Salient Features of Indian Society
A society is an aggregate of all the human relations based on common characteristics, tradition, norms and values. A society can be homogeneous (e.g. Arab country, Japan) or heterogeneous (e.g. India, America) based on the elements of diversity.
Practically no well-developed society can be called homogeneous as some form of differences does exist in all of them.
Citizens of India do not have a common religion, race, language etc. The thing that citizens in India share together is the identity of being an Indian and the values enshrined under the constitution.
However, following salient feature can help define the Indian society in broad terms.
Dynamism and Syncretism:
Indian society is the culmination of the long-drawn process involving both assimilation and accommodation. While a lot of tribes have over the years lost their indigenous culture as a result of assimilation into the Hindu society, a lot of other new practices have emerged from close contact with different cultures. It is also dynamic since it is continuously changing. The recent example of it is the changes in the social values influenced by globalization.
Example of assimilation:
- Over 197 languages/dialects are endangered in India
- Struggle by a lot of tribes such as Naga for protecting their culture from outsiders
Examples of syncretism:
- The Language of Urdu has developed out of Arabic and Hindavi
- Bhakti movement and Sufi movements both inspired each other
- Caste like system has been adopted by Islam in India (foreign conquerors are referred to as - Ashraf and the local converts are referred to as - Ajlaf)
- Rashtrapati Bhawan – the architecture is the fusion of Rajput, Mughal and European architecture
Traditionalism with modernity:
post-globalization a visible shift can be seen towards modern values, the Indian society has not failed to protect and preserve its traditional values and norms and has even endeavoured to spread them across the world.
- Modern gyms have opened across the country, yoga has only gained more popularity in the recent time as evident from the declaration of 21st June International Yoga Day by UN
- Western food is has gained popularity as much as Indian food. So is the case with dance, music, cuisines, dress, cinema etc.
- While western medicines have gained ground in India, the Indian system of medicine (AYUSH) has not lost its charm
- While nuclear families are in vogue, family values like taking care of the elderly have remained intact
- Spirituality and religiosity continue to be an important part of an individual’s life despite growing materialism
Unity in Diversity:
When India gained independence, a lot of political thinkers had commented that the days of Indian democracy are numbered since society was diverse which would ultimately have to make way for small homogeneous independent states. There are:
- Over 6 major religions
- More than 1500 spoken languages/dialects
- 6 major racial groups
- numerous sects within the religion
Factors that have helped in unity:
- the Values of co-existence that had developed as a result of historical fusion and accommodation since most of the conquerors like Mughals made India their home
- The Indian independence movement, the rule of congress where the meeting was held in different parts of the country; British railways, telegram, army, Indian press, major movements like non-cooperation that promoted mingling of citizens. All these led to the development of a common Indian identity.
- Values enshrined in the constitution which have protected the growth of minorities in the country
- State reorganization based on common language and efforts of the government to protect the interest of the minorities and the vulnerable section
- High levels of internal migration across the different states despite the wide cultural differences
- During the Ugadi festival of Andhra – Muslims here offer prayers to the Vaishnav deity
- Major festivals like Diwali, Holi, Eid and Christmas are celebrated across the country with equal fervour
- Flourishing metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore etc. with its cosmopolitan culture
Caste and Class:
The Indian society mostly Hindus (79%) are divided under the rigid caste system based on the system which has permeated even in other religions like Islam as well. it originated from the varna system and has created social stratification which is a major source of privileges and disabilities.
At the same time, the lopsided economic reforms have created flourishing urban areas (31% of the population) where citizens are stratified based on class (achievements such as income) rather than their social identity.
The class system though closely resembles the caste hierarchy, has actually provided downtrodden section opportunities for upward social mobility.
Some features of the caste system:
- Segmental division of the society: It refers to social stratification largely based on caste. Membership to a caste group is acquired through birth on the basis of which citizens are ranked in relation to other caste groups.
- Hierarchy: It indicates that the various castes are categorized according to their purity and impurity of occupations.
- Civil and religious disabilities: ‘lower’ caste groups earlier had no access to wells, they were restricted from entering the temples etc.
- Endogamy: Members of a particular caste tend to marry within their caste only
- Untouchability: It is the practice of socially ostracizing a group by segregating them from the mainstream.
- Manual scavenging: Manual scavenging eventually became a caste-based occupation, which involves the removal of untreated human excreta. It has been officially abolished by Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.
- Caste-based violence: Increasing trend of caste-based violence are related to instances of inter-caste marriage and assertion of basic rights by the Dalits including land rights, freedom of expression, access to justice, access to education and public employment.
- Policy of caste-based reservation: The policy of caste-based reservation in India comprises of a series of affirmative action measures, such as reserving access to seats in the various legislatures, to government jobs, and to enrolment in higher educational institutions.
Recent incidents like Bhima-Koregaon violence, Jat, Maratha and Patidar agitation for reservation are examples of the assertion of caste identities.
Patriarchy is a social system where final decision making power vests in the male head due to this woman usually are relegated to the status of second class citizens. though a lot of social groups are matrilineal such as those in Meghalaya and Kerala, patriarchy is near-universal in India. It leads to gender discrimination and socio-economic deprivation of women. The system is reflected in the following:
- Lower sex ratio and high rate of female foeticide
- Malnutrition (nearly 50% of women in India are anaemic), high MMR
- Low levels of literacy among women and low female labour force participation rate
- System of dowry
- Domestic violence
Rural and Agrarian Society:
Around 70% of the population in India resides in the rural areas and almost half the population is engaged in agriculture as the main source of livelihood. It is usually said that the heart of India lies in its villages and it is proved by statistics as well as the culture of rural areas. A huge variety of art and craft such as Madhubani paintings, Khadi, bamboo items and other handicrafts are still predominantly sourced from the rural areas.
Also, major festivals in India such as Holi, Sankranti, Lohri, Pongal etc. are related to harvest seasons thereby indicating the agrarian connection of Indian festivals and fairs.
Mutual respect and Tolerance:
- The Indian society has survived despite its diversity because of the accommodative and assimilative values of mutual respect and tolerance that have existed here from the very early times. These values strengthened with time as more and more invaders made India their homes leading to mixing and co-existence of diverse cultures.
- During the ancient period, Indus valley civilization used to be a secular society and traded peacefully with other societies such as Mesopotamia, Bahrain, etc importing their cultural elements as well.
- Buddhism and Jainism also promoted these values among their followers. Indian ancient texts have promoted the value of “Sarva-dharma-sambhava" which represents the secular values of the time.
- In medieval times, the mixing due to frequent invasions and increased trade led to the fusion of different cultures. The fusion of Nagara and Dravid styles of temple building led to the Vesara style, Hindavi and Arabic into Urdu, Bhakti and Sufi movements (Teachings of Kabir, Guru Nanak, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti etc.),
- The concept of Dīn-i Ilāhī of Akbar indicated the mutual respect of society in general for different cultures.
- In modern time, these values have helped create and sustain a diverse secular democratic nation. It is these values which have curbed the rise of extremism in India so far and have prevented poaching of vulnerable Indian Muslims by terror groups such as ISIS. High levels of migration and rise of cosmopolitans such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore has been possible only because of these values.
Balance between spiritualism and materialism
Spiritualism's main focus is to promote an individual's experience with the Almighty. Whereas materialism is a tendency to consider material possession or assets and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values. Indian society is largely bent toward spiritual orientations. However, due to increased Westernisation and globalization, materialistic tendencies have also become prevalent in urban areas.
Balance between Individualism and collectivism
Individualism is a moral or social outlook that stresses human independence, self-reliance and liberty. Whereas collectivism is the practice of giving a group priority over an individual in it. There exists a fine balance between them in Indian society.
Blood and kinship
Blood relations and kinship ties have a stronghold over other social relationships. They continue to govern the political, economic and social spheres of life.
Indian society is dynamic in nature. The present Indian society is the product of the long-drawn process involving both assimilation and accommodation. While a lot of tribes have over the years lost their indigenous culture and practices as a result of assimilation into the Hindu society, a lot of new practices have emerged from the contact of different cultures. It is also dynamic since it is continuously changing. The recent example of it is the changes in the social values due to globalization.
However, there has been a rise in intolerance, fundamentalism, right-wing extremism etc in recent times. India needs to go back and revive its cultural values and ethos to rejuvenate coexistence, love and harmony in society.
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