III. Classes in the Indian Countryside

With the rise of a significant non-farm sector in the rural economy (brick kilns, construction, and a rapidly expanding service sector) non-agrarian classes also coexist in the countryside with essentially agrarian classes, but more often than not they are interconnected through a plethora of ties and possess a combined character. Broadly speaking, in areas of significant capitalist development we can see the rural society split into two opposite classes – the rural bourgeoisie and the rural proletariat – with a sizable population in the middle (a shrinking middle peasantry and a growing rural middle class comprising small shopkeepers, teachers, employees and so on).

Rural Bourgeoisie

This class comprises both the agrarian bourgeoisie – the peasant bourgeoisie or kulaks and capitalist landlords – as well as the non-agrarian bourgeoisie. The non-agrarian bourgeoisie engages in non-farm production, trade and money-lending. They also act as contractors for government projects. They are also the agents for big business corporate houses in retail or wholesale business, as well as contract and corporate farming. They also exercise a considerable hold over the local economy, trade and private transport. Both capitalist landlords and other non-agrarian rural bourgeois elements dominate over panchayats, cooperative societies, Water Users Associations (WUAs), Self-Help Groups (SHGs), and other such bodies and they have numerous links with the bureaucracy and dominate the local rungs of reactionary political parties and exercise their sway over the village power structure.

Rural Proletariat

Apart from the agricultural proletariat – agricultural labourers and the poor peasants (semi-proletariat) – the rural proletariat comprises a sizable section of non-farm workers. Even a large section of the so-called self-employed – those doing market-contracted home-based work – fall within the ambit of labour relations. There is a considerable degree of overlap between agricultural labourers and non-farm workers in the rural areas as mainly labourers doing primarily wage work in agriculture also work in some non-farm occupations during off-seasons and many workers who primarily do non-farm wage work also do some wage work in agriculture.

Agrarian Classes

Landlords

Those who own huge amounts of land and implements of production, do not engage in physical labour directly and live solely by exploiting peasants and agricultural labourers are termed as landlords. In the conditions obtaining in India, they can be divided into two types:

1. Old type of landlords: Those who exploit the peasants by leasing out their lands on exorbitant rents, keep bonded labourers, practise usury, hoarding and various other forms of feudal exploitation fall in this category. Many of them are absentee landlords.

2. New type of landlords: Those who own modern means of production, employ hired labourers for work, and on their part take up only managerial work, fall in this category.