by: Dr. Jaspal Singh

South Asia Post: Issue 29 Vol II, December 15, 2006

THE physical environs of most of the villages in Punjab are changing fast. The peasant proprietor living within the thirty kilometer radius of big town thinks only in terms of millions no less. The steep rise in land prices has opened up new vistas with a number of possibilities of sorts. The most immediate impact of these unearned millions is that even a marginal farmer is trying to build a house in the city so that he can live in metropolitan conditions. He is making crores of rupees by selling his farms of four or five acres. He can easily buy a twenty acre farm in the hinterland with a part of this money and can also buy an apartment in the town. A motor vehicle costs the worth of a few marlas of land. If the farmer is lucky enough to save a little more money after making all these purchases, he starts thinking of sending his children to the town English medium school. Education in the private schools has become extremely costly. The farmer has to lease out his newly acquired farms so that he can have a steady flow of cash. A few of the farmers are investing money ether in industry or in government securities. An investment of one crore of rupees even in safe government securities gives a tax paid income of fifty to sixty thousand rupees a month. With this amount, if one has a living space in the town, one can lead a comfortable life though without much ostentations. Many farmers in the villages near the towns are pulling down their old houses. Some of these houses are not even ten years old. Now since the fashions have changed the houses have to be built all over again. As the cities are expanding, many villages around them have become their suburbs.

The other side of the picture is that many smaller farmers and landless labourers have been completely pauperised and have landed in limbo. Most of them have joined the gangs of louts and lumpans. As the village cartography has undergone sea change, such people living on the margins have either taken to drugs or to petty crime. Some of them indulge in both. If you go a little farther the scene is dramatically different. The marginal farmer in the backwaters is a diminishing tribe. Even the middle peasant is feeling the heat of escalating costs of farm inputs and poor return from their fifteen twenty acre farms. Of course they have constructed modern brick houses and even don a motor vehicle but they do not generate any surplus. Most of them are under heavy debt, which keeps on multiplying as the time passes. Their children go to ordinary schools and to rural arts colleges. Some of such children make to a university for a post graduation in social sciences or languages. The lucky ones among them manage to join a course in law that can provide them an opportunity to practice law in some mofussil town. This results in sharp hike in matrimonial values of the boys which some times changes their entire way of life for the better in monetary terms at least.

The movement of the populace from village to town and from town the metropolis has led to fast urbanisation of Punjab and in an other few years more people in the state will be living in the towns and cities than in the villages which upto now have played a pivotal role in the socio-economic political life of the state. At this pace it may not be surprising at all if in other two decades or so villages of the state would only have an archeological value. Already government of Punjab has decided to preserve some villages as museum pieces for the tourists to a have a first hand feel of the rustic life on its way to extinction. Even now many villages have started giving a deserted look and one is reminded of Oliver Goldsmith’s immortal poem written towards the end of 18th century when England was undergoing this bind of transformation in the wake Industrial Revolution.

They say India is going through her great Industrial Revolution now in the beginning of twenty first century. The Special Economic Zones, the corporate mughals, the grand colonisers, the mega projects and so on have descended on a country with a medieval mindset. The traditional way of life is going through rude convulsions. The past is being obliterated, the present is in turmoil and the future uncertain. These cataclysmic changes are far too perceptible in Punjab which is why the old are disillusioned and the young confused and confounded. Drastic changes in society have their own sacrificial goats. Maybe the present generation is destined to play this historic role.