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  For the Edit Page
  Mofussil India

Devesh Vijay

Indian Express

8/2/06, edit page.

Mofussil India


            A visit to Indian townships such as Hapur, Hissar or Bhiwandi today reveals considerable cultural tumult on the margins of a new ‘Bharat’. Instead of slumbering qasbas of yore, these centres are replete with glittering markets, electronic gadgets and latest vehicles and, above all, a new generation conspicuously different from its elders in attire and behavior as well as ambition and confidence. Although the majority of these youngsters continue to be extremely religious and ritualistic, they also exhibit now a new self consciousness and readiness to break with family and community ties for realizing ‘materialistic’ goals increasingly. A growing rejection of repressive mores and the replacement of the humble ‘pranam’ with the more equitous ‘hi’, as a common form of address for peers as well as elders, is a telling symbol of this changing milieu.

Although similar mutations have been observed in bigger cities decades back yet, the present transformation in mofussil India is of special importance because of its scale as well as promise of providing a vital buffer between overcrowded metros and an overflowing countryside in the present stage of development. Interestingly, according to the 2001 census, the urban population of the country has grown by six times since independence and has increased its share of the total by more than 100%. As a result, nearly 35 crores or 27% of Indians are living in urban areas now of which the 4000 odd townships of less than a lakh population contain 40% of urbanites.

No doubt there is considerable variation in this mofussil boom from region to region. Tehsil and smaller district headquarters in Bihar and Orissa offer a very different structure of choices, opportunities and information than those in present day Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra. But remarkably, even in states where agricultural and industrial growth is anaemic, the zeal and ambition of the new generation is sufficient to force an economic transition despite odds. Blue collar workers conversing with clients on mobiles, cyber cafes and coaching institutes running on gensets, armies of salesmen and courier agents, cable TV operators and the ubiquitous PCO/ photocopier/ fax booths are obvious markers of this new enterprise.

While economic transformation may still be tertiary and limited in character, social and cultural transformation in the hamlets has been much more radical. A striking development in all Indian towns today, for instance, is the immense change amongst women. While eating out may still be a rarity here and the majority of small town girls may still be groomed for the life of a ‘housewife’ yet, a significant number are abandoning the long veil, driving vehicles, seeking higher education and employment in offices and shops, opening their own boutiques and beauty parlours, entering politics and choosing their own spouses or, even, dragging them to courts, if necessary.

Another major change sweeping mofussil India today is the mushrooming of educational institutes outside the staid and inefficient government sector to fulfill the immense hunger for English medium instruction, technical education and coaching for competitive exams of various types. The number of candidates appearing and, occasionally, succeeding in entrance exams for engineering, medical and management institutes as well as fashion, media and entertainment industries is quite remarkable even in hamlets now.

Besides this, the growth of literacy, newspaper circulation and the penetration of the electronic media including state owned television, cable TV, video and CD players and, now, the internet with an Indian language interface, has done a lot in changing the face of suburban India in a short period. According to the National Readership survey (2002), the total circulation of newspapers in the country has crossed fifteen crores while the largest dailies such as Dainik Jagran and The Hindustan Times have a circulation crossing the million mark. At the same time, satellite television is being watched by more than 200 million people while telephone subscription has risen to twelve crores. Although a substantial chunk of this boom pertains to metropolitan centers yet, maximum new growth has been in rural and suburban India recently.

Surely, there are limits and problems also in this churning. While economic growth is limited to a few pockets, panchayati raj has really not empowered the dalits, women, minorities and the poor in the manner it could have. In fact, in the absence of rapid economic growth, the overload on politics (as a channel for upward mobility) has led to heightened tensions and divisiveness in society.

Similarly, the cultural transition in the new generation is also not free of contradictions and ambiguities. The rise of nuclear living has not eased out the problems of dowry deaths, consumerism, suicides and, now, divorces. Joblessness, crime, links between politicians and the mafia, a growing industry of prostitution, all point towards a general state of anomie and clash of values more than a meaningful synthesis of the old and the new. Blue films’ posters splattered over city walls, jagratas appropriating sexy Bollywood numbers and noisy wedding processions jamming the roads everywhere suggest a perplexing cultural condition indeed.

Yet, this cultural flux or, even anomie, seems to be a major advance on the long slumber of suburban India whose shell was hardly pierced by the arrival of the railways or, even post independence planning. The stirrings created by the recent communication revolution and a democratic and gender upsurge in this world is historic in this sense. Only vicious bureaucratic controls and criminalized politics can stop it for long now.



Dr. Devesh Vijay

Reader in History

Zakir Husain College

University of Delhi


Ph: 23233420.


Res: D 14-A/2

Model Town


Ph: 9811664877 / 55470370.