April 5, 2008
As one visits his native village in Konkan either from Mumbai or any other city in India or abroad, he cannot escape the impact of the economic development and material progress across the region, the most beautiful land with green hills and valleys, paddy fields, rivers lined with coconut plantations and houses with tiled roofs intermixed with aesthetically constructed terraced bungalows. In this changing face of Konkan villages during the last two decades the economic liberalization and globalization have played an important role.
The decades following the independence of India, people in rural Konkan had to depend heavily on agriculture for food and other economic needs. Joint family system was the normal social structure. On an average each family had half a dozen children. Some of them went to school and after obtaining the necessary rudimentary education went in search of jobs chiefly to Mumbai or other cities in India or even to Gulf countries, while others carried on the traditional family occupation in agriculture.
Those who did not own agricultural land earned their livelihood by working for the agriculturists. While the farmers grew rice, vegetables and pulses, they used to get some money sent by their siblings or children for consumer items such as cloth. As the farmers usually cultivated the land belonging to the landlords or Maths or temples on fixed amount of rent, they had to work hard and produce two or more crops to pay the stipulated rent and also to sustain large families and cattle.
The above arrangement continued till about 1970s. Gradually, the joint families began to break up. Division of family land among the brothers and sisters led to the fragmentation of holdings which became uneconomical. Lack of employment opportunities in the Konkan led to the migration of many of the educated youth to the cities like Mumbai and they gradually settled down with their families in those cities as they offered better opportunities for their children in terms of education and employment.
With the improvement in transport and communication and the establishment of institutions of higher and professional education at district, taluk and other centers, the youth from the surrounding villages began to acquire better education. As the youngsters with higher or professional degrees were unable to get employment commensurate with their educational qualification locally, they had no other alternative but to migrate to cities such as Mumbai or Bangalore or Gulf countries or even to Europe and the United States.
The wealth earned by those who had been working in Mumbai or Gulf countries in 1960s and 1970s was pumped back into the villages. The old hey and grass roof houses gradually made way for larger houses with tiled roofs and a few could also construct terraced bungalows.
During the past decade the tile roofed houses have been gradually converted into concrete bungalows. With better earning facilities abroad, a number of people began to invest money in plots of land and construction of new houses. The hills were levelled and forest land was cleared to make way for the construction of architecturally beautiful bungalows with all modern amenities.
While travelling from Udupi to Belman during my recent visit, I was amazed to see such exquisite concrete bungalows at regular intervals with colourful exteriors and beautiful compounds, with solar heaters and dish antennas fitted on the terraces on both sides of the road. Nearly seventy-five per cent of the households in some of the Konkan villages own either a four-wheeler or a two-wheeler and in some households both.
While this material progress is welcome, the sorry state of affairs is that in most of these palatial houses, the inhabitants are either elderly parents or young women with their school-going children who are exposed to great security risk as their sons or husbands respectively are abroad working to sustain these huge houses and maintain their standard of living. Some of the retired people have come back to live in the dream bungalows that they had so laboriously constructed way back, but their children are not with them as they have to earn their living in the cities or abroad.
The age composition of the villagers is such that on an average out of every five persons three are senior citizens. The number of children in some villages has gone down drastically in recent years. For example, in the Church-Aided Higher Primary School of Moodubelle, there were around 1200 children and 26 teachers in mid-1980s. The downward trend that had started from that decade has at present reached the level of around 400 students and 7 teachers.
Among the reasons cited for this sorry state of affairs are: Family planning - restricting children per family to one or two; migration of youth to cities and abroad; upgradation of neighbouring primary schools to higher primary schools and craze of parents to provide English medium education to their children, which is understandable in this globalized era.
Another tangible change that is greatly welcome is the increase in the mobility of the people. The Konkan region has one of the best transport systems. Besides personal transport, public transport through private buses connecting remote villages to the towns and cities is quite amazing. Besides these, private taxis and rickshaws are readily available for any emergency purpose for a price. Rarely people walk even for a shorter distance (of course this is not a good sign!).
The changing face of the Konkan village is nowhere more pronounced than the attitude of the owners of the agricultural land towards this ‘noble profession’ of cultivation. Many of those who own agricultural land no longer depend on it for their sustenance. Some of them have converted part of their land as coconut, areca or cashew plantations. Some of them have even left their fertile land fallow for lack of labour force. Buffaloes that were the pride of the agriculturists once upon a time have practically vanished from the stables. The human voice enticing the buffaloes to pull the plough has been replaced by the monotonous noise of the tillers.
Those who wish to cultivate their land as a tradition do so by hiring tillers at the rate of Rs 180 per hour. Women labourers for transplantation, harvesting and threshing are very difficult to find. Those available local women labourers are paid Rs 70 per head per day. During the peak season of transplantation and harvesting, as the local labour is hard to find many agriculturists have to depend on the inexperienced immigrant labourers from the districts of northern Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala or Andhra Pradesh whom they pay Rs 125 per head for women and as much as Rs 150-175 for men. Besides these wages, they are also served with breakfast, lunch and tea. Moreover, their working hours are limited from 10 am to 5 pm.
Due to these above factors owners of the agricultural land lament that their input in agriculture far exceeds the output. Thus, they are of the opinion that it makes sense to purchase food grains from open market than cultivating them. As such they prefer to keep their land uncultivated. Even those young women who have dropped out of school, prefer to work in cashew nut factories or wrapping beedis or working as saleswomen or any other form of work rather than ‘slogging’ in paddy fields in wet mud, sun or rain. Thus, the women labourers who can be mustered with great difficulty are usually more than fifty years of age.
Along with the material and social changes, one can clearly notice in general the psychological change that has set in these villages. People in general have become self-centered and isolated. The dictum, “Everyone for himself and God for all” seems to be working well in these affluent villages. People rarely interact with their neighbours. The old cooperative spirit of the traditional village with the noble feeling of “one for all and all for one” has practically disappeared.
The rivers which had been a source of water for irrigation were also regularly used by the people from nearby areas to wash their clothes, take bath and wash their animals. These rivers also provided an opportunity for the children to learn swimming and play water sports and go for fishing. However, the rivers no longer serve the above purposes except as a source of water. The approaches to river spots have been blocked by wild growth and the water has become stagnant.
Similarly, the open spaces in the villages where the youth and children used to play various field games such as cricket and other village team games have become private property with fences and some of them being converted into coconut and mango plantations. Now there are neither open spaces nor children sufficient to play any kind of field game.
In spite of these changes one peculiar thing that came to my notice is that the village centers, also known as ‘Peths’ have not changed much from what they had been in 1950’s or 1960’s. Most of the old structures are still standing with varieties of petty shops. Weekly markets are still on, but with limited scope as consumer items are readily available in shops on all the days of the week. Peths like Udyavar, Katapadi, Shirva, Belman, Karkala, Moodubelle, and even other places have the same ambience as they had many years ago. However, the tall and sturdy signal towers of cellphones in the background of these old structures proclaime the changing face of a Konkan village.
(The above observations are not related to any particular village, but a broad overview-Dr Eugene)
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