Bihar and Mithila -The Historical Roots of Backwardness
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Bihar and Mithila -The Historical Roots of Backwardness

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Item Code: NAN172
Author: J. Albert Rorabacher
Publisher: Manohar Publishers and Distributors
Language: English
Edition: 2016
ISBN: 9789350980002
Pages: 496
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 830 gm
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About the Book

The world has become obsessed with the Western notions of progress, development, and globalization, the latter a form of human and economic homogenization. These processes, through the aegis of the United Nations, are comparatively monitored. Those nations deemed to be 'lagging behind' are then provided with foreign aid and developmental assistance. For nearly seventy years, India has sought its place in this global endeavour; yet, even today, abject poverty and backwardness can be observed in districts in almost every state; with the highest concentration of such districts found in the state of Bihar and a cultural enclave, known as Mithila.

Development in India has been elusive because it is difficult to define; and because the Western concepts of development and progress have no absolute equivalents within many non- Western settings. As a consequence, development programmes often fail because they are unable to ask the right questions, but equally important is the political economy derived from foreign aid. For politicians, there is no long-term benefit to be derived from successful development. In general, foreign aid only serves to corrupt governments and politicians and, in the end, does very little for those who need help.

Bihar and Mithila serve as extreme examples of India's problems. Development here has been thwarted by a hereditary landed aristocracy supported by religion, casteism, custom, social stratification, tradition, and patterns of behaviour that can be traced back millennia. In turn, all these have been masterfully manipulated by co-opted politicians, who have turned politics into a veritable art form as this volume comprehensively demonstrates.

About the Author

John A. Rorabacher was born and raised in the American Midwest. He received his academic credentials from Michigan State University (B.Sc.), The University of Texas - Austin (MA), and the University of Minnesota - Minneapolis (Ph.D.). He has taught at the Universities of Texas (Austin); Wisconsin (Green Bay); Minnesota (Minneapolis) and South Dakota State University, as well as working in the private sector as a consultant.

He is now retired, residing in Barrie, Ontario, Canada with his wife, Hava, and continues to write on the topics of hunger and development, flooding, land relations, and development in India.


More than fifty years ago, the anthropologist Kusum Nair trekked length and breadth of India, stopping and chatting with villagers regarding the impact of development on their lives. I Her treatment narrative and descriptive rather than rigorously analytical. Why she choose this methodology over the other equally well suited to her objective? She stated that she believed it better suited the situation, bringing out the attitudes and opinions of the people she was interviewing In so doing, she drew upon a long tradition of many of the social sciences, one of observation, conceptual analysis, synthesis; a tradition based more on a form of literature than on 'stem of painstaking experimentation or report methodologies found in other social sciences or the physical sciences.

She understood that village-level statistics, then, as well as now, often notoriously unreliable; and yet these very same 'statistics' served, and continue to serve as the foundation of state and international development agencies' programmes and plans. In general, authoritative accurate village-level statistics still remain elusive and amorphous.

Nair's approach relied on observation and context; drawing consigns from what she saw and heard. Observations are typically difficult to quantify, except in the case of frequency, but one has to, is it any less accurate than any other statistic when talking about development? Statistics for tonnes of steel, quintals of maize, rice, or eat, or barrels of oil tend to be fairly accurate. They measure numerable, tangible things. Statistics concerning the well-being of mans is an entirely different proposition; one the author finds useful but inherently suspect despite the exactness of their derivation.

While the author accepts the general conceptual utility of comparative indices, like the Human Development Index (HDI) or Oxford Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), one still has to question the statistical basis upon which they are founded. Statistics the aggregation of collected information beginning at the village el, compiled at the district level then moved vertically through the governmental machinery of the state and then on to the nation and the world. If the foundational data is potentially flawed ....

* * *

During the years following Nair's remarkable study, the social sciences have undergone a change. The author would not, however, characterize this change as evolutionary nor revolutionary, as much as he would call it the adoption of a survival strategy. There has always been a rift, a schism between the natural and social sciences. This modest antagonism between the two stems largely from how each interprets the 'scientific method' and how one defines disciplinary legitimacy. The social sciences are typically seen as the 'poor stepchildren' of the hard sciences. This second-class status, while only periodically verbalized by either side, has had the effect of influencing the form and function of the social sciences and creating a certain paranoia amongst its practitioners.

At the heart of the problem between the 'sciences' is the concept of causality. The physical or hard sciences are paradigmatic, that is, there are fundamental principles that define and limit their range of research and the methodologies that are deemed appropriate to that research." Causality is less frequently used within the context of the social sciences. There are several reasons suggested for this. First, they are not as homogenous as the hard sciences. The fields of inquiry range from those of psychology that is somewhat integrated with the natural sciences through medicine, to those that draw more on the humanities such as linguistics, anthropology, and history. This diversity becomes part of the problem because it leads to a diversity of justifications. Geography occupies a unique position, treading the razor's edge, with one foot in the natural sciences and one foot in the social sciences.

Second, the social sciences lack the theoretical robustness of the hard sciences. However, some of the guardians of the hard sciences are increasingly showing chinks in their own theoretical armour, which belies a vulnerability. Many seem riven with the same uncertainties as the social sciences. This is nowhere more evident than within theoretical physics, cosmology, or quantum mechanics. Third, the social sciences 'come up short' when it comes to their ability to predict consequences, which lies at the heart of science and the scientific method. Human beings, with their cultural diversity, linguistic differences, aspirations, 'psychologies', differing technologies, etc., do not easily nor readily lend themselves to the creation of predictive laws or even generalizations. Social laws derived from regularities in social statistics will never become sufficiently specific to be independent of time and place. Unlike the physical sciences, the social sciences are dynamic and fluid. Social laws derived from correlations of statistical fact can have considerable scientific value but we should not place too much confidence in the inferences we are tempted to draw from them. Equally difficult is differentiating between fact and value. Both are elusive and slippery.

Finally, unlike chemistry, classical physics, or mathematics, the social sciences seem to have problems with replication. Research replication, believed to be an essential feature of good science, because it authenticates the work of others, is generally sorely lacking in the social sciences and when replication is attempted, the results tend to be inconclusive, at best, and often completely different, at worst.? This may be a consequence of shoddy or sloppy research, incorrect or inappropriate analysis of field data, sample size, or a function of changing times and conditions.

There is, however, both a down- and up-side to scientific replication. When studies can be reproduced, as in the physical sciences, and have been so on several occasions, there is little incentive for the next generation of scientists to redo the experiments of their predecessors. As a result, old findings, once proven, are seldom revisited. Furthermore, academic journals are more inclined to publish new research with positive ourcomes than replication studies." However, just maybe, there is merit in performing social science replication studies. They always seem to produce new results!

This is what truly separates the physical sciences from the social sciences. If experts in each of the social sciences can reach wildly different conclusions using the same field data or observations, it would seem to suggest that there may be something wrong with the way social scientists approach problems; or that they are not locked- in to methodologies that lend themselves to the production of cookie- cutter type results. Further, in general, the social sciences tend to be more comparative than authoritative in their findings; and it is the differences between groups that excite the social scientist. However, comparison and focusing on differences between groups is seldom conducive to the formulation of laws, principles, or axioms.

* * *

It was during the so-called Enlightenment - that sprawling intellectual, philosophical, cultural, and social movement that spread throughout pans of Europe during the 1700s - that a science of man was first deemed a possibility and that it would develop into a 'softer' version of Newtonian physics. Newtonian physics was rigorous, reproducible, and predictable; and it still is'? More than two centuries have intervened between the Enlightenment and present day and we appear no closer to the goal espoused by the Enlightenment. In part, this may be because of the dreamers of the time overestimated Man's desire to commit to a common good, believing that Man was, first and foremost, a rational animal. In light of current events, it would seem we have not made much progress since the eighteenth century. Mankind does not seem to be committed to a common good and only infrequently displays glimmers of rationality.

Even before the Enlightenment, science was the domain of philosophers, poets, writers, intellectuals, scholars, or people of erudition - men and women of ideas, reflection, and the pen, and who expressed their ideas through their writings. As alchemy gave way to the 'science' of chemistry, a division between scientists and their scientific method and the humanists, with their rationalism and empiricism began to take shape. As Brodbeck points out:

Despite the division of labor between the humanist's study of man and the scientist's study of matter, the line soon became a barricade. By its fruits science gained affluence, power, prestige - and resentment. Not surprisingly the resentment deepened when the methods of science were extended to the humanist's ancient preserve, the study of man and society. The extension has always been bitterly resented; the opposition has never been wholly allayed, cropping up from time to time with renewed fervor.

In part the opposition is merely a tedious jurisdictional dispute, backed more by malice and irrelevant snipings at unfulfilled promise than by rational argument

* * *

The first use of 'social statistics' was to influence social debates. They were used as numeric evidence; numeric statements about social life that brought the authority and precision of mathematics to social problems. Therein lies the foible of modern social science and statistics. Numbers, because of their precision, are readily accepted as being somehow correct and with correctness comes the aura of authority.

Statistics are regularly used with no thought given to their veracity, reliability or validity, as long as they appear to support one's arguments. Evidence in support of an argument or problem does not inherently carry with it understanding; and it is more important that we understand a problem than simply define, describe, or quantify it. These processes do not necessarily lead to solutions and often divert us from the real problem. That is the power of statistics.

* * *

The poet W.H Auden, possibly tongue-in-cheek, once wrote as part of a longer poem:

... Thou shalt not sit

With statisticians nor commit

A social science."

This short verse would seem to insinuate that counting and measuring are not, or should not be seen as substitutes for thinking. Yet, statistics and statistical analyses have become the heart of modern social science. Concepts that are not easily quantified appear to lack the rigorousness that has become the hallmark of modern scholarship. The management consultant Peter Drucker once said: 'If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.

Almost every young researcher is tempted to analyse his data using sophisticated statistical computer programmes, until it says what he believes it should say; believing that he knows the truth. At this stage, he changes his analysis specifications until the statistic he is looking for produces a significant result. One of the author's mentors once observed, while discussing the computer analysis of field data: 'If you massage data long enough, it will say anything you want.' The author must have thought there was something axiomatic about that statement since, now, more than thirty-five years later, it still, maybe more so than ever, haunts him. This statement is analogous to Ronald Harry Cease's dictum: 'If you torture data for long enough, it will confess.

Cease's statement is very cleverly worded. It is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the researcher must work the data until it has given up all its informative value. On the other, and especially for novice researchers, there is a tendency to attempt to wring more out of the data than is legitimately there. Torturing data is not necessarily a bad thing but 'making it say more than it is capable of saying' is both imprudent and dangerous; and there is a fine line between torturing data for all it can legitimately say and making it confess.

The maturity of a researcher is measured not by the sophistication of his analysis or algorithms, nor the level of significance or confidence of his statistic but by his willingness to accept unanticipated results and find an explanation for them. Thomas Kuhn would refer to this as paradigm shifting. However viewed, there are times when the researcher's original specifications or hypotheses are, in fact, incorrect. The problem, then, is recognizing the difference.

Instead of fitting the data to the theoretical construct, one must either: (a) find an existing construct that fits the data; or (b) redefine or develop a new construct without torturing the data. Further, much of the mathematics used in scholarly publications today is used to make them appear more complicated and profound than they really are. Others use it as decoration. Decoration, aside from aesthetics, serves no purpose. It would not be decoration if it contributed substantively to our understanding; but what it does is demonstrate that the author is 'up to date' with the most recent and obscure developments in mathematics. In most scholarly publications, pages of formulae are used as window-dressing, adding pages but little in the way of understanding or useful content, since typically, the authors tell the reader in prose what the formulae mean or reveal. When the author finds a journal article or report athat seems pertinent, he begins reading in earnest. As he turns the pages and is confronted with formula after formula, appearing like delicate Arabesque designs strewn across the pages, he marels at their beauty and quickly turns the page. The formlae are meaningless by themselves. What they demonstrate or reveal is far more important than their elegance.




1 Development and Backwardness: What are they; How do we Deal with them 45
2 Bihar and Mithila: What Went Wrong 81
3 The Environmental Roots of Backwardness in Bihar and Mithila - Part I: Floods 130
4 The Environmental Roots of Backward in Bihar and Mithila - Part 11: Drought 174
5 Orientalism and India's Gordian Knot Religion, Secularism and Caste 200
6 The Darbhanga Raj: The Heart of Pulling the Threads Together 259
7 Pulling the Threads Together 307
8 Some Final Thoughts and Observation 364
9 Postscript: The 2014 Lok Sabha Election What Happened and What it Mea 411
  Index 489


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