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The Changing Position of Thottam Farmers in Villages in Rural Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, between 1981/2 and 1996
This paper looks at thottam farmers, the elite in selected villages in Coimbatore district in 1981/2 and 1996. These were relatively small operators in the regional economy, but strong in the villages, where they exerted tight control over those beneath them in the village hierarchy. They were backed by the state which both supported them and gave some support to those beneath them. In 1981/2, agriculture was doing well and thottam farmers looked forward to a bright future despite indications of problems ahead. They were a confident group, powerful in their own local domain, in 1981/2. By 1996, this had changed. Agriculture had declined, and urban and industrial development was having more influence particularly on labour and on labour costs. In 1996, many thottam farmers had sunk capital into a failing agriculture, and faced a difficult future, without the resources to move into alternatives, not well placed to take advantage of alternative opportunities. Their power base depended strongly on agriculture, and their position in the villages. A few had made successful moves into non-agricultural activities. A few were still doing well in agriculture. The majority were doing much less well, pinning their hopes for the future on their sons, and investing in ways that might make it possible for their sons to do well in areas other than agriculture. Despite their weakened position in the villages, these thottam farmers still had a surprisingly strong hold over labourers and others at the bottom of the hierarchy in the villages though. It was taking time for the old relationships to give way. All of this was taking place in the context of continuing urban and industrial development in the vicinity, which was getting closer all the time. One might have expected thottam farmers to take more advantage of this. A minority did. The majority were affected only indirectly, as much on the losing as on the winning side.