Social transformation in a rural village of Gujarat

 Dr. Mithun Sikdar

Pritish Chaudhuri

Swati Das

Dr. P.R.D. Farnandez

Venkatasiva Dhanarappu

Abstract Rites and Rituals
Introduction Sanskritization
The Nana Sanja Case Political Reforms
Marriage rituals Educational Changes


    The process of social transformation is investigated in a Gujarat village. The paper highlights some of the changes in the cultural exchanges in terms of marital relations, land-labour relations and changes in ethnicity in a small rural village called Nana Sanja, situated in the Bharuch District of Gujarat.


    The discourse on rural or village transformation in fact reflects the international agenda for the development of developing nations, right from the 1950's when Community Development Programmes (CDP) were prescribed for and launched in many of the countries including India. We have been long since trying to understand the transformations in the Indian rural society. The term transformation used in social sciences is a borrowed term from the vocabulary of Physics, especially from the ‘laws of thermodynamics’. It describes replacement of one stage by another in a time span. Transformation in social context refers to substitution in the basic character of its components: social relations, goods, environment, and units of social structure. It is generally assumed that society cannot be scrapped, but it can be transformed. Transformation, in rural context, denotes successive changes in patterns conceived in rural setting, namely in its structure, function, form and character, both in positive and negative directions. The term social transformation does not mean urbanization of village or ruralization of cities. The realm covers a wider perspective. It highlights all major shifts in rural ecology and its canvas encompasses agricultural as well as non-agricultural sectors (Patil and Dhere, 2012). M.N. Srinivas, India’s most celebrated sociologist as well as social anthropologist, for example, identified three core processes of social change - westernization, modernization, and secularization-through which social scientists sought to make sense of the changing Indian society (Srinivas, 1966). To see these fundamental processes of change in rural scenario the present team of workers has conducted a small survey in a rural village of Bharuch, Gujarat named Nana Sanja in the month of January 2014. The present write-up is the outcome of in-depth interviews as well as survey in terms of evaluating the social change in some particular issues in this rural setup.

The Nana Sanja Case

    The village Nana Sanja is found to have a distinct bio-cultural essence. A medium sized village inhabited by multi-ethnic populations of 1235 heads comprising 648 males and 587 females. It has 8 different ethnic communities like Vasava Bhil, Rajput, Machhi, Ahir, Brahmin, Koli, Valand and Scheduled Caste populations which includes Khalpa and Rohit. Numerically the Vasava Bhil population dominates the scenario with 55.47% of total population but at the same time they are more backward than the rest of the communities in terms of economic condition. Culturally, various castes and communities with their biological basis of differences co-exist to shape and sustain this particular eco-cultural zone. There are various first order divisions of populations found to inhabit in Nana Sanja. As per Shah and Desai (1988) there are various first order divisions found to inhabit in Gujarat. There are about three hundred first order divisions found in this region as a whole. Usually these divisions were distinguished from one another by prohibition of what people called roti vyavahar (food transactions) as well as beti vyavahar (marital transactions). This account of the divisions is based on various sources, but mainly on Kavi (1851) and Bombay Gazetteer (1901). The first order divisions in Nana Sanja include Brahmin, Rajput, Koli-Patel, Machi-Patel, Valand etc. But the largest first order division in Gujarat i.e. Koli seems to be disintegrating in this village due to their outflow to the nearby towns in search of white-collar jobs. Interestingly all these first order divisions are still maintaining the prohibition of what scholars called as roti vyavahar (food transactions) and betivyavahar (marital transactions) to maintain a clear caste hierarchy in this modern village. It is also interesting to see that the Macchi community (who claimed to be Macchi-patel in Nana Sanja) has developed into several second order divisions on the basis of conglomeration of villages in nearby areas. In fifteen of such villages, with regard to betivyvahar, the exogamy is found to be strictly restricted, whereas there are twenty-six to twenty-eight villages which are endogamous units. On Koli population, existing reports suggest the existence of two kinds of Koli areas. In one there is no immigrant Kolis from elsewhere and there is no question of second order division. In the second kind, indigenous Kolis live side by side with the immigrant ones. But in Nana Sanja these types of offshoot of Kolis are hardly recognisable. As a matter of fact Kolis of Nana Sanja don’t have any second order division and they claim themselves as only Koli. Along with the socio-economic development and temporal up-gradation of different first order castes in Gujarat, some of them are found to have transformed their group identity in Nana Sanja. In fact one kind of new identity formation is found as taking place among the Macchi as well as Kolis of Nana Sanja; the addition of the suffix ‘patel’ to their community name. In fact among the Macchis it has gone beyond and legalized the same. Change in the traditional surname is also observed among the Kolis (includes patel) and Khalpas (the Scheduled Class community in Nana Sanja which includes Gowel and Chouhan). Patel is the term used to refer to the village headman and adding to traditional surname such nomenclature, in due course of time, seems to enhance the group status and this we feel has permeated in everyone’s mind belonging to Macchi and Koli families.

    All the first order divisions in Nana Sanja don’t intermarry or inter-dine among themselves. But a different picture has been described by Shah and Desai (1988) in terms of Koli and Rajput families. As per them, from 15th century onwards one finds historical references to political activities of Koli Chieftains. They were described by the ruling elite as robbers, dacoits, marauders, predators and the like. By the beginning of British rule in the early 19th century, a considerable number of these chieftains had succeeded in establishing petty chiefdoms, each composed of one, and occasionally more than one village, in all parts of Gujarat. They adopted Rajput customs and traditions, claimed Rajput status, gave daughters in marriage to Rajputs in the lower rungs of Rajput hierarchy. They also continued to have marital relations with their own folk. Thus, it was argued that finding any boundary between Rajputs and Kolis in the horizontal context was impossible, although there were sharp boundaries between the two in the narrow local context. But in Nana Sanja both the communities in fact don’t live side by side. Kolis live in Gumandeo falia, a distant hamlet, which is quite separated from the mainland Nana Sanja where the Rajputs used to reside.

Figure 1: Nana Sanja village


    Shah and Desai (1988) found the existence of three tier caste categories in Gujarat forming an intricate relationship in the villages. These three are primarily urban, primarily rural and rural-cum-urban. The primarily urban castes linked one town with another, the primarily rural linked one village with another and the rural-cum-urban linked towns with villages in addition to linking both among themselves. We have found the primarily rural as well as rural-cum-urban caste systems in Nana Sanja that played an important role in the Nana Sanja traditional social structure in the process of change towards modernity.

Marriage rituals

    The institution of both bride price and dowry are found to be rampant in the first order divisions of Nana Sanja. The first order divisions are further divided into two or more second order divisions. Usually the second order divisions are distinguished from one another by prohibition of marital transactions but freedom of food transactions (Shah and Desai, 1988). Dowry is found in the upper level of social stratum and bride price in the lower stratum like Bhil. One clear visible change in Nana Sanja is the existence of inter-divisional or rather inter-caste marriages. However the degree of contravention in such marriage depends upon the order to which the couple belong. We have noticed an accepted hypergamy between a Brahmin groom and Bhil bride. Hypergamy is an opportunity for modernisation and Nana Sanja is not short of it. In Nana Sanja, on the lines of caste divisions, caste associations are formed. Among first order divisions with subdivisions going downwards there are associations for divisions in the lower order also. For example there is association of fifteen gaon Macchi Patel samaj instrumental for the overall development of those fifteen villages and these associations are found to be uni-purpose as well as multipurpose. The patterns of change observed in the marriage systems as well as in the caste associations indicate the growing significance of the caste differences in Nana Sanja. But at the same time there is a gradual decline in the strength in the principles of hierarchy, particularly the ritual hierarchy expressed in purity and pollution. The concern for observance of rules of food transaction has also declined to some extent in such a rural set up. We were fortunate to be a part of a Bhil marriage where irrespective of all the first order divisions all the villagers took part in a public feast. It seems that though the concepts of pakka food and kaccha food are known to the villagers, they have become indistinguishable in all practical considerations. It may be mentioned that food cooked in ghee or milk is considered as pakka food, which can be taken from lower order divisions. Kaccha food on the other hand is the food cooked with water and it may be accepted normally from the same or superior caste divisions. This traditional norm though is no more followed, yet during the marriage feast among the Bhil it was found that a cook from higher caste was engaged.


    Inter-caste relations at the village level generally constitute vertical ties and can be classified into political, economic, ritual and civic ties. The castes in village level are generally governed by economic ties. In Nana Sanja, the majority of peasant castes like Rajput as well as Macchi community take the help from Bhil community in their agricultural field but like the situation in other parts of Indian villages this relationship is no where related to jajmani system found to have in the North, barabalute in Maharastra, mirasi in Madras and adade in Mysore. This type of relationship has become totally monetized, and the village Nana Sanja nowhere shows resemblance with the traditional rural subsistence economy. In fact in 1961, the village was selected by the census of India as a representative of villages, which are famous for cash crop production. That time it was only cotton representing the primary cash crop of the village but now Banana production has also become increasingly popular among the peasants and with the introduction of drip irrigation system they are getting much profit out of it. There are a number of individuals who are involved in nearby industries like glass production, paper mill etc. which give the members of the lower divisions free autonomy to sustain their livelihood. But in Nana Sanja there exists a high degree of congruence between caste and agricultural hierarchy, and this stratification always went deep as economic stratification strengthened rituals and vice versa. This enabled the landowners, as much as they can, to exploit the tenants as well as the agricultural labours. Even in some instances it is found that the tenants as well as labourers are not getting legalised monetary benefit from their landlords.

Rites and Rituals

    Ceremonies like life cycle ritual, festival etc require the cooperation from several castes. Life cycle rituals are in fact more rigid and elaborate among the ‘twice-born’. But with the modernisation these practices have been abandoned. For instance, deliveries are presently taking place in hospitals and therefore the association of different castes in the birth ritual has become redundant. Earlier when an Ahir child was born a schedule caste woman used to help mother in delivery, a Brahmin used to cast the newborn’s horoscope, a village barber acted as a messenger and served food during feast. But this type of social network has disappeared from the scene. Even in a Bhil marriage we found the arrangement of modernised buffet system for the feast. The traditional system of medical care during pregnancy as well as childcare has also been replaced by modern practices. During our visit to Nana Sanja, only a single traditional medicine man was available but it was learnt that people hardly visited him. With the disappearance of traditional medical practices the entire social milieu associated with it has also disappeared from the landscape. The care from the members of the joint family system during pregnancy is no more needed now and this eventually shrivelled the mutual bond between the members of joint families. The nuclearisation of families in due course of time is the result of such bio-social developmental measures.

    Another important instance came to our notice regarding the temple organisation of Ahir community. Temple organisation itself requires several castes to come together. In Nana Sanja, the Ahir worship different deities according to their clan affiliation. In Nana Sanja the dominance of Chanduka clan among the Ahirs was instrumental for the development of Khoriar Mata temple but one may be amazed to notice that they hardly take the help of any Brahmin to worship in the temple. Only Ahirs are allowed to enter and worship the deity. It needs to be pondered over if such custom pursued by Ahirs is to keep their ritual rites confined to their caste only or to exclude the involvement of priests belonging to higher caste. The matter should be judged on the basis of change and continuity of this particular social system.

Land Relation

    The agrarian question’ had become an important point of contention even before India’s independence from colonial rule. Two competing views emerged on the subject. The first view was that of the ‘institutionalists’, who argued that the way out for the Indian agriculture lay in a radical reorganization of land ownership patterns that would not only democratize the village and revive the independent ‘peasant economy’ but would also increase the productivity of land. Thus the slogan, ‘land to the tiller’ (Thorner, 1956; Herring, 1983). They also argued that smaller sized holdings gave higher productivity (Herring, 1983). The second viewpoint argued against the redistribution of land on the grounds that it was both unviable, as not enough land was available for everyone, and that it worked against the logic of ‘economics’. Modernization of agriculture, they argued, required a reorientation of the landlords. They needed to be motivated to cultivate their own land with wage labour and by using modern technology. Land reforms, according to them, would only divide the land into ‘unviable holdings’, making them too small for the use of modern technology (Bauer and Yamey, 1957; Lewis 1963). However, the process of agrarian reforms is inherently a political question (Ghose, 1984) and not a purely technical or economic one. The Indian State chose to reorganize the agrarian relations through redistribution of land, but not in a comprehensive and radical manner. Joshi described it as ‘sectoral or sectional reforms’ (Joshi, 1987). The government of India directed state governments to pass legislations that would abolish intermediary tenures, regulate rent and tenancy rights, confer ownership rights on tenants, impose ceilings on holdings, distribute the surplus land among the rural poor, and facilitate consolidation of holdings.

    Even Bhardwaj (1974), Bhaduri (1984) and several other economists also pointed to the undemocratic nature of prevailing economic structures, which were directly responsible for perpetual stagnation of Indian agriculture. The real producers – the peasants and labourers – not only did not possess ownership rights over the lands they cultivated, they were also tied to the local landlords. Their indebtedness made them to participate involuntarily in markets that were almost completely controlled and manipulated by these dominant landlord-moneylenders. Such “inter-locking” of land, labour and product markets produced a stagnant agriculture and an authoritarian power structure. It has been suggested that no viable democratic institutions could work in such semi-feudal social relations of production.

    In Nana Sanja no such agreement has been noticed. In terms of land relation the population in Nana Sanja village spread over different hamlets as landholders and labourers. This is also characterised by hierarchy, with relatively advanced population living in the plains at one end and the backward communities living along with the tribal population in the highlands at the other end. This hierarchy can be noticed in terms of the possession of land. The most fertile land called Ethana is mainly held by the Rajputs whereas the second level called Berai Baga is retained by the Macchi Patel community. The remaining Kali Bhoi, which is more or less barren in nature, is hired by the Vasava Bhil community. Banana, wheat, and vegetables are the main crops that are cultivated in Ethana whereas sugarcane, cotton, little amount of banana and vegetables are grown in Berai Baga. It can be mentioned that the Rajputs as well as Macchi community have adopted the modern technology of drip irrigation system in their land. The Vasava Bhils mainly cultivate vegetables in the Kali Bhoi land and most of the time they offer the labour force to the Rajput and Macchi communities. At this point of time it is difficult to conclude whether such hierarchical practise in economy is suitable for social transformation towards development.


    The process of sanskritization is easily recognisable in the village as some of the Vasava Bhil family had adopted the Kabirpanthi sect as their way of life. In fact the hamlet where they use to reside came to be known as Bhagat falia in due course of time. Bhagat movement had started the process of sanskritization among certain sections of the tribes of Middle as well as Western India and it also entered into this part of India. The Bhagat word has derived its name from traditional healers. It was around the first decade of Twelfth century that Bhagat movement swept though the tribal belt of Gujarat under the leadership of Govind Giri. The Bhagat sects constitute, in many ways, today, the most sanskritized groups among the tribal communities, which have oriented and moulded their ‘style of life’ after the Brahminical model. The rite of passage, the Gods and Goddesses, the festivals and rituals and above all the general style of life of the members of the Vasava Bhil families have moulded in terms of the higher form of Hinduism. Sanskritization in terms of Bhagat movement, however, is a recent phenomenon in this village, and new horizontal segmentation is found to have been generated within the Vasava Bhil community. Those who accepted the sect tended to sustain structural tension especially in marriage and kinship sectors until a sect attained endogamous status. Culturally the sectarians underwent changes in food, prayers and rites. Here also complete, partial or incomplete cultural adoption can be seen. Sometimes some members of a household have become a member of Bhagat movement and their puritanical behaviour, separation and exclusivist have to be endured by other members of the family that sometimes leads to tension in the family.

Political Reforms

    In terms of political reforms the existence of the concept of Dominant caste (by Prof. Srinivas) or dominant community (by Prof. Roy Barman) can be visualized still in this village situation. Though with the modification of village political system a Vasava Bhil man exercises the position of village head man , it is the Macchi dominion under whose banner all the political powers are still delegated.. The political system of the Bhil has changed a lot as their traditional political system has not been in practise in recent years.

Educational Changes

    Educational changes are quite prominent in the village and have encompassed all the sections of the society. The educational status of all the sections of the society has risen as revealed by the last census reports. Introduction of biometric measures in the tribal school situated within the village demonstrates an exceptional trend to overcome the wide gap in tribal education. Numbers of developmental measures have come up during the last few decades, which not only include measures for education but also for health as well as occupation. As a result the marginalised sections of the village have got more opportunity to cope with their existential disadvantages. We are hopeful that in due course of time different government measures will definitely pave the way to enhance the overall status of different population groups in terms of education, health, food security etc.


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