Communities Un-bounded

The focus of my dissertation research is to study and understand one “community” of farmers living/working on the Yamuna River floodplain in the urban center of Delhi facing land use changes due to urban development pressures. During the pilot study, we discovered that there are thousands of families involved in agriculture along the Yamuna River floodplain, and it would be impossible to do an in-depth study without scaling down to a smaller site.  The site I selected represents a group of people who are socially bounded through similar profession, income, religion, village of origin, etc. and geographically bounded by the Yamuna River, major roadways, and dense urban development. I would argue that they represent a “community.”  The “community” is comprised of individuals and families with many commonalities; they share similar goals, struggles, and challenges.  However, communities are dynamic, multi-cultural entities even when they look homogenous from the outside.  Which is why “community” is in quotation marks—the farmers are part of a common collective but can opt in or out socially and/or physically depending on shared similarity or difference.  In other words, a community has pervious boundaries.

A crop of eggplant.

A crop of eggplant.

To date, I’ve talked to 170 individuals and families in the community site.  By capturing both household-level and community-level characteristics, similarities and differences have begun to emerge.  Here is a snapshot summary:

  • Two-thirds of families are originally from Badaun.
  • Tenure ranges from two months to multiple generations: less than one year/monsoon cycle (7%); 2-3 years (8%); 4-10 years (32%); up to 20 years—or one generation (30%); multiple generations (14%); 9% unknown.

Although many families said they were not native to Delhi, it is clear that the majority have been in Delhi for quite some time—many for a generation or more.  This indicates stability—as opposed to transience—in the community.

  • Families have an average four kids.
  • There are three common family situations: (1) small family including only mom, dad and kids; (2) small multi-generational or mixed family including some adult kids who are married and a few grandchildren; (3) large extended family.

Family composition is another indicator of community stability—the larger and more extended the family, the more embedded the family is in the community.

  • The gender of speakers was evenly split between men and women.  Women completed 47% of the interviews and men completed 43% of the interviews (10% were mixed).
  • Given the uncertainty of determining absolute age, I recorded age by decade: <30 years old (22%), in their 30s (33%), in their 40s (25%), >50 years old (13%), and 7% unknown.
  • The majority are farmers (78%), but many are not farmers (21%); 2% unknown.

In short, I talked to men and women relatively equally, and there was variation in age and profession (farmer v. non-farmer).

This diagram illustrates the multiple professions and sources of income.  Counts represent the number of responses.

This diagram illustrates the multiple professions and sources of income. Counts represent the number of responses.

As expected, the majority of families are involved in agriculture, but there are a range of agricultural types.  Furthermore, agriculture is not the sole profession, which lends support to the multi-dimensional nature of communities.  [See diagram left] Where there is a need, there is a profit to be made, and there is a person to supply.  All of the basic needs of the community can be met within the physical boundaries of the community.  Furthermore, I witnessed the dynamic nature of the community over the course of the last year changing in response to local needs through supply/adaptation. For example, I observed an increase in the number of small shops along the metro construction corridor. Farmers have begun selling small items, foodstuff, and chai to construction workers and are enjoying the (albeit temporary) extra income.

…And land ownership:

  • Rent is the most common form of land relationship (45%), and batai/share-cropping (sharing input costs and profits 50:50 with the landowner) is the second most common (n=45; 27%). I also spoke with a few families that stated that they own the land, as well as a few who don’t pay any rent.
  • Although the size of land varies greatly among farms, the majority (61%) farm on less than 10 bigha.  Only a few families (3%) have more than 50 bigha of land (one reported 800 bigha).

The range of formal to informal land relationships is another indictor of “embedded-ness.” I will address the issue of ownership (how it is defined legally and socially), land tenure, and historic/current land use of the Yamuna River floodplain in the next blog post…

A bicycle repair shop.  Also a gathering place for social interaction.

A bicycle repair shop. Also a gathering place for social interaction.


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