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What is Indian Society?

Indian society is an exemplification of multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-ideological constructs, which co-exist, at once striving to strike....


  • Indian society is an exemplification of multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-ideological constructs, which co-exist, at once striving to strike harmony and also to retain its individuality.
  • Based on the generous concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (the world is one family), Indian society possess a great cultural heritage. During the course of its evolution, it has accommodated and integrated many communities and their ways of life from time to time.

Characteristics of Indian Society

  • Cultural diversity: The co-existence of multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-caste groups within the border of India.
  • For instance, around 1600 languages are spoken across the country.
  • Accommodative society: India has experienced various invasions in its history. However, she had never lost her own charm while accommodating others.
  • Caste system: Social hierarchical structure which is a significant feature of Indian society. It differentiates people
    based on birth, occupation and social status. Its influence still persists in modern Indian society.
  • Joint family system: Co-existence of several generations under one roof, has been a traditional feature of India.
    According to sociologist A M Shah, joint-ness within the family still strive in modern Indian society.
  • Family values: Indian society places a significant emphasis on respect for elders. The elderly are considered a source of wisdom and experience, and it is customary to seek their advice and care for them in their old age. For instance, ‘touching the feet’ of elders is a sign of respect.
  • Patriarchy and gender roles: Indian society is a patriarchal society with distinct gender roles and expectations.
    Though various efforts have been taken against gender inequality, gender disparity and challenges to women still
  • Co-existence of Religions: India is the birthplace of religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. They preach tolerance and respect in society.
  • Spiritual Society: Religion and spirituality play a central role in the lives of many Indians, influencing their values,
    rituals, and daily practices. For example, Shastra Puja of Rafael’s.
  • Co-existence of Individualism and collectivism: Individualism emphasizes human independence, self-reliance and liberty, while collectivism prioritizes a group. For example, constitutional values of secularism, and liberty as
    enshrined in the Preamble.

Features of Indian Society

Caste System
  • Caste is a hereditary, endogamous group with a common name, occupation, culture, mobility, and status, relatively
    rigid in matters of mobility, the distinctiveness of status, and forming a single homogenous community.
  • The word refers to a broad institutional arrangement that in Indian languages is referred to by two distinct terms:
    • Varna is the four-fold division of society into Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, while Jati is a generic term referring to species.
Changes in the Caste system
  • Rise in inter-caste marriage: Inter-caste marriages on Western models have become more common in recent years
    due to economic and social necessity.
  • Decline in Brahmin supremacy: The power of the Brahmins rapidly waned as a result of the secularisation and
    westernisation processes, and they lost the traditional respect and esteem in society.
  • Emergence of dominant caste: Which changing social caste equations, a few castes are emerging as dominant castes, and they play a crucial role in politics. For example, the Jats of Haryana, the Yadavs of Bihar, and the Marathas of Maharashtra.
  • Changes in commensality: People are no longer restricted to their original locations. Due to their migration, it is
    quite challenging to adhere to the rules regarding their eating habits.
  • Changes in occupation: Occupational mobility has become the new feature. Leaving behind their traditional roles, Brahmins have become traders whereas Vaishyas have joined teaching and so on.
  • Improvement in the position of lower caste: Due to steps initiated by the government, position of lower castes have improved economically as well as socially.
Factors Affecting the Changes in Caste System
  • Sanskritization: Low castes attempt to raise their social status by adopting the rituals and practices of higher castes, such as vegetarianism and teetotalism, to claim a higher position in the caste hierarchy.
  • Westernisation: People adapted to Western culture due to advancements in education, food habits, dressing sense, and manners.
  • Modernisation: Modernisation has caused the caste system to become more flexible due to its scientific outlook,
    rational attitudes, industrialisation, urbanisation, high standard of living, and a broad viewpoint.
  • Emergence Dominant caste: Dominant castes are the main power-holder. They have acquired considerable
    economic, political and social power and become dominant in their regions. For example, Jats, Yadavs, Marathas, etc.
  • Industrialisation and urbanization: Migration has increased due to the growth of industrial towns and cities, with
    fewer caste rules.
  • Caste and politics: Lower castes have been empowered through elections and power lobbying, allowing them to
    express their feelings. Caste has become a prime factor in politics.
  • Legislative measures: Social legislation have been introduced to protect marginalised sections of society, eradicate untouchability, and promote social and economic development.

A Paradox In The Present Caste System

Change in a hierarchical structure: Caste hierarchy
based on purity and pollution has weakened because of
Caste and politics: The prevalence of caste politics
resulted in the enactment of legislation to protect the
rights of disadvantaged and marginalized sections of
Breakdown of the Jajmani system: Jajmani system
involved the exchange of goods and services, with each
jati contributing its share based on occupational
Democratic decentralization: The reservation in the
Panchayati Raj system has given the opportunity for
the lower castes representation in the democracy.
Disruption of traditionally ordained occupational
Due to globalization and rise of the services
Caste-based affirmative actions: The provision of
caste-based reservation in education and jobs has
strengthened the caste identities.

Read Also: The Persistent Caste-Based Violence in India

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