History and Film
27 January 2018
Behind Mud Walls:
and Charlotte Wiser and Susan S. Wadley traveled to a village in India called
Karimpur in which they observed the culture of the village during the course of
seventy-five years. They recorded these observations in the book, Behind Mud Walls: Seventy-Five Years in a
North Indian Village (Wiser, William, et al., University of California
Press, 2000, 381 pages.)
the first chapter, Wiser discusses the challenges of interacting with the
villagers of Karimpur upon their initial arrival. Suspicious that the Wisers
were officials ready to take advantage of them, the Wisers had to slowly gain
their trust by offering medical help to both the villagers and their animals
and through casual conversation.
chapters two thorough four, Wiser discusses who the leaders are and their roles
in the village. He also talks about how the different caste members of the
village help support the village. Finally, he discusses the role of the
Untouchables, who are not a part of the caste, support the village. Among the leaders
of the Karimpur that are mentioned in this section include the landlords, the Brahmans,
and the Panchayat.
is an impression made by both the villagers and Wiser that the landlords only
visit Karimpur on rare occasions. However, the villagers pay the landlord rent
for allowing them to use their fields to allow the village animals to graze and
wells in order to water the village fields. Some of the most important
decisions made in Karimpur are made by the Brahmans. Though the Brahmans
“occupy themselves as framers and grain leaders”, they also have a strong
influence on the village’s religion and socially (Wiser). The Panchayat, or the
“assembly of arbitrators”, help “settle petty village disputes” (Wiser).
writes that in Karimpur there are four castes and that within each caste is
group of sub-castes. The main caste, in order of social status, are Brahmans,
Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras. If Karimpur was represented as
a human body, the Brahmans would be the head of the village. Kshatriyas would
be the arms. Vaisyas would be the body. Sudras would be the feet. Though the
Untouchables are not a part of the caste system or body, they two also have sub
Brahmas, as mentioned above, are the spiritual leaders of Karimpur. Kshatriyas
severe as soldiers. Sudras are the average workers in Karimpur.
four sub castes of Untouchables in Karimpur. They are the Dhobi, Chamar, Dhsnuks, and Bhangi. Dhobi
wash the clothing of the villagers. Chamars serve as leather workers. Dhanuks are
midwives and mat-makers. Bhangi are the sweepers of the village.
chapters five and six, Wiser
discusses the importance of animals. Wiser also discusses the role of women in Karimpur,
the addition of newborns into the village, and some of the marriage traditions
of the villagers. In chapters seven and eight, Wiser discusses the education
and observed behaviors of the youth of the village. Like most children, the
children of the village may play and try to get a little bit of education. Some
of the children in the village may act as messengers for their parents and help
their parents with work to help support their families.
also discusses who the agents of authority are in Karimpur and their roles in
the village. Some of the leaders in the village include the village headman,
the watchmen, the accountant, and the landlords. The “village headsmen”, Wiser
explains, “is a resident of the village appointed by the government to
represent the village in all matters pertaining authority.” (Wiser) The watchmen
serve as “representatives of the police in the village” (Wiser). The accountant
is in charge of all the land records in the village. Since he is in charge of
the records, he also has the ability to threaten to remove names from deeds
unless the villager pays a fee.
chapter nine, the older generation of Karimpur share their perspectives of life
in Karimpur with Wiser. In
chapters ten and eleven, Wiser discusses some of the changes that had accord in
the village after returning to the village after a couple years of absence.
Some of the changes that had occurred include the introduction of new
seeds for cash props and food as well as the introduction of the bank, and the
increased use of different farming tools. In chapter twelve, “The Young Men
Speak”, the younger generation of the village share their perspectives of life.
chapters thirteen and fourteen, Wiser discusses some of the observations of Karimpur
in 1970. Wiser comments that some of the changes in the village including the
beginning of the teaching of English, suspicion has decreased, the use of cash
had increased while bartering decreased, and the improvement of transportation.
It is also noted that the villagers have started to accept the electric
thresher. In chapters fifteen and sixteen, Susan S. Wadley begins sharing her
observations of Karimpur in 1984 and 1998.
and Charlotte Wiser and Susan S. Wadley’s Behind
Mud Walls: Seventy-Five Years in a North Indian Village provides an insightful
view of India village life. When it comes to observations of different culture,
it is tempting to only share your perspective instead of allowing the culture
observed to have a voice which can lead to the wrong conclusions. However, the
authors of Behind Mud Walls periodically record the villagers’ perspective in
their records, most notably in the chapters “Let All Old Things Abide” and “The
Young Men Speak.”
Wisers also share a variety of short stories which helps the audience relate to
the villagers. Though Wadley also includes a series of short stories, her
record of the village seems to be more focused on data rather than stories
creating an imbalance that may cause some audience members to begin to lose
interest. The only other issue that some audiences may have is that it is
sometimes difficult to tell when stories and observations take place.
of the intriguing concepts that all three author touch on is the village’s
resistance to change. The older generation of the village summarized this
resistance by stating, “The refusal to change is an amour which we learned to
protect ourselves…We are not blind to the advantages of the new, but unless we
know just where it might lead us, we prefer to let it pass us by” (Wiser).
a member of the audience who is not familiar with Indian culture in general, William
and Charlotte Wiser and Susan S. Wadley’s Behind
Mud Walls: Seventy-Five Years in a North Indian Village is an insightful
view into another culture. As an audience member who lives in a country where
changes are created quickly and numerously, it was surprising (at first) how
the villagers of Karimpur resisted change to their way of life. Though this reviewer
is familiar with the concept of having landlords, she was surprised how Karimpur
did not belong to the people but rather the landlords. It was also a surprise in how quickly children
caught on to their social status. For example, in questing a villager about why
a bhangi could not attend school with the other boys in the village, the Sahib
got this response.
government has no right to upset the established order by allowing children from
ant caste or untouchable group to attend school…If the boy must be taught, let
him learn from his own father. Or let there be a separate school for such boys”
William and Charlotte Wiser and Susan S. Wadley’s Behind Mud Walls: Seventy-Five Years in a North Indian Village is
an interesting read for audiences unfamiliar with Indian village culture.
Wiser, William, et al. Behind Mud
Walls: Seventy-Five Years in a North Indian Village. Updated and Expanded
ed., University of California Press, 2000.