A number of reforms championed by activists and academics in the Indian political system including devolution of more powers to panchayats, greater autonomy for statutory bodies and enlargement of rights to education, food, employment, forests, land, public information and small pensions and insurance for the poor got implemented formally, in past two decades, along with the partial liberalization of the economy and the decline of dynastic single party rule at the centre. The impact of these momentous shifts on the lives of ordinary citizens is, however, hotly contested and calls for some intensive, long term studies of villages and slums today.
As a contribution, this paper makes use of the surveys, focus group discussions, interviews and life sketches, constructed in two working class communities within the National Capital Region, in 1988-89 and again in 2013-14, to track changes in demography, occupations, incomes, consumption patterns and the operation of the ‘welfare machine’ on the ground. The talk shows that while income-poverty and hunger came down clearly, in the studied village and slum between the two surveys, morbidity, crime, communal tensions, suicides and other ‘privations’ have grown alarmingly. It concludes with some reflections on points of divergence in trends noted in the research field and those manifested in national data sets, over the same period, and implications thereof.
Devesh Vijay is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi. He has been fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the Institute of Economic Growth and at the Indian Council of Social Science Research. Dr. Vijay has written on underdevelopment, ideology and cultural history. His writings include: Writing Politics: Left Discourses in Contemporary India; Dalits and Democracy: Notes from two North Indian Communities and Sanskritik Itihaas: Ek Tulnatmak Sarvekshan (a comparison of European, Chinese and Indian cultural traditions in Hindi). Presently he is engaged in a comparative study of ‘poverties’ in a slum and a village near Delhi.