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The Spatial Transformation of an Indian Village

What has been the transformation in your village since childhood. You would say, a lot. But, can you describe the spatial change. Living very near to it, maybe we would have missed it out. But, a foreigner notes this very closely.

Recently we had in India, Dr. Herwig Palme, Associate Professor for Spatial Research and Socio-Economic Development, Institute for Urban and Regional Studies, University of Ecnomic and Business Administration, Vienna. Dr. Palme specialises in a relatively new approach in economy which looks into the role of space in economic development.

One of the villages was “Sabanakupe” which was the more prosperous one of the three he had visited in 1986 having irrigation facilities. He had visited this village Sabanakupe in 1986, for his post-doctoral research. The village is in Mandia district of Karnataka. He said that in 1986 he had come to analyse the structure of rural population. How the farming community was socially and economically differentiated and relate it to the spatial factors.

The spatial changes he noted are:
Caste: In is last visit he had found the caste lines well demarcated and the high-caste Gowdas could not be found sitting along with the Schedule Caste farmers. This time, however, the “most impressive thing was that farmers and labourers were drinking tea together in the tea stall.”

One of the differences he noticed this time was that the higher castes were not able to exercise political control which he had seen them wielding earlier. “Mandalisation has had its impact. They are no more vote banks and can’t be bought any more, neither SCs nor Gowdas”, he said.

Economy: In 1986, there were just five handpumps, now there are 25 and the whole issue of drawing water is no more a caste issue anymore. Today a water tank has been built from which the SCs are drawing piped water, he said. The houses of SCs are much improved and the houses which they had in 1986 are now, “virtually cowsheds”.

Economic opportunities have increased. In 1986 there were six cane crushers now there are more than 30. New shops have come up, a barber has moved in and a hatchery has opened. Market integration with outside with outside world has intensified and economic choices for people have increased, so the labour is not dependent on landlords anymore. While farmers are happy, the landlords have become more enterprising. The villagers have started building a new road.

Rich/Poor gap: He had found in his research that the rich farmers who owned land, were more enterprising and had access to credit, had the highest income by any measure. However, the villages he studied also had traditional landlords who had same land like rich farmers but they were not so rich farmers but they clung to old ways. None of their children were ready to work on the farms but only supervised labourers.

Cropping: As far as spatial changes are concerned he said it is the change in the cropping pattern and moving onto sugarcane that led to greater profits and integration to the larger spatial area of city and State.

Self Confidence: “I was so stunned, I can’t tell you,” was how the Professor spoke of the “self-confidence” he noticed among marginal farmers and Scheduled Caste labourers of a village in Karnataka which he visited again after a gap of about 10 years. The introduction of television in the village had made very significant impact on their self-confidence, he said. With the coming of television the whole outside “space is invading” the village today and bringing about change in social relationships. He was very happy to notice these changes and felt that the atmosphere in the village was “very different, much freer”.

The spatial structure of a city or village determines how are the social relationships built and political and economic activities maintained, Dr. Herwig Palme. Like in central Bombay, one notices economic restructuring due to the relocation of textile mills which used to exist there. This led to the growth of financial activities, advertising, science centres and other knowledge-based activities. A whole new social structure was created. New society built up around it replacing the old occupants, artisans and retailers, he added.

The main advantage of this spatial approach is that we can better understand the relationship of economic processes, social processes and now even cultural processes. It shows how space is socially produced.

While French philosopher Henri Lefebrve gave these new concepts of spatial economy, more and more modern-day economists were taking it up now including Harvards’s Prof. Paul Krugman, he added.