Voices from the margins

Urban and rural social spaces in India are witnessing sea-change in their natural environment, population, infrastructure and culture. India’s development strategy with economic growth as its fulcrum catalyzes the transition of geographies into markets, places of seasonal employment and lifestyle models for rural India. This has brought with it tectonic shifts in rural life and aspirations. Dwellers in these spaces knowingly or otherwise also participate in the process. The one beneficiary of development – urban India – remain oblivious or ambivalent about its extended role in changing rural life. ‘Voices from the margins’ is an attempt to mirror a few transitioning rural lives tucked away from the glitz and glamour of the cities.

Majority of rural Indians are small farmers. They eke out a living by engaging in multiple activities – cultivating own/ leased land, working as wage labour in other farms, tending to/grazing livestock, partaking in government schemes like MGNREGS and also seasonally joining the ‘reserve army of labour’ building India’s cities. A small farmer chooses a combo of any of the above depending on the options available and health status of the family.

cocoon rearing (3)

Many among the masons, security guards, housekeepers, construction labourers and even skilled workers in the city have one leg still in their native rural – pitching in farm operations during monsoons or ploughing in some capital for farming, health care or towards festivals and ceremonies.  A more diverse livelihood basket and multiple locations of work of a typical rural family mean that even those rural populace traditionally engaged in  non-farming occupations (e.g. blacksmiths, weavers, plough makers, folk musicians etc.) find insignificant engagement in their native places. Debts incurred for high-cost low -profit farming, costly health care, money intensive rituals and ceremonies determine the degree of anguish faced by a small farm holder in rural India.

This write up resonates a sample of voices heard during our interactions with more than 200 small farmers in different parts of Karnataka during the period 2013 to 2016, while studying impacts of diverse urbanisation processes on farmers. ‘Voices from the margins’ thus brings a small subset of narratives on vulnerability from a transitioning rural Karnataka.

Following this introduction we intend to bring out stories around the axes of health and debt. The second part will be about the lives of four single women farmers. The third part will be woven around culture, customs and aspirations. It is important to remember that vulnerabilities of small holders play hand in hand with yield and price fluctuations in a weakening agro-ecology and a volatile globalized market.

Hope you like the blog and find it meaningful.

This post is contributed by Seema Purushothaman (Faculty, School of Development, Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India). Seema can be contacted at seema.purushothaman@apu.edu.in OR seema.purushothaman@gmail.com