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Touch-me-not Village

Devaki Jain

By M.N. Srinivas
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1976, 60.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 1 January-February 1977

The Remembered Village illustrates most persuasively M.N. Srinivas's central concerns. First, a healthy respect for the rural person, his life style, his know­ledge. While social scientists and ad­ministrators are constantly figuring out programmes for rural folk on the assum­ption that they are 'empty vessels' into which every kind of input has to be poured, while the educated in the uni­versities and schools are madly mimicking urban culture, insinuating that there is nothing in rural culture which is 'modern', while the media portrays the peasant as some kind of docile imbecile who is ca­joled and 'educated' by the 'boot-hat' extension worker—somebody has to say, stop! What is all this about? Whom are we trying to 'develop'­ and on what basis of authority? Here in Rampura, there are strong well-developed individuals, competent managers, judges, leaders. There is cal­culation before every move as amongst the most 'sophisticated' groups. There is capacity to select and reject after con­siderations of appropriateness. In fact there is a wisdom and sanity that perhaps is not there amongst the 'change agents'. The book should have a salutary effect on all these categories—the alie­nated-from-roots students, the media men, the administrators and the notori­ous 'change agents'. It should develop in them a healthy respect for the whole­some people of the Rampuras of India. Another of Srinivas's persistent con­cerns, in terms of the methodology of field investigation in sociology, has been the relationship between the outsider (the observer) and the observed. This is a live and much written about issue amongst social anthropologists. Where­as their main preoccupation has been with the bias question—how far the observer's presence has changed the ob­jective situation and therefore does not reflect the 'pure' reality—Srinivas's is more personal agony. It is here again that his acute sensitivity, almost oversen­sitivity is evident. He just cannot get over this problem of his relationship with the villagers. Not only does he feel an outsider, he wants to be an outsider. ‘Touch me not, nor will I touch you.’ He watches himself watching the vill­agers, to a degree that is distracting. This is a serious handicap in his style. As an illustration therefore of the agonies of participant observation, its pitfalls and one way of keeping out of it all, the book provides a useful lesson for pros­pective field ...

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