village, near Delhi, focusing on various facets and bases of ‘underdevelopment’ in the concerned sites.