After exploring Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, we headed to Barara village to get a glimpse of rural lives in India. The administrative hierarchy of India is composed of from the small subdivisions of villages and blocks to the higher level of districts, states, and federal government. There are 640,000 rural villages in India, and two thirds of Indians live in rural areas. Average size of villages is about 12,000 residents. Each village is governed by its own authority, Panchyat which is election base in modern days while as certain families ran the organization in the past.
As our team sat under the banyan tree of the village community center to meet with locals and learn about the village, Barara residents welcomed us by gathering around us with curiosity. Barara is one of the villages in Agra district, and it is thirty minutes away from the district’s main city, Agra. There are 17,000 people living in the village and most of them live on agriculture as our learning expedition team could notice by stacked up cow pat beside the roads.
We learned how things are different in rural areas and what has been changing as well. Gender inequality has been a big part of culture in rural areas, especially in Northern part of India; however, the gap has been filling and reservation for female officials in local authorities supports gender equality in India. Speaking to Puja, who is leading Self-help Group in Barara, we learned that SHG has empowered under-privileged rural women, and acted as a way of alleviating poverty. The SHG is a model for micro-finance. Eight to ten women can form a group and get a small loan as a group from the government. There are no constraints of what types of business they plan to do, but they are supposed to meet a certain profit target. According to Puja, Barara women have lower participation in SHG compared to Southern part of India, but she plans to have 65% of Barara women in SHG in next five years, which I found very hopeful as welfare of rural lives are expected to be improved.
As supposed to urban areas where most of the families are nuclear families, rural families are extended families, also called Joint Hindu Families, and the average size of a family is 50 members. Like most of rural villages, Caste, which consists of four categories, Brahmin (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (traders), Shudras (workmen)is still dominant social class system in Barara. We have noticed that women from lower caste hiding their faces with scarfs when passing by upper caste men.
Our team had chance to visit rural households, and we split into three groups to visit families from different Caste, Brahmin, Kshatriyas, and Shudras families. My group visited Shudras household. The head of the household is a potter, Gangarem and his family has made potteries for seven generations. Our group was warmly welcomed by the family and neighbors, and we got small potteries as gifts from the family. He has one son and seven grandsons, and the house was quite small and humble with two rooms. His son is a tenant farmer, and he went to school until fifth grade because there was no further education provided within the village at that time. Although 50% of the village kids finishes high school and among them 80% goes to colleges, people like Gangarem’s family do not access to higher education because they have to make a living and sometimes village cannot provide certain level of education. As Gangarem did not have formal education in his life, he does not seem to be literate. He mentioned that when he votes for Panchayat, he completely follows opinions of the well-respected man of the village. When one of us asked him what he wishes to happen, he said his son’s marriage. He seems to very much conform to the Caste system and rural environment, where most important issues of life are marriage and offspring. I found it very interesting that what people pursue in their lives are quite different in rural and urban.
When we first arrived Delhi airport, we were surprised by how infrastructure in Delhi is different from that in Chennai. When we visited Barara village, we were surprised again by how lives in rural are different from those in urban. Throughout our trip, we experienced India, where history and contemporary coexist, where 180 languages and 500+ dialects exist, and where 40% of population lives with less than $1 per day while there are fifty billionaires as well: and all of that make India more unique and interesting.