Villages play an important part in Indian life. From the prehistoric times, the village has been an important unit of Indian social structure. Till date, majority of India’s population lives in the villages. According to the census of 2011, about 72.18% per cent of the total population lives in rural areas. There are over 6 lakh villages in the country.
Generally, a village community may be defined as a group of people living in a definite geographical area, characterised by consciousness of kind, common life styles and various intensive social interaction. The term ‘village’ refers to a small area with small population which follows agriculture not only as an occupation but also as a way of life.
Characteristics of Indian Villages:
(i) Isolation and Self-Sufficiency:
Almost till the middle of the 19th century, the villages in India were more or less self-contained, isolated and self-sufficient units. The inhabitants of the village had very little to do with the people outside. All of their essential needs were satisfied in the village itself.
(ii) Peace and Simplicity:
The atmosphere of simplicity, calmness and peace prevailing therein. In the village there is no noise and little sophistication. The humdrum activities of modern civilisation are rarely seen there. The villagers lead a simple life, eat frugally, dress simply, and live in mud-walled houses completely lacking in the trappings of modern civilisation.
The inhabitants of the village are strongly attached to old customs and traditions. Their outlook is primarily conservative and they accept changes with extreme reluctance. They love old ways and are less eager to follow the advice of zealous social reformers regarding their marriage and other customs.
They are generally poor with a very low income. They take coarse food and put on rough clothes. The pressure on land is high resulting in fragmentation of holdings and poor productivity.
(v) Illiteracy: The village people are steeped in ignorance and illiteracy. The opportunities for education are meagre in the villages. The village school is generally in a dilapidated condition. Facilities for higher education are practically nil.
(vi) Local Self-government:
The villages in ancient India enjoyed a considerable measure of autonomy or self-government. The villagers managed their own affairs through the traditional institution of Panchayat. The central government had neither the inclination nor the means for interfering with the self-government of villages.
With the advent of Britishers in India and their introduction of a highly centralised system of administration the importance of Panchayats began to decline. Their judicial powers were taken over by the British courts and the officers were appointed to look after the administrative affairs of the villages.
Since the times of Lord Ripon attempts were made to revive the old system of village local self-government, but the progress was very slow in this direction. With the attainment of freedom now fresh efforts are being made to strengthen the panchayat system and make Panchayats play a better part in the work of national reconstruction. The 73rd Amendment Act, 1993 has laid the foundation of strong and vibrant Panchayati Raj institutions in the country.
(vii) Predominance of primary relations:
A village community is often regarded as a primary group. It is characterized by the predominance of personal and as such relatively durable relations. Kinship groups play crucial roles in the context of the village community.
(viii) Joint family system:
The joint family system still forms the basic structural unit in the village community. All the members live together under the same roof, take food cooked in the common hearth, hold property together, participate in common worship and are related to each other as some particular type of kindred.
The villagers, for the most part, practice endogamy. There is either no or very little freedom on the part of both boys and girls in matters of mate selection.
(x) Agricultural economy:
Agriculture is the most common occupation in rural India. It is essentially a way of rural life as their whole mode of social life, daily routine, habits and attitudes revolve round agriculture. Some rural people depend upon non-agricultural occupations such as carpentry, pottery, basket making etc for their livelihood but these occupations are also indirectly related to the major occupation that is agriculture.
(xi) Caste System:
Caste system is a unique feature of the Indian village community. It determines the role, status, occupation and marital relationships of the village people. The caste system exercises a decisive influence on the villagers life.
(xii) Jajmani system:
Jajmani system is another peculiarity of village life in India. Under this system, members of a caste or many castes offer their services to the members of other castes. People to whom such services are offered are called, ‘Jajmans’ and those who offer their services are known as “Parjans” or “Kamins”.
The Kamins are paid in terms of crops or grains. On ritual occasions such as marriage, birth and death, the Kamins are paid extra wages. The Jajmani relation binds the families of various castes into a hereditary, permanent and multiple relationships. But now, the system is loosing it’s hold due to recent socio-economic and political changes in India.
(xiii) Simple life:
It is interesting to observe that even in the materialistic age of today, the generally accepted ideal in the village is one of simple living and high thinking. The villagers are a simple and plain people. Their life is tranquil and peaceful.
(xiv) Faith in religion:
Religion plays a paramount role in the life of the village. Religious influence is discernible in every important activity of village life like sowing, harvesting of crops, birth, marriage, illness, death etc. On all such occasions, the ruralites conduct religious ceremonies in the form of ‘Puja’, ‘Mela’ or ‘kirtan’. In this way, faith in religion is very strong in villages.
In spite of the fact that villagers are not economically sound, their life continues in a vein of satisfaction because of its very simplicity. However, it must be admitted that the aforementioned characteristics are mostly theoretical. Over the years, these characteristics have lost, partly or wholly, some of their purity because of the impact of processes of social change like industrialisation, urbanization etc.
Types of Rural Communities
Tthere are types of rural communities- (i) Agricultural Village Communities, and (ii) Industrial Village Communities.
(i) Agricultural Village Community:
Agricultural village is mainly built around agriculture even though trade may be carried on there in a small scale. Such a village is the trade and social centre for the surrounding farmers.
In most parts of the world, it is customary for farmers to live in the village, and to go out by day to cultivate their land, returning to their homes in the village centre at night. In the Indian villages, normally people build their houses near their land and live in it. The Indian farmers depend more on agriculture rather than on trade.
(ii) Industrial Village Community:
In some villages, more than the agriculture some small industries have provided means, of livelihood for a relatively bigger number of people.
The people in such industrial villages gain most of their income from small industries located there. Industries such as cutting the tree and firewood, preparing charcoal, brick-making and baking, producing stones for building houses, fishing, rolling beedies, mining, etc., may be carried on there.
The industrial village may also provide services for the surrounding farmers. But its chief economic endeavour is industry rather than farm service occupations. The nations which are undergoing the process of rapid industrialisation and the industrialised countries normally give birth to such industrial villages. Similarly, mining villages are found in some places. However, the employment potential of such villages has its own limitations.