Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 May 2012
A large majority of India's population – 72 per cent according to the 2001 census – live at least partially rural lives and derive a significant portion of their income from agriculture. Some village residents migrate seasonally or occasionally for urban employment, and significant numbers of village households have family members already located, permanently or temporarily, in urban areas. Rural-to-urban migration trends are ongoing, but demographic shifts have not been as dramatically rapid as some had predicted. While global flows and urban cultures seem to epitomize the twenty-first century, rural life remains of vital significance to understanding Indian modernity. Tremendous changes have continuously affected India's rural spaces from the agrarian revolutions of the 1960s to the communications revolutions of the present. These changes permeate every aspect of life from domestic relations to cropping patterns; entertainment choices to employment opportunities; social and gender hierarchies to political formations. Government development projects as well as a multitude of non-governmental organizations concerned with improving agricultural productivity, primary education, adult literacy, health care, gender equity and environmental sustainability – to mention only a few major foci of ongoing interventions – are at work modernizing rural India.
To survey all such manifestations of change, or to outline comprehensively the concrete, quantifiable elements of rural modernity is not possible in one chapter. Here, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, I focus on people's perceptions of and responses to change as they experience it. Specifically, I aim to highlight the ways that residents of one small region in central Rajasthan have described to me transformations which they understand to be both material and moral.