Identity And The Political Economy of Agrarian Change
Geography and You|Issue 142 - 143, 2020
Despite significant changes in the agrarian structure and affirmative action in various spheres, caste-based exclusion and discrimination continue to be widely prevalent. In the rural, agrarian economy in India, both social exclusion and adverse inclusion—in terms of assets and access to markets and institutions, act as the basis of caste-based discrimination. as a result of historical biases in ownership of and access to resources, including information and institutions, both structural discrimination in asset-ownership and wealth and its manifestations in the market transactions point to the various ways unequal opportunities shape the trajectories of rural transformation in contemporary India.
Deepak K Mishra
Agrarian Crisis

Rural India is in flux. While the changing consumption patterns of rural people, increasing tele-density and the corresponding exposure to media and the closer connections of the rural youth with aspirations of the urban dwellers are routinely highlighted to argue that the dichotomous rural-urban distinctions may be inadequate to understand the changing face of rural India. The stories of rural distress and widening rural-urban disparities have also emerged as persistent features of the economic transformation. The prolonged agrarian crisis, the decline in the share and number of cultivators in the rural population, and the out-migration of labour from rural areas to the urban informal economy—are all diverse manifestations of the crisis of survival of a large section of small and marginal farmers. The neoliberal economic policies in a globalising economy, far from creating opportunities, have created a crisis of survival for a large section of the peasantry (Das 2013).

On the one hand, following the withdrawal of subsidies and state support to agriculture, the prices of inputs have gone up manifold while on the other, the increasing instability of output prices has made agriculture a risky enterprise, particularly for the small and marginal peasants. The inadequate credit support to farmers through banks and the formal sources has also led to dependence on the high-interest loans from the informal sector. The agrarian crisis is not merely limited to the crisis of productivity and profitability in certain crops; more importantly, it is a structural crisis in the countryside. However, the crisis does not affect all regions, classes and social groups in a similar manner. Marginalised sections of the rural society are likely to be disproportionately affected by the crisis of livelihoods than others. It is in this sense that the agrarian crisis needs to be understood from the standpoint of its impacts on marginalised social groups such as Dalits, adivasis, women, and children. It is important to note that the crisis also creates new opportunities for some classes and groups. From those involved in speculative investment in land to those who have tied farmers in buy-back arrangements involving interlinked transactions in seeds, pesticides, and output markets—some classes have been able to accumulate and expand their operations in specific regions. A differentiated understanding of the unfolding opportunities and constraints for different categories of households also opens up the ways through which identities in rural India is being reconfigured under neoliberal globalisation.

Identities and the Rural Economy

In the dominant theorisation of the economy in general and that of agrarian markets in particular, identities of the individuals are usually ignored or, at best, are treated as exogenous. Research on labour markets in diverse contexts, however, points to the way identities of individuals influence the market outcomes (Harriss-White 2010). Identities of individuals based on gender, race, colour, religion, language and ethnicity are considered to be essential aspects of the way markets work, both in the developing and the developed world. Usually, the influence of identities is considered to be significant in the traditional, rural societies. Modernisation processes were expected to reduce, if not completely obliterate, the stranglehold of traditions, customs, and the primordial identities of the people. In the case of India, caste, along with other markers of identities is considered to be an important determinant of social status and despite claims that the rigidities of caste structure is gradually dissolving, there is increasing evidence that point to the continuation of caste-based discrimination (Attewell and Madheswaran 2007; Thorat and Newman 2012).

Caste and the Agrarian Economy

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