Emergence of Rural Sociology in India

 (Context: Indian Sociology)

    Rural sociology is studying social structures, institutions, social arrangements and economic activities in non-metropolitan areas and their urban surroundings for a comparative study. PC Deb defines rural sociology as a 'branch of sociology which studies relationships of human beings living in villages of rural areas. Rural sociology, or the science of the laws of development of agrarian society in general, has come into being only in recent times. The essential task of rural sociology is to discover the laws of evolution to rural community..... The prime objective of the rural sociology is to make scientific, systematic and comprehensive study of the rural social organisation, of its structure, function, and objective tendencies of development and on the basis of such studies to discover the laws of its development.[1] The emergence of rural sociology can be traced back to the later phase of the Industrial Revolution when the urban-rural divide began to appear. The intelligentsia started to raise the question about the difference in life chances of rural people vis-a-vis urban people.


    The first valuable work in this field of study is the report of the 'Country Life Commission' appointed by US President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907. The first college textbook on the subject matter is possibly "Rural Sociology", 1916, authored by Prof. John M. Gillette. Subsequently, the foundation of the "Rural Sociological Society of America" in 1937 was a landmark in the growth of this subject. 


    In India, though ancient and modern texts were a comprehensive study of rural society, for India was an agricultural economy, in post industrialisation period, first among all were the studies by Sir Henry S. Maine, who authored two noteworthy books, namely, Ancient Law (1861) and Ancient Society (1871). His work is, as per Dumont, alleged to be euro-centric biased in cognition and value terms. Efficient taxation system, land tenure and recurring famine were a primary reason for rural studies in the British era. The work by Royal Commission on Agriculture was remarkable. 


    Though there have been numerous rural studies by British administrators, systematic growth of rural sociological studies in India started in the post-1947 era, especially after the introduction of the Community Development Program. 


    The scope of this subject, initially, was aboriginals when it was dominated by British anthropologists. It later changed to the study of hilly areas and forest dwellers. Soon after the independence, a marked shift in the study of rural life was seen. The need to devise a constitutional agenda for the development of villages, supposedly through the framework of local governance, was realised. The genesis of five-year plans in India and consequently the Community Development Program in 1952 made the development of the country synonymous with the development of villages. Accordingly, there came a flood of village studies. 


    Pushed by institutional funding, emerged significant works such as AR Desai, SC Dube, G Shah, SK Dey, DN Dhanagare, AL Bertrand and MN Srinivas.


    There are many factors that transformed rural life and made its study significant. First, class formation and power transformation which was a result of green revolution, abolition of zamindari , land reorganisation and emergence of political leaders with rural background. Second, the impacts of the Panchayati raj system wherein the reservation of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and women helped in the break-up of social dynamics, and the contradictions affected the rural structure. Third, the poverty alleviation programs whose success depended on the understanding of the rural structure and target population. Fourth, changing ecosystem and environmental problems necessitated the study of land degradation, methods of farming irrigation methods and rising disequilibrium in the ecosystem. Lastly, the constitutional obligations, especially under the directive principles.