Before the British rule in India, Indian villages enjoyed considerable amount of autonomy from the higher level of the political system. This was because of the poor communication facilities and the lack of road connectivity. Kings allowed villages to govern themselves in day to day matters. Village panchayats used to settle disputes and maintained law and order in the villages.
In the early nineteenth century, British administrators described Indian villages as ‘little republics’. They opined that Indian villages have a simple form of government and are economically self-sufficient units. Villages of India have to give a share of produce to the king and need to send their young men to serve in the wars. Other than these two restrictions, Indian villages have no interference on the higher levels of political authority and they are unconcerned about who are ruling them, according to British administrators.
However, it is incorrect to say that Indian villages are little republics. Even before the British rule, the relationship between the king and the villages is a complex one. Villagers are actually concerned about who sat on the throne. They preferred a king, who would protect them from criminals. In the times of crisis, King’s caste fellows used to help him. If the king tried to oppress his subjects, villages used to rebel against him and would support his rival to take over the throne. They also used collective flight as a protest against oppression.
It is also wrong to say that villages are completely independent and are disconnected from the neighboring villages. There was a exchange of goods and produce between villages. There were also kinship ties in between the villages, especially because of the exogamy practiced by the north Indian villages. Caste system also played a major role in the relationship between the villages.
Kings in Pre-British India performed several duties towards his subjects. they built canals and tanks for irrigation, and roads for transportation. Kings were also actively participated in solving disputes and in gifting the lands to priests.
After Britishers started governing India, they improved the communication facilities and established administration in villages. Revenue officials and police were appointed in villages. They also established law courts and implemented uniform law throughout the British India. This reduced the power of villages and their panchayats, but increased the integration of Indian villages in the wider society.
After Independence, democracy and the universal adult franchise allowed villages to elect members to the panchayats as well as the members of higher levels of the government. This enabled the villages to take part in the state affairs, bringing them into the mainstream.
Indian villages has been a part of the wider society, and their role in the state affairs is increasing. Hence, it is incorrect to treat Indian villages as little republics.