Life in India’s countryside still involves plenty of hard work. But standards of rural living have gone up dramatically in recent years.
Inflated food prices, otherwise a headache for politicians or urban consumers, have put more money in the pockets of farm workers.
Generous government subsidies and lenient credit policies have helped fuel investment in tractors and other heavy equipment. It has also created a consumer market that makes many of India’s hundreds of thousands of remote villages look a little bit more like cities.
“We have amenities the previous generations can never afford to have. We have motorbikes, mobile phones, a fridge and other things.”
The rural appetite for vehicles is especially strong. Shankar Prasad is one businessman cashing in on the trend.
“In the case of motorcycle, we find out about 50% of the motor buyers are from the villages. Finally, 50%, rest of them are from urban areas. And in case of the consumer durables when there’s no sales about 10 years back of consumers durables, now we find out 50% of the buyers are from the villages. So I would tell you that the divide between the urban and rural area is blurring.”
The investment bank Credit Suisse described that blurring of urban and rural as the great India equalization in a recent analysis report.
Fewer and fewer rural Indians are getting their income directly from agriculture. Salim Ansari says many are finding jobs in urban style construction.
“Just like in the city, lots of new buildings are going up here. There are car garages, towers and big houses. We have all the city amenities in our village.”
Wi-Fi internet is increasingly available in the countryside. So is satellite television programmer and flat-screen monitors on which to watch it.
Stores offer convenient items many older generations never had like instant noodles and personal grooming products.
“In the past we used to use sticks or cow dung ash to clean our teeth. But now, just like urban people we use a tooth brush and tooth paste. We use shampoo and expensive oils and creams. We have everything in our village that people have in towns and cities.”
For mothers like Lalti Devi, the difference between the past and present is less important than its future opportunities that rural prosperity creates for the youth.
“There used to be nothing in this village. Everybody was illiterate. But now people are sending their children to school.”
About two third of India’s 1.2 billion people live in rural villages. With overall Indian economy stagnating, policy makers can be expected to look more and more to the countryside as the engine of growth.