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Block 4

Perspectives on Class, Caste and



Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

Block 4

Perspectives on Class, Caste

and Gender

Social classes are important categories for studying society. Class analysis, as
the basis for studying society, has been common in Sociology since Marx
raised the issue. The later sociologists tried to refine this analysis, at times
to refute Marxs basic assumptions. For Marx, classes were based on the
relationship of groups to the means of production. This definition goes
beyond the mere description of class. It tries to understand the political
economy of classes. Though at a broad level, this understanding of class is
useful for sociological analysis, it is necessary to look at the complexities of
rural and urban societies, especially with the proliferation of occupations.
In this Block we have tried to look at class from a diverse range of relationships.
One of the earlier misconceptions about class was that they are found in
industrial areas only. Classes are a product of capitalism; hence they are
prevalent only in areas where industrialisation has taken roots. Similarly it
was believed that the soil (meaning agrarian societies) gives rise to castes.
This contrast between the two sectors is not entirely correct. It would be
wrong to think that there are no classes in agrarian societies. In fact the
first unit on Agrarian Classes gives an in-depth understanding of this
phenomenon. The most natural class as everyone knows is the working class.
This class, as explained by Marx, is the contrary class of capitalism. However,
even if we know that the working class is a militant class that opposes
capitalism, it is not a homogenous class. There are several strata within this
class. One of the distinctions is between organised and unorganised sectors.
The former comprises those workers who have permanent jobs and also
enjoy some degree of social security. The latter comes under the category
of unprotected labour. They are either engaged in jobs that are not permanent
or are self-employed. The two sectors also have a range of differences within
themselves. There are well-paid employees working in clean environment
and there are low paid plantation workers who work under very trying
conditions. Hence it is necessary to understand the role of class in our
society. The third unit deals with this aspect.
If we extend our argument of multiplicity of classes in order to understand
social reality, we have to take into account another class that has become
very important for influencing social development. This is a class that comes
between the capitalists and the working class. This class is called the middle
class. How do we understand this class? Is it closer to the working class or
to the capitalists? What role does it play in social development? These are
the questions that the third unit on The Middle Class tries to examine.
An analysis of class alone will not give us the real picture of change in India.
Classes are there in rural and urban, agrarian and industrial society. Class
membership is based on ones achievement rather than ones ascription.
Parsons distinguished between modern and traditional societies in this
manner. Modern societies are achievement oriented while traditional ones
were based on ascription. But mere examination of class will not provide the
whole picture. There are other factors too that influence social stratification.
Thus discrimination based on these may not be basic to modern societies but


they are there nonetheless. These are, in the Indian context, gender and
caste. Though a modern system insists that ideologically there cannot be
differences in employment for women or the so-called lower castes, in reality,
we find that indeed such distinctions are made. In many ways women face
this form of discrimination. The same is true of the Scheduled Castes
communities. Ignoring such issues would lead to distortion of reality. The
fourth unit in this block, Gender, Caste, Class deals with some of these
This block is important for our understanding of social stratification and
social dynamics in Indian society.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender


Unit 13

Agrarian Classes and Categories

13.1 Introduction
13.2 Marx and Weber on Class
13.3 Notions of Agrarian Societies
13.4 The Classical Notion of Undifferentiated Peasant Society
13.5 Feudalism as a Type of Agrarian Society
13.6 Contemporary Agrarian Societies
13.7 Class Analysis of Agrarian Societies
13.8 Agrarian Social Structure and Change in India
13.9 Agrarian Changes during the British Colonial Rule
13.10 Agrarian Changes after Independence
13.11 Agrarian Class Structure in India
13.12 Conclusion
13.13 Further Reading

Learning Objectives
After studying this unit you will be able to:

discuss the difference between views of Karl Marx and Max Weber on

describe the notion of agrarian societies;

explain the classical notion of undifferentiated peasant society;

critically assess the idea of feudalism as a type of agrarian society;

describe the contemporary agrarian societies;

discuss the class analysis of agrarian societies;

outline the agrarian social structure and change in India;

explain the types of agrarian changes that took place during the British
colonial rule in India;

describe the agrarian changes after India became independent; and finally

discuss the agrarian class structure in India.

13.1 Introduction
Agrarian societies are those settlements and groupings of people where
livelihood is primarily earned by cultivating land and by carrying out related
activities like animal husbandry. Agricultural production or cultivation is
obviously an economic activity. However, like all other economic activities,
agricultural production is carried out in a framework of social relationships.
Those involved in cultivation of land also interact with each other in different
social capacities. Not only do they interact with each other but they also
have to regularly interact with various other categories of people who provide
them different types of services required for cultivation of land. For example,
in the old system of jajmani relations in the Indian countryside, those who
owned and cultivated land had to depend for various services required at
different stages of cultivation, on the members of different caste groups. In


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

exchange, the cultivators were obliged to pay a share of farm produce to

the families that served them.
As is the case with other social interactions, all these exchanges are carried
out in an institutional framework. The most important aspect of the
institutional set-up of agrarian societies is the patterns of land ownership
and the nature of relationships among those who own or possess land and
those who cultivate them. Those who owned agricultural land do not always
cultivate it themselves and often lease it out to tenants or share-croppers.
Similarly, those who cultivate their own land or leased-in land from others
often employ labour. The terms of employment of labour also vary. Some
could employ labour on regular basis, some on casual basis and some others
could do so on contractual basis. The form of employment of labour and the
nature of relationship that labour has with employer farmers or land owners
are important aspects of a given agrarian structure.
The agrarian structure and the land ownership patterns in a given society
evolve historically over a long period of time. Those who own land invariably
command a considerable degree of power and prestige in rural society. These
sets of relationships among the owners of land and those who provide
various forms of services to the landowning groups or work with them for
a wage could be described as the agrarian class structure.

13.2 Marx and Weber on Class

A category of people are often described as a class if they share some
common properties in a given production process. However, all those involved
in the agrarian process in a given society need not constitute a class. Some
of them could merely be a category of population with a set of socially
defined attributes. The classical sociological thinkers, Karl Marx and Max
Weber, wrote a great deal on the concept of class. Class was the most
important conceptual category for Karl Marx in his analysis of human history
and in his theory of social change.
Marxs model of class is a dichotomous one. It is through the concept of
class that he explains the exploitation of subordinate categories by the
dominant classes. According to Marx, in every class society, there are two
fundamental classes. Property relations constitute the axis of this
dichotomous system, a minority of non-producers, who control the means
of production, are able to use this position of control to extract from the
majority of producers the surplus product. Classes, in the Marxian
framework, are thus defined in terms of the relationships that a grouping of
people have with the means of production. Further, in Marxs model,
economic domination is tied to political domination. Control of means of
production yields political power.


Though Max Weber agreed with Marx on the point that classes were essentially
defined in economic terms, his overall treatment of the concept is quite
different from that of Marx. Unlike Marx, he argues that classes develop only
in the market economies in which individuals compete for economic gains.
He defines classes as groups of people who share similar position in a market
economy and by virtue of this fact receive similar economic rewards. Thus,
class status of a person, in Webers terminology, is his market situation or,
in other words, his purchasing power. The class status of a person also
determines his life chances. Their economic position or class situation

determines how many of the things considered desirable in their society

they can buy. Thus, in Weberian framework, the concept of class could not
be applied to pre-capitalist peasant societies where the market is only a
peripheral phenomenon.

Agrarian Classes and


Reflection and Action 13.01

Observe the families in your colony. Think critically about the relationship
that your family has with other families in your neighbourhood. In which
class or category will you place all of them, in terms of agrarian, semi-rural
or urban-based on their occupations? In terms of hierarchy, are all these
families at par with yours? If not, make a chart of 10 families in your
neighbourhood and place them hierarchically in comparison with your own.
Write a report of one page on My Family Status based on your earlier
observations and understanding. Compare your report with those of other
students at your study centre.

However, in the Marxist theory of history, the concept of class is applicable

to all surplus producing societies. But, in his own writings, Marx focused
mostly on the urban industrial or capitalist societies of the West. It was left
to the later Marxists, particularly Lenin and Mao, to apply the concept of
class to the analysis of agrarian societies.
Box 13.01: Marxs Outlook
Marxs philosophical outlook was largely influenced by both Hegel and Hegels
materialistic successor Ludwig Feurbach. Thus Marx put forward a view of
history known as economic determinism. He argued that the mode of
production (e.g. hand labour or steam power) was fundamental in determining
the kind of economy a society possessed, and the kind of cultural and social
structure of that society. The economic base was the sub-structure and the
political, religious and artistic features together with social arrangements
constituted the super-structure, the latter being conditioned by the former.
(Mitchell G. Duncan, ed. 1968 : 121)

13.3 Notions of Agrarian Societies

In the modern industrial societies the nature of class structure is, in some
ways, common everywhere. It is also easier to identify various class groups,
such as the working class, the industrialists and the middle classes, in urban
industrial societies. The social structures of agrarian societies are, however,
marked by diversities of various kinds. The nature of agrarian class structure
varies a great deal from region to region. The situation is made even more
complex by the fact that in recent times, the agrarian structures in most
societies have been experiencing fundamental transformations.
In most developed societies of the West, agriculture has become a rather
marginal sector of the economy, employing only a very small proportion of
their working populations. Though the significance of agriculture has
considerably declined in countries of the Third world too, it continues to
employ a large proportion of their populations. Thus, to develop a meaningful
understanding of the agrarian social structure, we need to keep in mind the
fact that there is no single model of agrarian class structure that can be
applied to all societies.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

Further, there are several different perspectives on the subject. There is a

very influential group of scholars in the field of agrarian studies who are
critical of analysing agrarian societies in class terms. Peasant societies for
them are a type of population, fundamentally different from the modern
urban industrial societies. The classical anthropological writings on the subject
conceptualized peasant societies in similar populist terms.

13.4 The Classical Notion of Undifferentiated

Peasant Society
Anthropologists developed the classical notion of peasant society during the
post-war period (after 1945). This notion was largely derived from the Western
experience. Peasant societies were seen to have emerged after disintegration
of the tribal form of social and economic life, when human beings began to
earn their living by cultivating land. They also started living in small
settlements. The typical peasant societies were seen to be pre-industrial in
nature. As the economies developed with the onset of the industrial
revolution, the traditional peasant way of life gradually began to change,
giving way to the modern urban lifestyles.
Peasantry, in this anthropological perspective, was essentially an
undifferentiated social formation. In terms of their social and economic
organisation, peasants were all similar to each other. They cultivated their
own plots of land with the labour of their families and produced primarily for
the consumption of their own families. In other words, there were no
significant class differences within the peasantry. While internally the
peasantry was more or less homogenous, peasant societies were invariably
dominated from outside by the urban elite. Unlike the primitive or tribal
communities, peasant societies produced surplus, i.e. they produced more
than what was enough for the subsistence requirements of their families
and for the consumption of those who depended directly on them. This
surplus was, however, transferred to the dominant ruling elite, who invariably
lived in the city mostly in the form of land tax or land revenue (Wolf 1966).
In cultural and social terms, peasants were seen to be fundamentally different
from the modern entrepreneurs. Their attitude towards work and their
relationship to the land was very different from that of the profit-seeking
entrepreneurs of the modern industrial societies. Robert Redfield, who
pioneered anthropological research on peasantry, argued that the peasantry
was a universal human type. They were attached to land through bonds of
sentiments and emotions. Agriculture, for them, was a livelihood and a way
of life, not a business for profit (Redfield 1965).


Writing in a similar mode during the early twentieth century, a Russian

economist, A.V. Chayanov had also argued that the governing logic of the
peasant economies was different from the modern industrial economies.
Unlike the industrial societies where economic process was governed by the
principal of profit maximisation and laws of capital, the logic of peasant
economy was subsistence oriented. The variation in farm size and productivity
of land in the Russian countryside were not guided by the quest for profit
or class difference but by the demographic factors. As the size of a household
grew the requirements for food and availability of labour power with the
household also grew. This directly resulted in an enlargement of the amount
of land the household cultivated (working assumption being that the land
was anyway available in abundance). However, as the size of the household

declined over time with newer members setting up their own independent
households, the holding size also declined (see Harrison1982 for a summary
of Chayanovs theory).

Agrarian Classes and


Following this classical discussion, Theodor Shanin (1987) developed an

ideal type of the peasant society. He defined peasants as small agricultural
producers, who, with the help of simple equipment and the labour of their
families, produced mostly for their own consumption, direct or indirect, and
for the fulfilment of obligations to holders of political and economic power.
He further identified four interdependent facets of peasant societies:

Peasant family worked as the basic multi-dimensional unit of social

organisation. The family farm operated as the major unit of peasant
property, production, consumption, welfare, social reproduction, identity,
prestige, sociability and welfare. The individual tended to submit to a
formalized family role-behavior and patriarchal authority.


Land husbandry worked as the main means of livelihood. Peasant farming

was characterized by traditionally defined social organization and a low
level of technology.


Peasant societies followed specific cultural patterns linked to the way of

life of a small rural community. Peasant culture often conformed to the
traditional norms of behaviour and was characterised by face to face


Peasantry was almost always dominated by outsiders. The peasants were

invariably kept at arms length from the sources of power. Shanin argued
that their political subjugation was also interlinked with their cultural
subordination and economic exploitation.

In this kind of a framework, though peasants were seen as being dominated

by outsiders, they were not viewed as being different from each other,
particularly in terms of their class status. In other words, in this classical
notion of the peasant society, there were no internal class differences within
the peasantry. The core unit of social organization was the peasant household.
However, this conception of peasant society emerged from the specific
experience of the European societies. The historical literature on different
regions of the world tends to show that the agrarian societies were not as
homogenous as they are made out to be in such formulations. Agrarian
societies were also internally differentiated in different strata. In India, for
example, the rural society was divided between different caste groups and
only some groups had the right to cultivate land while others were obliged
to provide services to the cultivators. Similarly, parts of Europe had serfdom
where the overlords dominated the peasantry. Such societies were also known
as feudal societies.

13.5 Feudalism as a Type of Agrarian Society

Historically, the concept of feudalism has generally been used for social
organisation that evolved in parts of Europe after the tribal groups settled
down and became regular cultivators. With the success of industrial revolution
during the 18th and 19th centuries, feudal societies disintegrated, giving way
to the development of modern capitalist economies. However, over the
years, the term feudalism has also come to acquire a generic meaning and
is frequently used to describe the pre-modern agrarian societies in other
parts of the world as well.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

Compared to the concept of peasant society, the term feudalism conveys

a very different notion of agrarian class structure. Cultivators in feudal
societies were seen as a subordinate class. The land they cultivated did not
legally belong to them. They only had the right to cultivate the land whose
legal owner was usually the overlord/ feudal lord or the king. The
distinctive feature of the agrarian class structure in feudalism was the
structures of dependency and patronage that existed between the
cultivators and the overlords. The cultivating peasants had to show a
sense of loyalty and obligation towards their overlords. This sense of
loyalty was expressed not only by paying a share of the produce of land to
the landlord but very often the peasants were also obliged to work for the
overlord and perform certain duties without expecting any wages in return.
The system of begar (unpaid labour) popular in many parts of India until
some time back would be an example of such a system.

13.6 Contemporary Agrarian Societies

The spread of industrialisation in the Western countries during the 19th
century and in rest of the world during the 20th century has brought about
significant changes in the agrarian sector of the economy as well. We can
identify two important changes in agrarian economy that came with
industrialisation and development. First, agriculture lost its earlier significance
and became only a marginal sector of the economy. For example, in most
countries of the West today, it employs only a small proportion of the total
working population (ranging from two or three to ten percent) and its
contribution to the total national income of these countries is not very high.
In the countries of the Third World too, the significance of agriculture has
been declining over the years. In India, for example, though a large proportion
of the population is still employed in the agricultural sector, its contribution
to the total national income has come down substantially. Though it continues
to employ more than half of Indias working population, the contribution of
agricultural sector to the national income is less than 25 per cent.
The second important change that has been experienced in the agrarian
sector is in its internal social organisation. The social framework of agricultural
production has experienced a sea-change in different parts of the world
during the last century or so. The earlier modes of social organisation, such
as feudalism and peasant societies (as discussed above) have
disintegrated, giving way to more differentiated social structures. This has
largely happened due to the influences of the processes of industrialisation
and modernisation. The modern industry has provided a large variety of
machines and equipments for carrying out farm operations, such as ploughing
and threshing. These technological advances made it possible for the
landowners to cultivate larger areas of land in lesser time. Scientific researches
have also given them chemical fertilizers and high yielding varieties of seeds.
The introduction of new farm technologies has not only increased the
productivity of land but has also led to significant changes in the social
framework of agricultural production.
Reflection and Action 13.02
Visit a village near your own village or a village near your town or city, in
case you are living in an urban area. Interview at least two farmers of this
village, one who is prosperous and better off, a large landowner, and the
second, one who has a very small plot of land. Ask them about :



How many members are there in their family? How many of them are
directly related with the tilling of land?
ii) What kind of dwellings do they live in and how big are they?
iii) What are the tools and technology they use to produce their crops?
iv) How educated are the members of their family? and
v) What, if any, are their links with the towns and cities and how frequently
do they make use of these links?

Agrarian Classes and


On the basis of this interview write on essay of two pages on Agrarian

classes in ................. village. Compare your essay with those of other
students and discuss your essay with your Academic Counsellor.

The mechanisation and modernisation of agriculture made it possible for the

cultivating farmers to produce much more than their consumption
requirements. The surplus came to the market. They began to produce crops
that were not meant for direct consumption of the local community. These
cash crops were produced exclusively for sale in the market. The cultivators
also needed cash for buying new inputs. In other words, the mechanisation
of agriculture led to an integration of agriculture in the broader market
economy of the nation and the world.
The mechanisation of agriculture and its integration in the broader market
economy has also in turn transformed the social relations of production,
leading to the development of capitalist relations in the agrarian sector. This
capitalist development in agriculture has transformed the earlier relations of
patronage and loyalty into those that are instrumental in nature. The growing
influence of market and money meant that the relations among different
categories of population become formalized, without any sense of loyalty or
However, not everyone benefits from the mechanisation process equally.
The market mechanisms put various kinds of economic pressure on cultivating
peasants. Some of them get trapped and become indebted eventually, selling
off their lands and becoming landless labourers. Similarly, those who worked
as tenants are generally evicted from the lands being cultivated by them and
are employed as wage servants by the landowners. While some among the
cultivating population become rich, others are left with small plots of land.
In other words, this leads to differentiation of the peasantry into new types
of groupings. The peasantry gets divided into different strata or classes.
The attitude of the peasants towards their occupation also undergoes a
change. In the pre-capitalist or the traditional societies, the peasants
produced mainly for their own consumption. The work on the fields was
carried out with the labour of their family. Agriculture, for the peasantry,
was both a source of livelihood as well as a way of life.
They begin to look at agriculture as an enterprise. They work on their farms
with modern machines and produce cash crops that are sold in the market.
Their primary concern becomes earning profits from cultivation. Thus the
peasants are transformed into enterprising farmers. The agrarian societies
also lose their earlier equilibrium. Farmers, unlike the homogenous peasantry
are a differentiated lot. They are divided into different categories or classes.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

13.7 Class Analysis of Agrarian Societies

As mentioned above, the concept of class was first used to describe the
social groupings in the industrial societies of the West. Over the years scholars
have used the concept to understand social structures in other settings as
well. Using the Marxist method of class analysis, Lenin, during the early
twentieth century, offered an analysis of the agrarian setting and class
differentiation of the peasantry in Russia in his well known piece of writing
the Preliminary Draft Thesis on the Agrarian Question. Similarly, in How to
differentiate the classes in Rural Areas, Mao Tse Tung, the leader of the
Chinese revolution applied the Marxist concept of class in his analysis of the
Chinese peasantry. Over the years, the writings of Lenin and Mao have become
the basis for understanding agrarian class structures in different societies.
Lenin and Mao suggested that with the development of capitalism in
agriculture, the peasantry, that was hitherto an undifferentiated social
category, gets differentiated or divided into various social classes. On the
basis of their experience, they identified different categories of peasants in
Russia and China respectively and the nature of relations the different
categories had with each other. On the basis of their writings, we can
broadly identify five or six agrarian classes. They would be the landlords, the
owners of large tracts of land who do not work on land directly. They generally
lease their lands out to tenants. They are a conservative class and do not
like agricultural developments, which they fear, could weaken their hold
over the rural society. The rich peasants are those who own substantial
areas of land. They invariably lease out a part of their land to tenants but
have direct interest in land. Once they begin to use modern technology,
they begin to employ wage labour and become capitalist farmers. The middle
peasants do not own much land but have enough for their own needs. They
typically work with their family labour. Neither do they employ wage labour
nor do they work as labourers with others. The poor peasants do not own
much land. In order to survive they invariably have to supplement their
income through wage labour. The landless labourers or agricultural proletariats
are tenants, share-croppers who end up losing their lands when capitalism
begins to develop in agriculture. They survive basically by hiring out their
labour power to rich peasants.
These, according to Lenin, were transitional categories. With further
development of capitalism in agriculture, there would be a tendency towards
polarization of the agrarian population into two classes, the big capitalist
farmers on one side and a large number of rural proletariat on the other.
However, the actual empirical experience of capitalist development in
agriculture in different parts of the world does not seem to entirely conform
to Lenins prediction. Though agriculture has been gradually integrated into
the market economy and peasantry has also got divided into various classes,
there is very little evidence to support the argument that the agrarian
population is getting polarized into two classes. In Western countries as well
as in the countries of the Third World, the middle and small size cultivators
have not only managed to survive, in some countries their numbers have
actually gone up.

13.8 Agrarian Social Structure and Change in India


As mentioned above, agrarian class structure in a given society evolves over

a long period of time. It is shaped historically by different socio-economic

and political factors. These historical factors vary from region to region. Thus
though one can use the concept of class to make sense of agrarian structures
in different contexts, one must also take the specific context into account
while doing so.

Agrarian Classes and


As mentioned above, the traditional Indian rural communities and the

agrarian social structures were organised within the framework of jajmani
system. This was a peculiarly Indian phenomenon. The different caste groups
in the traditional Indian village were divided between jajmans (the patrons)
and kamins (the menials). The jajmans were those caste groups who owned
and cultivated lands. The kamins provided different kinds of services to the
jajmans. While the kamins were obliged to work for the jajmans, the latter
were required to pay a share from the farm produce to their kamins. The
relationship was based on a system of reciprocal exchange.
However, participation in this system of reciprocal exchange was not on an
equal footing. Those who belonged to the upper castes and owned land
were obviously more powerful than those who came from the menial caste
groups. The structure of agrarian relations organised within the framework
of jajmani system reinforced the inequalities of the caste system. The caste
system in turn provided legitimacy to the unequal land relations.
Within this general framework, the actual structures of agrarian relations
differed from region to region. While in some parts of the sub-continent,
the influence of Brahmanical ritualism was strongs, in some other regions the
peasant values were stronger. This had a direct influence on the relative
position of Brahmins and landowning castes in the given agrarian setting.
Over the years, the jajmani system has disintegrated and rural society has
experienced profound changes in its social structure. The agrarian class
structure has also changed. These changes have been produced by a large
number of factors.

13.9 Agrarian Changes during the British Colonial

The agrarian policies of the British colonial rulers are regarded as among the
most important factors responsible for introducing changes in the agrarian
structure of the sub-continent. In order to maximize their revenues from
land, they introduced some basic changes in the property relations in the
Indian countryside. These agrarian policies of the colonial rulers had far
reaching consequences. In Bengal, Bihar, and in parts of Madras and the
United Province, they conferred full ownership rights over the erstwhile
zamindars who were only tax collecting intermediaries during the earlier
regimes. The vast majority of peasants who had been actually cultivating
land became tenants of the new landlords. Similarly, they demanded revenues
in the form of a fixed amount of cash rather than as a share from what was
produced on the land. Even when bad weather destroyed the crop, the
peasants were forced to pay the land revenue.
These changes led to serious indebtedness among the peasantry. The poorer
among them were forced to mortgage their land in order to meet the revenue
demands. In the long run it led to peasants losing their lands to moneylenders
and big landowners. The big landowners and moneylenders emerged as a
dominant class in the countryside while the ordinary peasants suffered. In


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

the new agrarian class structure that emerged during the colonial rule,
peasants had no motivation for working hard to improve their lands. As a
result the agricultural production declined. The colonial rulers also enforced
changes in the cropping pattern and made the local peasant produce cash
crops like cotton rather than food grains as they needed cotton for textile
mills in England. All this led to frequent famines and general misery of the
peasantry. The big landowners gained at the cost of the small and poor

13.10 Agrarian Changes after Independence

The nationalist leadership during the struggle for freedom from colonial rule
had mobilized peasantry on the promise of a better life. Leaders of the
Indian National Congress had started talking about the urgent need of agrarian
reforms even before they took over the reins of power from the colonial
rulers in 1947.
The process of Land Reforms was initiated almost immediately after
Independence. The central government directed the state governments to
pass legislations that would abolish intermediary landlords, the zamindars,
and would grant ownership rights to the actual tillers of the land. Some
legislations were intended to grant security to the tenants. The states also
fixed an upper ceiling on the holding size of land that a single household
could possess. The surplus land was to be surrendered to the state and was
to be redistributed among those who had no land.
Box 13.02: Factors of Social Change in Rural India
Dreze & Sen (1997 : p. 17) say that both Zamindari Abolition and the
development in agricultural practices in Western Uttar Pradesh were two
episodes, not very dramatic in their impact in themselves (compared with
for e.g. land reforms and productivity growth in other developing regions,
including parts of India) they do define the broad parameters of change in
the economic circumstances of the bulk of the population. The land reforms
limited the powers of large feudal landlords, and gave ownership rights to
a vast majority of tenant farmers who previously did not own land.

However, though the legislations were passed by all the states, only in some
parts of the country the desired effects could be achieved. The evaluative
studies of Land Reforms have often pointed out that only in those parts of
the country where peasants were politically mobilized and the local state
government had the right kind of political will, the land reforms could be
effectively implemented. Similarly, some legislations, such as those on
zamindari abolition were much more successful than those on the ceilings
(see Joshi 1976).


The government of free India also initiated several other developmental

programmes intended to encourage the cultivators to increase productivity
of their lands. These included the Community Development Programme (CDP),
the Co-operatives and the Green Revolution technology. These programmes
were designed to introduce modern methods of cultivation in the Indian
countryside. The cultivating farmers were provided with new technology,
seeds and fertilizers at subsidized rates. The state agencies also provided
them cheap credit. Though in principle these schemes were meant for
everybody, studies carried out in different parts of India tend to reveal that

the benefits of the state support to agriculture were not equally shared by
all the sections of rural society. Most of the benefits went to those who
were already rich and powerful. However, despite this bias, these initiatives
have been able to bring about a significant change in the agrarian economy
at least in some parts of the country. This is particularly true about the
regions like Punjab, Haryana, Western U.P., Coastal Andhra, and parts of
Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Agrarian Classes and


Box 13.03: Green Revolution and Social Mobility

During the 1960s and 1970s the adoption of modern agriculture practices
in Western Uttar Pradesh and their subsequent diffusion in parts of Haryana
and Punjab regions came to be known as Green Revolution. It led to a
general prosperity of the region. Yogendra Singh (1988 : 5) points out that
the Green Revolution signifies not merely growth in agricultural production
but also the use of new technology and new social relationships in production
processes. These developments make this phase of changes in rural economy
and society distinctive. A new interaction between technology, social
relationship and culture is now taking place in rural society. This has resulted
in social mobility, emergence of new power structures and modes of
exploitation of the deprived classes. It has generated new contradictions in

Apart from increasing productivity of land, these changes have transformed

the social framework of Indian agriculture. Agriculture in most parts of India
is now carried out on commercial lines. The old structure of jajmani relations
has more or less completely disintegrated, giving way to more formalized
arrangements among the land owning cultivators and those who work for
them. Some scholars have argued that these changes indicate that capitalist
form of production is developing in agriculture and a new class structure is
emerging in the Indian countryside (see Thorner 1982; Patnaik 1990; Jodhka

13.11 Agrarian Class Structure in India

As mentioned above, traditional Indian society was organized around caste
lines. The agrarian relations were governed by the norms of jajmani system.
However, the jajmani relations began to disintegrate after the colonial rulers
introduced changes in Indian agriculture. The process of modernisation and
development initiated by the Indian State during the post-independence
period further weakened the traditional social structure. While caste continues
to be an important social institution in the contemporary Indian society, its
significance as a system of organising economic life has considerably declined.
Though agricultural land in most parts of India is still owned by the traditional
cultivating caste groups, their relations with the landless menials are no
more regulated by the norms of the caste system. The landless members of
the lower caste now work with the cultivating farmers as agricultural labourers.
We can say that, in a sense, caste has given way to class in the Indian
However, the agrarian social structure is still marked by diversities. As pointed
out by D.N. Dhanagare, the relations among classes and social composition
of groups that occupy specific class position in relation to land-control and
land-use in India are so diverse and complex that it is difficult to incorporate
them all in a general schema (Dhanagare, 1983). However, despite the


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

diversities that mark the agrarian relations in different parts of country,

some scholars have attempted to club them together into some general
categories. Amongst the earliest attempts to categorize the Indian agrarian
population into a framework of social classes was that of a well-known
economist, Daniel Thorner (1956).
Thorner suggested that one could divide the agrarian population of India
into different class categories by adopting three criteria. First, type of
income earned from land (such as rent or fruits of own cultivation or
wages). Second, the nature of rights held in land (such as proprietary or
tenancy or share-cropping rights or no rights at all). Third, the extent
of field-work actually performed (such as absentees who do no work at all
or those who perform partial work or total work done with the family
labour or work done for others to earn wages). On the basis of these
criteria he suggested the following model of agrarian class structure in India.

Maliks, whose income is derived primarily from property rights in the soil
and whose common interest is to keep the level of rents up while
keeping the wage-level down. They collect rent from tenants, sub-tenants
and sharecroppers. They could be further divided into two categories,
a) the big landlords, holding rights over large tracts extending over
several villages; they are absentee owners/rentiers with absolutely no
interest in land management or improvement; b) the rich landowners,
proprietors with considerable holdings but usually in the same village
and although performing no field work, supervising cultivation and taking
personal interest in the management and improvement of land.


Kisans are working peasants, who own small plots of land and work
mostly with their own labour and that of their family members. They
own much lesser lands than the Maliks. They too can be divided into
two sub-categories, a) small landowners, having holdings sufficient to
support a family; b) substantial tenants who may not own any land but
cultivate a large enough holding to help them sustain their families
without having to work as wage labourers.


Mazdoors, who do not own land themselves and earn their livelihood
primarily by working as wage labourers or sharecroppers with others.

Thorners classification of agrarian population has not been very popular

among the students of agrarian change in India. Development of capitalist
relations in agrarian sector of the economy has also changed the older class
structure. For example, in most regions of India, the Maliks have turned into
enterprising farmers. Similarly, most of the tenants and sharecroppers among
the landless mazdoors have begun to work as wage labourers. Also, the
capitalist development in agriculture has not led to the kind of differentiation
among the peasants as some Marxist analysts had predicted. On the contrary,
the size of middle level cultivators has swelled.
The classification that has been more popular among the students of agrarian
social structure and change in India is the division of the agrarian population
into five or six classes. In terms of categories these have all been taken from
Lenin-Mao schema, but in terms of actual operationalisation, they are
invariably based on ownership of land, which invariably also determines their
relations with other categories of population in the rural setting, as also
outside the village.


At the top are the big landlords who still exist in some parts of the country.

They own very large holdings, in some cases even more than one hundred
acres. However, unlike the old landlords, they do not always give away their
lands to tenants and sharecroppers. Some of them organize their farms like
modern industry, employing a manager and wage labourers and producing for
the market. Over the years their proportion in the total population of
cultivators has come down significantly. Their presence is now felt more in
the backward regions of the country.

Agrarian Classes and


After big landlords come the big farmers. The size of their land holdings
varies from 15 acres to 50 acres or in some regions even more. They generally
supervise their farms personally and work with wage labour. Agricultural
operations in their farms are carried out with the help of farm machines and
they use modern farm inputs, such as chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds.
They invariably belong to the local dominant castes and command a
considerable degree of influence over the local power structure, both at the
village level as well as at the state level. While the big landlords command
more influence in the backward regions, the power of the big farmers is
more visible in the agriculturally developed regions of the country.
The next category is that of the middle farmers who own relatively smaller
holdings (between 5 acres to 10 or 15 acres). Socially, like the big farmers,
they too mostly come from the local dominant caste groups. However, unlike
the big farmers, they carry out most of the work on farms with their own
labour and the labour of their families. They employ wage labour generally at
the time of peak seasons, like harvesting and sowing of the crops. Over the
years, this category of cultivators has also begun using modern inputs, such
as, chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds. Proportionately, they constitute
the largest segment among the cultivators.
The small and marginal farmers are the fourth class of cultivators in India.
Their holding size is small (less than five acres and in some cases even less
than one acre). They carry out almost all the farm operations with their own
labour and rarely employ others to work on their farms. In order to add to
their meager earnings from cultivation, some of them work as farm labourers
with other cultivator. Over the years, they have also come to use modern
farm inputs and begun to produce cash crops that are grown for sale in the
market. They are among the most indebted category of population in the
Indian countryside. As the families grow and holdings get further divided,
their numbers have been increasing in most part of India.
The last category of the agrarian population is that of the landless labourers.
A large majority of them belong to the ex-untouchable or the dalit caste
groups. Most of them own no cultivable land of their own. Their proportion
in the total agricultural population varies from state to state. While in the
states like Punjab and Haryana they constitute 20 to 30 percent of the rural
workforce, in some states, like Andhra Pradesh, their number is as high as
fifty per cent. They are among the poorest of the poor in rural India. They
not only live in miserable conditions with insecure sources of income, many
of them also have to borrow money from big cultivators and in return they
have to mortgage their labour power to them. Though the older type of
bondage is no more a popular practice, the dependence of landless labourers
on the big farmers often makes them surrender their freedom, not only of
choosing employers, but invariably also of choosing their political


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

This is only a broad framework. As suggested above, the actual relations

differ from region to region. The agrarian history of different regions of India
has been quite diverse and the trajectories of development during the postindependence period have also been varied.

13.12 Conclusion
Agrarian classes and categories are societies which depend largely on
agriculture as their main source of sustenance. As you read in the above unit
agrarian settlements and groupings of people depend for their livelihood on
cultivating land and by carrying out related activities such as animal husbandry.
Like all other economic activities, agricultural production is obviously an
economic activity and as such is carried out in a framework of social
relationships. Those involved in cultivation of land also interact with each
other in different social capacities. Not only do they interact with each
other but also with other categories of people who provide them with
different types of services required for cultivation of land.
The social, economic and cultural interaction of different classes and categories
of people takes place in an institutionalised framework. The most important
aspect of the institutional set-up of agrarian societies is the pattern of
landownership and the nature of relationships among those who own or
possess land and those who till the land or do the actual cultivation. The
form of employment of labour and the nature of relationship that labour has
with their employer farmers or land owners are important aspects of a given
agrarian structure. You learnt in the above unit that those who own land
invariably command a considerable degree of power and prestige in rural
society. These sets of relationships among the owners of land and those who
provide various forms of services in the landowning groups or work with
them for a wage could be described as the agrarian class structure.
What is a class? The views of leading scholars and thinkers like Karl Marx and
Max Weber vary on this issue. Class for Marx is a dichotomous one. He says
that in every class society, there are two fundamental classes. Property
relations constitute the main criteria on the basis of this dichotomous system.
For Max Weber, class depends on the market situation or the purchasing
power of a person. The class status of a person also determines his/her life
chances. Thus, in Weberian framework, the concept of class could not be
applied to pre-capitalist peasant societies where market is only a peripheral
phenomenon. In comparison, the concept of class is applicable to all surplus
producing societies.
The social structures of agrarian societies are, however, marked with diversities
of various kinds. The nature of agrarian class structure varies from region to
region. In recent times, the agrarian structures in most societies are
undergoing fundamental transformations. In most developed societies of the
West, agriculture has become a marginal sector of the economy, employing
only a very small proportion of their working populations. In the Third World
too, the ratio of population dependent on agriculture has begun to decline
but it still employs considerable sections of the population.


There is an influential group of scholars in the field of agrarian studies who

are critical of analysing agrarian societies in class terms. Peasant societies
for them are a type of population fundamentally different from the modern
urban industrial societies.

Then you learnt about the classical notion of undifferentiated peasant society.
This notion developed during the post-war period (after 1945). It was largely
derived from the Western experience. A typical peasant society was seen to
be pre-industrial in nature. As the economics developed with the onset of
the industrial revolution, the traditional peasant way of life gradually began
to change, giving way to modern urban lifestyles.

Agrarian Classes and


Theodor Shanin (1987) developed an ideal type of the peasant society. He

defined peasants as small agricultural producers, who with the help of
simple equipment and the labour of their families, produced mostly for their
own consumption, direct or indirect, and for the fulfilment of obligations to
holders of political and economic power. The historical literature on different
regions of the world tends to show that the agrarian societies were not as
homogenous as they are made out to be in such formulations. Agrarian
societies were also internally differentiated in different strata. In India, for
example, the rural society was divided between different caste groups and
only some groups had the right to cultivate land while others were obliged
to provide services to the cultivators. Similarly, parts of Europe had serfdom
where the overlords dominated the peasantry. Such societies were also known
as feudal societies.
With the success of industrial revolution during the 18th and the 19th
centuries, feudal societies disintegrated, giving way to the development of
modern capitalist economics. However, over the years, the term feudalism
has also come to acquire a generic meaning and is frequently used to describe
the pre-modern agrarian societies in other parts of the world, besides Europe.
This Unit also discussed the kinds of fundamental transformations that have
taken place in contemporary agrarian societies. Increased mechanisation of
agriculture, advanced technology and communications have all led to a shift
in the pattern of social network of interaction. Increased yield, due to the
intervention of science and technology, improved seeds, etc. led to a situation
where surplus food is generated. The idea of cash crops is introduced
which further increased the distance between the rich and the poor.
Therefore, social inequity increases, feudal valise are lost or declines but
instead market relations take over in the rural agricultural sector.
The attitude of the peasants towards their occupation also undergoes a
change, as you read earlier. In the pre-capitalist or traditional societies, the
peasants produced mainly for their own consumption. The work in the fields
was carried out with the labour of their family. Agriculture, for the peasantry
was both a source of livelihood as well as a way of life. But in modern times,
landowners begin to took at agriculture as an enterprise. They work on their
farms with modern machines and produce cash crops which fetch higher
prices in the market and therefore generate more money. Thus, profit motive
becomes part of agricultural enterprise.
Lenin and Mao, two well known leaders from Russia and China, suggested
that with the development of capitalism in agriculture, the peasantry that
was hitherto an undifferentiated social category, gets differentiated or divided
into various social classes. On the basis of their experience, they identified
different categories of peasants respectively in Russia and China and the
nature of relations the different categories had with each other.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

However, that actual experience of capitalist development in agriculture in

different parts of the world does not seem to entirely conform to Lenins
prediction. There is very little evidence to support the argument that the
agrarian population is getting polarised into two classes. In the West, as in
the Third World countries, the middle and small size cultivators have not
only managed to survive but in some countries like India, their numbers have
Traditionally agrarian societies in India were marked by a pattern of relationship
called the Jajmani system where the different classes were interdependent
on each other in terms of service. The land owners were the patrons or
jajmans and the service providing castes were the Kamins such as, the
caste of carpenters, ironsmiths, etc. But gradually, after Independence, this
system has declined. The two significant reasons which led to this decline
were the abolition of Zamindari system and the Green Revolution.
The process of modernisation and development initiated by the Indian state
during the post-Independence period weakened the traditional social
structure. While caste continues to be an important social institution in the
contemporary Indian society, its significance as a system of organising
economic life has nearly disappeared. The agrarian class/caste structure is
still the same; but it is not defined by caste any more as it traditionally used
to be. The landless members of lower castes now work with the cultivating
farmers as agricultural labourers. We can, therefore, say that in this sense,
caste has given way to class in the Indian countryside.
Finally, in this unit you have learnt about the classification of agrarian
population of India into different class categories. One of the well known
sociologists who has done this is Daniel Thorner (1956). He divided agrarian
class structure into three types, maliks, kisan and mazdoors, based on their
relationship with the land.

13.13 Further Reading

Beteille, A. 1974 Studies in Agrarian Social Structure. Oxford University Press,
Beteille, A. 1974 Six Essays in Comparative Sociology. Oxford University Press,
Bhaduri, A. 1984 The Economic Structure of Backward Agriculture. Macmillan,
Desai, A.R. 1959 Social Background of Indian Nationalism. Popular Prakshan,


Unit 14

The Working Class

14.1 Introduction
14.2 Defining Working Class
14.3 A Brief History of the Working Class
14.4 Working Class : The Indian Scenario
14.5 Growth of Working Class in India
14.6 Social Background of Indian Working Class
14.7 Conclusion
14.8 Further Reading

Learning Objectives
After studying this unit you will be able to:

define what is meant by the term working class;

provide a brief history of working class generally;

describe the working class in the Indian scenario;

discuss the growth of working class in India; and

explain the social background of the Indian working class.

14.1 Introduction
Some level of inequality has existed in all societies since time immemorial.
All societies have been stratified, in the sense that all valued resources such
as wealth, income and power have been unequally distributed. But
inequalities were neither similar in all societies nor in all epochs. In medieval
Europe societies were divided into order or estates resulting in groups of
people known as aristocracy, peasantry, burghers and church. Each group had
prescribed roles and associated legal rights and duties. At other places slavery
was widely practised wherein slaves virtually had no social rights. In our own
country, as you have learnt earlier, society was traditionally stratified into
castes. The castes groups enjoyed different degrees of religious purity and
pollution. The remnants of stratification based on caste are still visible,
though in a modified form.
The Industrial Revolution took place in the middle of the 18th century in
England. This led to wide ranging changes in society. It introduced new
concepts such as industry, secularisation and community. New forms of
stratification based on class became prominent during this period. Though
the term class itself was not new, it acquired new meaning with other
emerging concepts. This system of inequality was clearly different from older
and known forms of stratification. First, classes were open whereas estates
or castes were closed systems. There was no legal or religious barrier, which
prevented the mobility of the individual in class hierarchy. In other words,
class position could be achieved rather than being ascribed. Second, members
of all classes have the same legal rights and duties. In effect all were judged
by same laws and courts. Finally, unlike older forms of inequality, economic
success was the sole criteria for determining class position.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

In older systems of inequality individuals were grouped together in categories,

which were polar opposites. Hence there were lords and serfs, master and
slave and in our own society we had pure and impure castes. Similarly, in
class-based stratification also there were bourgeoisie and proletariat (Marxian
terms). A careful analysis reveals that membership in all such groups were
essentially determined by economic relations. In Marxian terminology, relations
of production determined the class position i.e. those who own the means
of production and those who sell their labour for wages. This brings us to
the focus of this unit i.e. to discuss those who sell their labour in classbased societies. Such people have been labelled as Working Class. However,
Marx himself never used this term to denote them.

14.2 Defining Working Class

The question who and what is working class is not an easy one to answer.
There are several reasons for this. The working class is not a cohesive entity
and it has numerous differences and contradictions. There is a problem of
where to draw the line. Who belongs to the working class and who does not?
The difference further extends in terms of skill, sex, age, income and caste.
Hence the working class is a complex, contradictory and constantly changing
entity. But it is an entity in other words, there is a group of people
denoted as working class, who are not just a sum of people. Even though
there are differences and contradictions within the working class, they
need to be recognised and analysed. So then, can we have a single definition
of working class? The answer is that one cannot have a single definition
which will be all inclusive. This is because of the blurring of boundaries
between classes and the different working class. For example, a worker in
1970 is not the same as a worker in 2005. That is, the composition, the size
and the character of a class changes over a period of time. Therefore the
requirement is of a series of definitions, which have to change in accordance
with the changes in social structure.
Reflection and Action 14.01
Observe the labourers working in various capacities - road construction;
house construction; digging wells; cleaning drains, etc. Take note of workers
in factories, offices, dhabas and shops who are at the lower rung of the
socio-economic scale.
Recall your experience of workers in other sectors of the economy, as well,
and give a definition of the working class which you think is suitable to
define the wide range of diverse types of workers. Compare your definition
with those of other students at your Study Centre.

In the Marxian scheme, the capitalist society is characterised by two principal

classes: bourgeoisie and proletariat. Bourgeoisie owns the means of production
and proletariat sell their labour for wages in order to live. The Marxist
meanings of these terms have been specified clearly by Engels in a footnote
to the Communist Manifesto. By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern
capitalists, and by proletariat the class of modern wage-labourers. Hence,
bourgeoisie is synonymous with the capitalist and proletariat with the working


In recent years, the Marxist view on the working class has been countered
essentially by two views giving contradictory analysis. The first view is that

working class is literally disappearing. With the automation of industry and

apparent displacement of blue-collar jobs, the working class is fast shrinking
in size. However, the fact is that it is not the working class as a whole that
is disappearing, but blue-collar workers are disappearing. The second view
states the opposite. In this view all society is becoming working class. That
is, students, teachers, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers and salaried
employees of various kind are all workers. The working class is not disappearing
by elimination, but is in fact expanding with everybody joining it except a
few capitalists at the top. This view emphasizes the so-called blurring of
class boundaries but overlooks the important social distinctions between
classes. Moreover those distinctions are still very much prevalent in society.

The Working Class

However, the question still remains who are the working class? As M.
Holmstorm (1991) puts it people commonly refer to industrial workers, and
sometimes other kind of wage-earners and self-employed workers, as the
working class. Usually this means a group who share similar economic
situation, which distinguishes them from others, like property owners,
employers and managers. It suggests a common interest and shared
consciousness of these interests. This implies that like other classes the
defining feature of working class is their understanding of a common interest
and shared consciousness. However, in recent times these two concepts
have become difficult to actualise for the working class due to their own
internal divisions and diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.
It is worthwhile to ask that given multiple divisions and subdivisions among
the working class, such as organised formal or unorganised informal industrial
workers, casual general labourers, the self employed and small peasants,
does any type of common interest exist? Or are various types of workers
different classes with different and conflicting interest? Or do these classes
think or act as if they were classes with distinct interests either in their
everyday life, at work or at home?
It is difficult to find answers to these questions. The reason is that
consciousness per se becomes a tricky word, when used for working class
consciousness. One of the problems in dealing with the working class is that
one is dealing with people who do not have vocal or written expressions of
their ideas or beliefs. Even in labour movements or in trade union movements,
it is the non-worker labour leaders who make speeches not the worker. The
other element is that the working class is a totality that goes far beyond the
ordinary intellectual view of consciousness. It is an objective category. The
usual way of viewing consciousness is in terms of formal statement of belief.
However, in terms of working class and its living reality, this simply does not
work. The problem is compounded by the fact that studies of consciousness
tend to assume that consciousness is overwhelmingly a matter of mind, of
verbalizations. A worker, however, does not have a public platform or press.
Hence, verbal responses to formal questions, given the limited range of
alternatives allowed to workers in such situations, inevitably give a picture
of working class consciousness that is much more conservative than the
underlying reality.

14.3 A Brief History of The Working Class

The history of the working class can be divided in several eras for simplicity
of presentation. Though one tends to see the working class as an offshoot
of capitalism, the early roots could be found in pre-capitalism also.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender


Pre-Capitalism: There has been a very small working class since the time
of the Roman, Greek and Chinese empires. That is, there have been
people who were wage labourers rather than artisans from these times.
Industries such as iron and coal mining for instance were modelled on
capitalistic styles of production long before capitalism itself. As these types
of workers were few and far between, they could not be seen as a class.


Early Capitalism: The growth of capitalism witnessed a huge mushrooming

of cities and necessitated the creation of a huge working class. Exorbitant
cost of machinery and power meant that small-scale production was
neither competitive nor possible. Peasants were driven from the land to
cities through enclosure acts etc. So, for the first time, there were
huge numbers of people who shared a common life experience of living
and working close to each other.


Capitalism: In capitalism this new group of people started to define

themselves. The process which allowed such emergence of the new
class consciousness was the concentration of people who worked
together into same geographical areas in situations of grinding poverty.
It was clear to the workers that their neighbours and work partners
were starving and owners of the means of production were taking the
entire surplus. In this regard it is important to mention that capitalism
maintained itself through brute force best exemplified by the crushing
of the Paris commune and attacks on the Chartists in Britain.


During world war: Despite a widespread denunciation of the forthcoming

war as late as 1912 by the left parties worldwide and pledges by the
millions of workers not to fight, in the end, all left parties rallied behind
their ruling class. Those that opposed the war outright were a small
section of the working class, most notably Bolshevicks in Russia and the
bulk of anarchist movement. The mass socialist parties which had
developed out of struggles around Europe meekly led their members off
to the slaughter. The war saw huge mutinies and revolution in Russia
and indeed was to end with a workers rising in Germany. This was the
first time that throughout Europe socialist parties chose to work with
the ruling class.
Box 14.01: Stalinism
Under Stalinism, the new method of social control had developed in USSR.
This method relied on placing power in the hands of the state instead of
individual bosses. This had important effects on the working class. First,
the working class was assured that they were living under socialism. Secondly,
the fact that the factor that determined standard of living was access to
resources rather than wealth per se tended to lead to individual solutions
rather than collective ones. Moreover, wherever collective actions occurred,
it was ruthlessly stamped on preventing the development of a tradition of
successful collective action. The initial euphoria of the working class soon
turned to despair as the Communist Party along with the state bureaucracy
made itself the representative of the working class.



Post war to 70s: In this period there was a boom of industrialisation

and bosses all around the world. The standard of living of the working
class rose drastically. Since the late 60s onwards the idea that class
struggle politics was over became popular. A cure for the periodic
recession that capitalism had gone through, had been found and the
picture for everyone was rosy. It was also a period where the working

class was fragmented by the introduction of cheap mass transport, cheap

housing and the reduction of societies to a body composed of individual
families. Now the workers no longer lived near their work partners, but
lived in huge housing colonies with few social resources.

The Working Class

Box 14.02: Role of Mass Media

A new method of social control was also found during the 70s which was
owned by the capitalists. This method was the use of mass media such as
television. This further helped in the fragmentation of the working class due
to continuous hammering of capitalist ideologies and goodies. However, on
the flip side, television also helped in fostering the development of newer
forms of class struggle. In other words, the imperfection of capitalism was
beamed into the living rooms of everyone. This helped in developing a new
sense of consciousness among the working class, which was not only transregional in nature but also trans-national. Hence, the atrocities of capitalism
in one part of the world sparked protests in another corner of the world.


The 80s: The 70s ended in industrial discontent the world over, as the
rate of increase in the standard of living slowed and began to move in
the reverse direction. The post war boom ended and capitalism suddenly
found itself unable to afford the concessions it had offered to the
working class in return of peace. The increasingly multi-national character
of capitalism started to have profound effects on the structure of the
working class all over the world. The large scale, unskilled and semiskilled heavy engineering, mining and assembly plants began to close in
the first world or shifted to the cheaper third world countries. The rate
of profit in manufacturing began to decline to the extent that money
made through speculation was far greater than investment in the
manufacturing unit. In the name of reducing overhead costs, the largescale workforce was shacked. This was the best example of decimation
of large-scale workplaces and communities which consequently led to
further fragmentation of the working class. This era also witnessed
creation of many more white collar jobs which gave rise to the new
middle class. The need to service the new growing middle class composed
of speculators and dealers led to huge growth in the service sector.
There was also greater reduction of permanent employment, hence a
new sector of employment came up called the voluntary sector. Most of
the jobs lost were full time and unionised, most of those created were
part-time and anti-union. One final significant change was the huge
increase in the numbers of women workers, in part due to the fact that
many new jobs were part-time and generally badly paid.


The Working Class Today: The nature of working class today is quite
different from that a hundred years ago. In the late 80s a large section
of left parties viewed this as meaning that socialism was no longer
possible. Hence the best possible option is to form a rainbow alliance,
which would attempt to limit the excesses of capitalism.

14.4 Working Class: The Indian Scenario

India has a multi-structural economy where a number of pre-capitalist relations
of production co-exist with capitalist relations of production. Correspondingly,
here a differentiated working class structure exists i.e. the numerous types
of relations of production, consumption and accumulation of surplus combine
to produce a variety of forms of the existence of the working class. This is


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

further compounded by the structural features of Pan-Indian society along

with local conditions. So the composition of the working class is affected by
the caste, tribe, ethnic origin and the gender based division of labour
between male and female and associated patriarchy. This implies that despite
internal structural differences and the relations of productions through which
working people have been and continues to be, there exists a group of
people denoted as working class. Then, it becomes pertinent to analyse
the growth of working class in India. This is particularly so, when one considers
two facts. First, in India prior to 19th century there were vast numbers of
working people not working class. Second, the growth of capitalist mode of
production along with industrialization was imposed by the colonial masters.

14.5 Growth of Working Class in India

The modern working class came into being with the rise of capitalist mode
of production. This mode of production brought with it the factory type of
industry. In other words, rise of factory system of production and working
class happened simultaneously. Conversely, without a factory industry there
can be no working class but only working people.

Traditional Indian economy and encounter with colonialists

In India, as mentioned above, till the middle of the 19th century, there were
working people but not the working class. In other words, Indian economy
was characterized by what Marx termed as .small and extremely ancient
Indian communities are based on the possession in common land, on the
blending of agriculture and handicrafts, and on the unadulterated division of
labour, which serves, wherever a new community is started. The colonial
rule and exploitation of British Imperialists completely ruined the system of
production of these traditional and self-sufficient societies. Though the
process started with victory in the battle of Plassey in 1757, the process was
fastened with forced introduction of British capital, wherein the old economic
system and division of labour was completely shattered. The surplus generated
through the old system fell into the hands of the colonialists who then
started direct plundering and exporting of the wealth of India to England.
Simultaneously, the English capitalists felt the need of marketing in India the
industrial products of England. Hence from 1813 onwards the door of free
trade with India was opened not only for East India Company but for other
British companies also. This was coupled with the imposition of heavy import
duty ranging from 70 to 80 per cent on the cost of imported Indian textile
and silk products in England. The combined result of these was that Indian
economy suffered doubly that is, not only was the textile industry ruined,
but also the artisans were forced to starve. The same scenario existed in
Indian metallurgical and other industries. Moreover, Indian raw material was
an indispensable item for the development of British manufacturing industry.
Hence, colonialists followed the trading policy whereby they not only flooded
the Indian market with British industrial products but maintained the constant
supply of Indian raw materials and agricultural products to England. In a
word, as Sukomal Sen (1997) puts, India was transformed into an agrarian and
raw material adjunct of capitalist Britain, simultaneously preserving feudal
methods of exploitation. The result of this process was that Indian craftsmen
were forced out from their age-long profession. The ancient integrating
element of the unity of industrial and agricultural production unique in the
traditional economy was shattered and the structure of Indian society
disintegrated (Sukomel Sen 1997).


i) The formative period

The Working Class

The forced intrusion of British capital in India devastated the old economy
but did not transplant it by forces of modern capital economy. So, traditional
cottage industry and weavers famed for their skill through the centuries
were robbed of their means of livelihood and were uprooted throughout
India. This loss of the old world with no new gains led to extreme impoverishment of the people. The millions of ruined artisans and craftsmen, spinners,
weavers, potters, smelters and smiths from the town and the village alike,
had no alternative but to crowd into agriculture, leading to deadly pressure
on the land. Subsequently, with the introduction of railways and sporadic
growth of some industries, a section of these very people at the lowest rung
of Indian society who had been plodding through immense sufferings and
impoverishment in village life entered the modern industries as workers. The
first generation of factory workers, it appears, came from this distressed and
dispossessed section the village people. In the words of Buchanan. the
factory working group surely comes from the hungry half of the agricultural
population, indeed almost wholly from the hungriest quarter or eighth of it.
The factory commission of 1890 reports that most of the factory workers in
jute, cotton, bone and paper mills, sugar works, gun and shell factories
belonged to the lower castes like Bagdi, Teli, Mochi, Kaibarta, Bairagi and
Sankara. They also belonged to the caste of Tanti or Weavers. In coal mines
the largest single group were Bauris, a caste of very low social rank, the
majority of whom were under royts or landless labourers. The next largest
group in coal mining were the Santhals, a tribe of crude agriculturists. The
remaining section of miners were recruited from similar groups and also from
displaced labourers and menials from villages. Among the immigrant labourers
in the coalfields, such castes as Pasis, Lodhs, Kurmis, Ahirs, Koeris, Chamars
and lower caste Muslims were also there.
However, other studies point out a different pattern of migration of workers
from the village. The early working class was not the poorest of the poor.
Buchanans views were based on deduction. The studies of Monis and
Chandavarkar show that the lowest castes did not join the industries. Kalpana
Rams study of mine workers also shows something similar. There were 2
reasons for this. The wages were very low and it was not possible for the
poor to migrate to the city with their families and work in factories. It would
be difficult to maintain a family on low wages. Hence both Monis and Ram
note that initially middle castes those with some land migrated. Their
families stayed behind and the worker would send small amounts of money
to supplement the family earning/subsistence from land. Dalits/lower castes
did not migrate, or they could not migrate, as they were required to do the
unclean activities in the village. Secondly, being landless, they could not
subsist on those meagre earnings. Migration of lower castes took place later
(after 30-40 years) due to two reasons. The factories (jute and cotton) faced
labour shortage, hence wages were increased. Secondly, there was pressure
from the British Govt. on the village community to allow untouchables to
migrate outside the village.
The view expressed earlier in this unit is Buchanans and also Max Webers
who had written that industrialisation in India attracted the low castes and
the dregs of society.

ii) Emergence of working class

With the growth of modern factory industries, the factory workers gradually


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

shaped themselves into a distinct category. The concentration of the working

class in the cities near the industrial enterprises was an extremely important
factor in the formation of the workers as a class. Similar conditions in factories
and common living conditions made the workers feel that they had similar
experiences and shared interests and react in similar fashion. In other words,
the principal factors underlying the growth and formation of the working
mass as a class in India in the latter half of the 19th century and at the
beginning of the 20th century, I bear similarities with the advanced countries
of Europe. Hence, the consciousness of being exploited by the capitalists/
owners of factories was evident as early as 1888, when workers of Shyamnagar
Jute Mill assaulted the manager Mr. Kiddie. That is, the reactions against the
exploitation in early phases were marked by riots, affrays, assaults and physical
Side by side with these forms of protest there were also other forms of
struggle characteristic of the working class. Typical working class actions
such as strike against long hours of work, against wage cuts, against
supervisors extortion were increasing in number and the tendency to act
collectively was also growing. As early as 1879/80 there was a threat of a
strike in Champdani Jute Mill against an attempt by the authorities to
introduce a new system of single shift which was unpopular with workers.
Presumably because of this strike threat the proposed system was ultimately
abandoned. However, the process of class formation among workers in India
was marked by fundamental differences as opposed to their European
counterparts. It had far reaching consequences on the growth of the Indian
working class. These differences were

Though in Europe also the artisans and craftsmen were dispossessed of

their profession, they were not forced out of towns to crowd the village
economy. They found employment in the large industries as soon as they
were dispossessed of their old professions. In India, after the destruction
of traditional handicraft and cottage industry, modern industry did not
grow up in its place. The dispossessed artisans and craftsmen were
compelled to depend on the village economy and earn livelihood as
landless peasants and agricultural labourers.


The gap between destruction of traditional cottage industry and its

partial replacement by modern industries was about two to three
generations. The dispossessed artisans and craftsmen lost their age-old
technical skill and when they entered the modern industries, they did
so without any initial skills.


When the workers, after long and close association with agricultural life,
entered the modern industries and got transformed into modern workers,
they did it in with the full inheritance of the legacy and various
superstitions, habits and customs of agricultural life. There was no
opportunity for these men to get out of casteism, racialism and religious
superstition of Indian social life and harmful influence of medieval ideas.
They were born as an Indian working class deeply imbued with obscurantist
ideas and backward trends. However, this feature they shared with
some of their European counterparts, as well, such as the British working
class who too had suffered similar problems.

These peculiarities accompanying the birth of Indian workers acted as

hindrances to the development of their modern outlook and class
consciousness. In fact the Indian workers were not the only workers


characterised by these peculiarities, rather these were general characteristics

of the working class of the colonies and sub-colonies.

The Working Class

iii) Consolidation of the working class

The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th was marked by the
organised national movements and consolidation of the working class. The
national movement, especially in Bengal and Maharashtra had already assumed
a developed form which exerted a great impact on the later national
awakening of the entire country. The partition of Bengal in the year 1905
aroused bitter public indignation and gave rise to mass national upsurge.
This political development worked as a favorable condition for the Indian
working class too for moving ahead with its economic struggles and raising
them to a higher pitch. The period from the beginning of the century till the
outbreak of the first world war was marked with widespread and dogged
struggles of the workers which were not only economic struggles, but political
struggles also. That is, these struggles led to the laying of the foundation of
the first trade unions of the country. Moreover, the turn of the century was
also marked by the advance in industrialization with concomitant swelling of
the working class in numerical strength.
Box 14.03: Trade Unions
In order to defend themselves from the collective might of the employers
and the state, the working class organised themselves into trade unions so
that they could increase their bargaining power through unity. Therefore
trade unions emerged from the spontaneous efforts of the working class.
They were not organisations that were preplanned on the basis of some
theoretical formulation. In India, the crystallisation of organisations of workers
into trade unions took place after the First World War. (IGNOU 2004, BLD102 Evolution of Workers Organisation 1, Unit 1&2)

On the eve of the First World War, the capitalist development in India got
accelerated. There was increase in the number of joint stock company i.e.
in 1900 the number of joint stock firms was 1360, which in 1907 rose to 2166.
It marked the further increase at the beginning of the first world war when
the number of registered firms stood at 2553. However, with the outbreak
of war the colonial exploitation of India assumed horrible proportions. The
government widely used the countrys industrial potential for the needs of
war. In all these Indian bourgeoisie got opportunities to prosper. The main
advantage accruing to Indian bourgeoisie during war were less competition
from major imperialist powers, a large market for country made goods inside
and outside the country, war contracts, relatively cheaper raw agricultural
materials, lower real wages and higher prices of manufactured goods. But for
the working class it was a tough time. This was because the soaring up of
prices reduced the living standards of working class. While rural areas were
affected by the rise of prices of manufactured goods, the towns faced
higher food prices. The expansion of industrialisation saw swelling of numbers
of factory workers. In 1919, the large scale industries of the country employed
13,67,000 workers. Of this 306,300 were employed in 277 cotton spinning and
weaving mills; 140,800 in 1940 cotton ginning factories and 276,100 in jute
factories and presses. The railway shops employed 126,100 workers.
The October socialist revolution and subsequent sweeping mass and working
class struggles formed the background under which the first organisation of


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

the Indian working class called All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was
born. In other words, the end of World War I, the success of the October
revolution and the first general crisis of capitalism added new strength to
the anti-imperialist struggle of India.
The working class too did not fail to occupy its own place in the antiimperialist struggle. In this regard it is important to note that the background
of political struggle during 1905-8 is the unprecedented dimension of class
struggle waged by the Indian working class in the national and international
set-up of the post war period against capitalist exploitation bore more
significance from the point of view of workers class-consciousness. Then
the birth of the central class organisation of Indian working class at the right
moment when national political awakening was at its peak and they were
conscious as class.
Box 14.04: Formation of AITUC
The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the first national federation
of trade unions in India was formed in 1920. It was a result of realisation
by several people linked with labour that there was a need for a central
organisation of labour to coordinate the work of trade unions all over India.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak, N.M. Joshi, B.P. Wadia, Diwan Chamanlall, Lala Lajpat
Rai, Joseph Baptista and many others were trying to achieve this goal. The
formation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) acted as a catalyst
for it................................................... .
Lala Lajpat Rai became the first president of the AITUC and Joseph Baptista
its vice-president. Motilal Nehru and Vithallbhai Patel were also present. The
AITUC received a lot of support from the Indian National Congress. There
were about 107 unions which were affiliated or sympathetic to the AITUC.
Out of these 64 unions had 140,854 members. One notable absence was the
Gandhian trade union of Ahmedabad. The Textile Labour Union. It was a
promising beginning and the AITUC continued to grow until it split in 1929.
(Upadhayaya, S.B. 2004. Evolution of Trade Unions in India, IGNOU BLC102, Organisaing the Unorganised. 1)


Recession in Indian industry and economy began already in the year 1922 and
continued intensifying. In 1929 the impact of the world economic recession
and general crisis of world capitalism veritably shook the Indian economy.
Though the World War I provided a number of industries with some temporary
advantages or opportunities to expand and saw limited growth of some
industries, in a real sense Indias industrialisation was absolutely of a sprawling
character and without any basic consolidation. The mill owners attempted
to reduce wages of the workers. It is the particular misfortune of the Indian
working class that they ultimately had to fall victim to the intense rivalry
between imperialists and native capitalists. The workers did not lie low
before that onslaught, but resisted. So, in order to safeguard its position,
the working class of India had to proceed through a path of bitter struggle.
The economic offensive reduced the standard of living of the workers. The
investigation conducted by the Bombay Labour Office into the working class
budget of 1921-23 revealed that the quantity of daily food consumed by the
Bombay workers was less than what was available to the prison inmates. An
enquiry conducted by the Madras labour department also revealed a similarly
shameful state of affairs.

The years 1926-29 constitute an eventful phase of the working class struggle.
During this phase the Indian communist movement stood on a firm foundation
poised for advance. Communist influence on the working class movement
was felt to be very strong. Large scale strikes were conducted during these
years. Although the government tried to dub these strikes as communist
conspiracies, these struggles, led by the communists in many cases were in
fact, a sharp manifestation of the simmering discontent of a working class
afflicted with crushing problems. Sharpening of struggles, side by side, acted
to further widen the outlook of the working class and this was borne out by
the very nature of its activities at both national and international levels. The
government in response tried to root out the militant section of the working
class movement by unleashing draconian measures. With a view to keeping
the speeding working-class movement under safe control, they on one hand
introduced the Trade Union Act. 1926 and on the other passed The Trade
Disputes Act and Public Safety Act for tightening up their suppressive
designs. The government even tried to incite the public opinion against

The Working Class

The world economic crisis of 1931-36 was the most profound and destructive
of all economic crises capitalism has ever known. It dealt a shattering blow
to the economy, the political foundation and ideology of bourgeoisie and in
total effect it further aggravated the general crisis of capitalism. In India the
repercussion of this crisis was more fatal. Indias economy, where 80 percent
of the people were dependent on agriculture came to a breaking point due
to a fall in agricultural prices. The plight of the peasantry was beyond all
imagination, their purchasing power came down to an all time low. In all
industries there was mass retrenchment and wages were slashed. In other
words, workers of all categories were hit. It is during these times that
building up stiff resistance against the world economic crisis and its effect
upon the working class were drastic. In spite of organisational disunity
prevailing at that time, the working class waged economic struggle. However,
due to the large-scale involvement of the working class also in the antiimperialist movement of the period, the political dimension of the struggle
got precedence over the economic struggle.
World war II broke out on 3rd September 1939, the Viceroy of India proclaimed
India to be belligerent. This had a devastating effect on the Indian economy
and working class in particular. The colonial government reoriented the
economy, whereby the industrial units introduced double to triple shifts of
work and leave facilities were curtailed. This was done to cater to the war
needs of England. As far as workers were concerned, their economic
conditions were miserable in the pre-war period, and the new war made the
situation much worse. This was because of the steady fall in the wage rates
across the industry. Though there was a reversal in the trends of wage rate
from 1936 onwards, the abnormal rise in prices had not only offset the rise
in wages, the wages of the workers in real terms had gone down. In such
a situation the working class of India had to wage a struggle for protecting
the existing standard of living. The working class embarked on a series of
strikes in Bombay, Kanpur, Calcutta, Banglore, Jamshedpur, Dhanbad, Jharia,
Nagpur, Madras, Digboy of Assam or in a word throughout the entire county.
Moreover, the greatest working class action in India was the anti-war strike
which was organised in Bombay on 2nd October 1939 and was joined by 90,000
workers. This event along with other struggles indicates that during this
period the outlook of the Indian working class did not remain confined solely
to the economic demands. The working class rather fully kept pace with the


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

national and international political developments and played a key role in

the political struggles. In such an event the imperialist government directed
severe attacks to forestall the struggle of the working class.
The defeat of fascism and end of the World War II saw the emergence of the
Indian working class as a highly organised, class conscious and uncompromising
force against the colonialist. The upsurge of world democratic national
liberation forces that followed had its impact in India too. An unprecedented
and irresistible struggle for national liberation and democratic advance engulfed
the country. Side-by-side the working class had to engage in sharp economic
struggles. The reason was that after the war there was large-scale
retrenchment of the wartime recruits and reduction of wages. Against all
this, the working class resolutely started the struggle. The phenomenal rise
in the number of strike actions (1629) in the year 1946 was an indication of
the stiff resistance. All India Trade Union Congress raised the demand of
stopping retrenchment, minimum wage, eight hours work, health insurance
scheme, old age pension, unemployment allowance and several other social
security measures. To suppress these, the government took recourse to
extreme measures such as police firing and several other repressive measures.
In this many workers had to lay down their lives while upholding their cause.
As soon as India became independent, the political climate of the country
changed. This was particularly so for the working class. That is, till
Independence political and economic struggle of the working class was
directed against the colonial masters. Moreover, it was a broad political front
against imperialism where everybody from the national bourgeoisie to the
working class rallied with one common objective. But with Independence
began a new political dynamics, where power was in the hands of capitalists
and landlords. Their economic interests were directly counter to those of
the working class. With this, the objective of the struggle of the working
class also saw a change i.e. to end the rule of the capitalist and establish
socialism in the real sense of the term. This was thought to be the
precondition for growing class-consciousness, which the majority of the
working class of India had not yet realised.
Though the achievement of Independence, roused immense hopes and
aspirations among all sections of the society, it was accompanied by a huge
rise in prices and continuous fall in the real wages of the workers. Moreover,
the ruling classes had embarked upon a path of building capitalism in the
newly independent country. This brought in its wake immense hardships and
suffering to the toiling masses which generated powerful resistance of the
working classes all over the country.

Nature and Structure of the Working Class Today


Given such an eventful history and evolution of the working class in India,
it is worthwhile to examine the nature and structure of the working class
in the present circumstances. As mentioned above, due to the existence of
multi-structural economy and effects of primordial affiliations, a variety of
forms of the working class exists in India. On top of all the differences, the
differences in wage is also the basis of divisions among the working class.
On the basis of wage, there are four types of workers. First, those workers
who are permanent employees of the large factory sector and get family
wage. (By family wage it is meant that the wage of the worker should be
sufficient to maintain not only the individual but also the workers family.

For further details see Nathan, Dev, 1987). They are mostly employed in the
public sector enterprises and modern sectors of petrochemicals,
pharmaceuticals, chemicals and engineering. Second, there is a large and
preponderant section of the working class that does not get a family wage.
This includes workers in the older industries like cotton and jute textiles,
sugar and paper. Even the permanent workers in the tea plantation come in
the same category because the owners refuse to accept the norm of family
wage for an individual worker. Third, there is a section of the working class
at the bottom of the wage scale the mass of contract and sometimes
casual labourers in industry, including construction, brick making and other
casual workers. Fourth, below all these lie a reserve army of labour, who
work in petty commodities production in petty trading, ranging from hawking
to rag-picking. They are generally engaged in the informal sector and carry
on for the want of sufficient survival wage. The existence of a majority of
workers, who are not paid family wage means that either the worker gets
some form of supplement from other non-capitalist sectors or the worker
and his/her family cut down their consumption below the minimum standard.
This also means that there is more than one wage earner per household. As
Das Gupta (1986) mentions both men and women work in the plantation or
Bidi manufacturing. At the same time they also supplement these earnings
with various kinds of agricultural activities including not only cultivation as
such but also poultry and milk production. Even in the plantation workers
are given plots of land with which to carry on agricultural production. It is
the supplementary agricultural activities that enable wages in these sectors
to be kept low. In this sense, supplementary activities by the workers under
pre-capitalist relations of production is a tribute to the capitalist sector.

The Working Class

Not only is there wage differential among the working class, there is also
variation in the terms of working conditions. Hence, better paid labour has
also much greater job security. However the workers on the lower end of
the wage scale have not only job security but also considerable extra-economic
coercion and personal bondage which leads to lack of civil rights. Similarly,
working conditions for the low paid workers are uniformly worse than for
high paid workers. So, in the same plant or site there is a clear difference
in the safety measures for the two groups of workers. The situation worsens
further with regard to women workers. For example, women are not allowed
to work in the steel plants for safety reasons, but are not prohibited to be
employed on the same site as contract labour.
Reflection and Action 14.02
Visit a local factory or cottage industry in your city/town or village. Find out
about the type of workers in that factory.
Ask two workers at least, who belong to the organised sector, about their
social, economic and ethnic backgrounds. Do they have links with their
villages? Are they members of a Trade Union? If so, what are the benefits
of belonging to the Trade Union?
Now select atleast two workers from the same factory who are from the
unogranised sector. Ask the same questions to them which you asked the
organised sector workers.
Based on these interviews, write a report of two pages on The Different
Positions of Organised and Unorganised sector workers in an Indian Factory.
Compare your report with those of your peers at your Study Centre.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

With such major divisions amongst the working classes of India on the basis
of wage, one would expect that there would be large scale mobility among
the workers. So a worker would start as casual or contract labour in a firm
and then would move to permanent employment either in the same or other
firms. A study by Deshpande (1979) of Bombay labour found the reverse to
be true. That is, around 87 per cent of the regular employees, who had
changed their jobs had started as regular employees and only 13 per cent
had started as casual labour. In this regard Harriss (1982), who conducted a
study in Coimbatore, reported that individuals do not move easily between
sectors of the labour market. Among the 826 households surveyed there
were only less than 20 cases of movement from unorganised into organised
sector. Many in the unorganised sector had the requisite skills, experience
and education for factory jobs. But they lack the right connections or to put
it in another way, they do not belong to the right social network. This
means that mobility to a large extent is dependent upon the way recruitments
are done. The above-mentioned study of Bombay labour, though dealing
with private sector, found that recruitments are done mainly through friends
and relatives. A study in Ahmedabad by Subramanium and Papola (1973) found
that 91 per cent of the jobs were secured through introduction by other
workers. This in a way then denies the disadvantaged groups, access to the
high wage employment. In public sector, though a substantial portion of the
vacancies are filled through employment exchange, it does not in any way
mean that the casual, contract or other disadvantaged groups have equal

14.6 Social Background of Indian Working Class


Indian working class, as mentioned earlier, came from diverse social

backgrounds in which primordial identities such as caste, ethnicity, religion
and language played very important roles. In recent years, the significance
of these elements has been reduced but they do persist nonetheless. In this
regard, the Ahmedabad study (1973), points out that where jobs are secured
through introduction by other workers, the latter was a blood relation in 35
per cent of the cases, belonged to the same caste in another 44 percent and
belonged to the same native place in another 12 per cent. Friends helped
in 7 per cent of the cases. Several other studies have pointed out the role
of kinship ties in getting employment (Gore 1970). Kinship ties not only play
a significant role in securing employment, but also in the placement in the
wage scale. Five studies of Pune, Kota, Bombay, Ahmedabad and Bangalore
covering large number of industries found that 61 per cent of workers were
upper caste Hindus (Sharma 1970). The dominant position of the workers
from upper caste was also brought out in a study of Kerala. This study points
out that in higher income jobs upper castes dominate whereas Dalits/adivasis
have preponderance in low wage jobs. The middle castes are concentrated
in middle to bottom ranges. Even in public sector, the representation of
backward castes, schedule castes and tribes is not up to their proportion in
the population. Moreover, it seems that caste based division of labour is
followed in the class III and IV jobs in government and public sector
enterprises. So the jobs of sweepers are reserved for dalits and adivasis. In
coal mines, hard physical labour of loading and pushing the coaltubs is done
by dalits and advasis. In steel plants the production work in the intense heat
of coke oven and blast furnace is mainly done by advasis and dalits. This is
because, as Deshpande (1979) points out, of pre labour market characteristic
such as education and land holding. So those who possessed more land and
education ended up in a higher wage sector. But then if upper and lower

caste people own comparable levels of landholding and education, the upper
caste worker will get into a higher segment of the wage than the lower
caste worker. This is because of the continuing importance of caste ties in
recruitment. Caste also serves the function of ensuring the supply of cheap
labour for different jobs with the fact of not paying more than what is
necessary. In other words, the depressed conditions of adivasis and dalits
helps in ensuring a supply of labour, who can be made to work at the mere
subsistence level (Nathan 1987). Hence, caste on one hand plays a role in
keeping the lower sections of the society in the lower strata of the working
class, on the other hand, the upper caste get a privilege in the labour
market. Further, caste is not only a matter of marriage and to an extent
residence, but more so a continuing pool of social relation for the supply of
various kinds of labour for the capitalist mode of production (ibid.).

The Working Class

14.7 Conclusion
The working class, which is the product of capitalist relations of production,
came into being with the industrial revolution and subsequent industrialisation
in England in particular and Europe in general. In this relation of production,
unlike other epochs, they did not own anything except the labour, which
they sold for survival. At the other spectrum, there were capitalists who not
only owned all the means of production but also appropriated all the surplus
generated out of these relations of production.
The working class at the conceptual level seems to be fairly simple, but if
one tries to define it, the problem magnifies. The reason is that this is not
a homogeneous entity. Rather it is a complex, contradictory and constantly
changing entity. Another reason is that the concept of class-consciousness,
is very slippery with regard to the working class. The consequence of this
is that it is often proclaimed that either the working class is shrinking in size
or everybody except a few at the top are working class. However the fact
is that working class is a distinct entity, with characteristics of its own. In
India, the situation is much more complex because of several reasons like,
(a) the forced intrusion of British capital in India; (b) simultaneous existence
of multiple relations of production; and (c) never ending identification of
working mass with primordial features such as caste, religion and other
ethnic divisions of the society.
The coming into being and consolidation of the working class in the world
as well as in India, has been affected by local and international events of
both economic and political nature. So for carrying out further studies on
the working class, these peculiarities have to be taken into account.

14.8 Further Reading

Holmstrom, M. 1991: Who Are the Working Class? in Dipanker Gupta edited
Social Stratification. Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Sen, Sukomal 1997 : Working Class of India-History of Emergence & Movement
1830-1996. K.P. Bagchi & Cmompany, Calcutta
Ramaswamy, E.A & U. Ramaswamy 1987. Industry and Labour. Oxford University
Press, Delhi


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

Unit 15

The Middle Class

15.1 Introduction
15.2 Concept of Class
15.3 Concept of the Middle Class
15.4 Evolution of the Middle Class in India
15.5 Modernity and the Middle Class in Contemporary India
15.6 Values Related to Family, Marriage and Womens Status amongst
the Middle Class
15.7 Conclusion
15.8 Further Reading

Learning Objectives
After studying this unit you will be able to:

explain the concept of class;

discuss the concept of middle class;

outline the evolution of middle class in India;

describe the link between modernity and the middle class in contemporary
India; and
discuss the values related to family, marriage and status of women amongst
the middle class.

15.1 Introduction
Analysis of the middle class in contemporary capitalist society has been
lacking in systematic discussion. This is also the case in a society such as
India. There has been an ongoing debate on what constitutes the middle
class in India. However, a comprehensive understanding of the middle class
in India is still far from complete. In this Unit, we endeavour to understand
the concept of middle class in India in contemporary times. We have divided
this Unit into four sections. In the first section, we discuss the concept of
class from various perspectives following which, in the second section, we
focus on the definition of middle class and its evolution in India. The third
section will be devoted to understanding the middle class in contemporary
India. The fourth section explains the values related to family, marriage and
kinship amongst the middle class; and in the final section, we bring the
discussion to a conclusion.

15.2 Concept of Class


Before entering into any theoretical discussion on what constitutes the

middle class and whether India has a middle class, it becomes pertinent to
understand class as a concept. Right from the time of classical thinkers,
myriad viewpoints on class have been put forth. Karl Marx defined social
class as an aggregate of persons who perform the same function in the
organisation of production. In Marxs theory, social classes in different
historical periods are given different names such as freeman and slave,
patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, oppressor

and oppressed. Classes are distinguished from each other by the difference
in their respective positions in the economy (Bendix & Lipset, 1967: 7).
Since social class is constituted by the function which its members perform
in the process of production, the question arises why the organisation of
production is the basic determinant of social class. Fundamental to this
theory was Marxs belief that work is mans basic form of self-realisation.
Stating the four aspects of production, Marx propounded that these explain
why mans efforts to provide for his subsistence underlie all change in history.
Following from this, Marx asserted that the fundamental determinant of class
is the way in which the individual cooperates with others in the satisfaction
of his or her basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. Other indices such
as income, consumption patterns, educational attainment or occupation are
so many clues to the distribution of material goods and of prestige symbols
(ibid:8). Interpreting Karl Marxs viewpoint, Lipset and Bendix explain that
the income or occupation of an individual, according to Marx, is not an
indication of his class position i.e of his position in the production process.
Marx believed that a mans position in the production process provided the
crucial life experience, which would eventually determine the beliefs and
actions of that individual.

The Middle Class

As Marx saw it, the organisation of production provides the necessary but
not a sufficient basis for the existence of social classes. Taking the examples
of bourgeoisie and proletariat, Marx illustrated the manner in which he
envisaged the emergence of a social class. Put simply, Marx viewed social
class as a condition of group life, which was constantly generated by the
organisation of production. He went on to elaborate that the existence of
common conditions and the realisation of common interests are only the
necessary, not the sufficient bases for the development of a social class.
Only when the members of a potential class enter into an association for
the organised pursuit of their common aims, does a class in Marxs sense
exist. Marx did not simply identify a social class with the fact that a large
group of people occupied the same objective position in the economic
structure of a society. Instead he laid stress on the importance of subjective
awareness as a precondition of organising the class successfully for the
economic and the political struggle. Marx felt that the pressures engendered
by capitalism would determine its development in the future. Subjective
awareness, in his view, was an indispensable element in the development of
the social class and this would arise with growing contradictions inherent in
Writing on Marx, Erik Olin Wright points out that although the former did not
systematically answer the question What constitutes a class?, yet most of
his work revolves around two problems: the elaboration of abstract structural
maps of class relations and the analysis of concrete conjunctural maps of
classes as actors (Wright, 1985: 6). From the abstract structural account of
classes comes the characteristically polarized map of class relations that runs
through most of Marxs analysis of the capitalist mode of production in
Capital. In contrast to this, the conjunctural political analyses are
characterised by a complex picture of classes, fractions, factions, social
categories, strata and other actors on the political stage. Elaborating on this
further, Wright argues that the distinction between class structure and class
formation is a basic, if often implicit, distinction in class analysis. Class
structure refers to the structure of social relations into which individuals
enter which determine their class interests (ibid:9). Class formation on the
other hand, refers to the formation of organised collectivities within that


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

class structure on the basis of the interests shaped by that class structure.
Put simply, if class structure is defined by social relations between classes,
class formation is defined by social relations within classes, social relations
which forge collectivities engaged in struggle.
Taking the cue from Marx, Max Weber made classifications such as classes,
status groups and parties based on distribution of power within a
community. He defined class as when 1) a number of people have in
common a specific casual component of their life chances in so far as 2) this
component is represented exclusively by economic interests in the possession
of goods and opportunities for income and 3) is represented under the
conditions of the commodity or labor markets. In Webers theory, class
situation is ultimately the market situation (Weber, 1946). He goes on to
elaborate that the factor that creates class is unambiguously an economic
interest and only those interests involved in the existence of the market.
Joseph Schumpeter states that there are basically four problems that beset
the class theory in Sociology. In doing so he takes into account the scientific
rather than the philosophical, and the sociological rather than the immediate
economic. The four problems are: 1) There is the problem of the nature of
class and as part of this problem, the function of class in the vital processes
of the social whole. 2) Problem of social cohesion the factors that constitute
every social class. 3) The problem of class formation the question of why
the social whole has never been homogeneous revealing organic stratification.
4) This problem is wholly distinct from the series of problems that are
concerned with the concrete causes and conditions of an individual
determined, historically given class structure.
Class, as defined by Schumpeter, is more than an aggregation of class members.
A class is aware of its identity as a whole, sublimates itself as such, has its
own peculiar life and characteristic spirit. However, a noted phenomenon
is that class members behave towards one another in a fashion characteristically different from their conduct towards members of other classes. They
are in closer association with one another; they understand one another
better; they work more readily in concert; they close ranks and erect barriers
against the outside; they look into the same segment of the world with the
same eyes, from the same viewpoint, in the same direction. Social intercourse
within class barriers is promoted by the similarity of manners and habits of
life, or things that are evaluated in a positive or negative sense, that arouse
interest. Classes, once they have come into being, harden in their mould
and perpetuate themselves, even when the social conditions that created
them have disappeared.
Pointing to the history of the term social class, Stanislaw Ossowski argued
that from the second half of the 18th century onwards, class has been an
interesting subject for sociologists. He considers two specifying versions of
the concept of class.



Social class is seen as a group distinguished in respect of relations of

property. This is basically the economic version of social class.


The class system is contrasted with group systems in the social structure
in which an individuals membership of the group is institutionally
determined and in which privileges or discriminations result from the
individuals ascription to a certain group. This is the result not of birth

or an official document such as title of nobility but is the consequence

of social status otherwise achieved.

The Middle Class

In various social systems one can observe two or more coexisting types of
the relation of class dependence. Three assumptions which appear to be
common to all conceptions of a class society can be stated in the following

The classes constitute a system of the most comprehensive groups in

the social structure.


The class division concerns social statuses connected with a system of

privileges and discriminations not determined by biological criteria.


The membership of individuals in a social class is relatively permanent.

Out of myriad ways of understanding class, one can elicit three or four such
characteristics. They are by no means of equal importance in the history of
social thought.

The vertical order of social classes: the existence of superior and inferior
categories of social statuses which are superior or inferior in respect of
some system of privileges and discriminations. Accepting such a class
structure would mean class stratification.


Distinctness of permanent class interests.


Class consciousness involves not only class identification but also a

consciousness of the place of ones class in the class hierarchy, a realisation
of class distinctness, class interests and possibly of class solidarity as well.


Social isolation the absence of closer social contacts: social distance.

In the US, according to this definition, a social class is the largest group
of people whose members have intimate social access to one another.
A society is a class society in respect of this characteristic if there exist
within it distinct barriers to social intercourse and if class boundaries
can be drawn by means of an analysis of interpersonal relations. Not only
is social isolation involved but also the effects of this isolation and the
effects of differences in the degree of access to the means of

These class criteria are not independent of each other. Given the fact that
these characteristics are interdependent, Ossowski concludes that there
could be various definitions of class. The pertinent question at this juncture
is how do we define middle class in India in general and in contemporary
times in particular.

15.3 Concept of the Middle Class

The problems which the middle class pose for the social scientist are typically
metropolitan in character and nationwide in scope. C. Wright Mills states
that a citys population may be stratified in the following manner: a)
objectively in terms of such bases as property or occupation or the amount
of income received from either or both sources. Information about these
bases may be confined to the present or may include b) extractions,
intermarriages and job histories of members of given strata. Subjectively,
strata may be constructed according to who does the rating: c) each individual
may be asked to assign himself a position, d) the interviewer may intuitively
rate each individual or e) each individual may be asked to stratify the
population and then to give his image of the people on each level.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

Citing Dahrendorf (1959: 51-57), one finds that four different positions can
be identified regarding the class situation of the new middle class. In the
first position it is held that since most middle class occupations have been
structurally differentiated from what were previously ruling class occupations,
so the new middle class is an extension of the existent capitalist ruling class
(Bendix, 1963). In the second position it is held that the middle class is really
much closer to the working class because both groups do not own the means
of production. Any identification with the ruling class is merely false
consciousness that will disappear once the middle class comes to realise
their class interests to be coincidental with the working class (Klingender,
1935 & Wright Mills C., 1956). A third position is that there is no such thing
as the middle class but instead there are two different groupings with
opposed interests, bureaucrats with ruling class authority and white collar
workers with a proletarian class situation (Dahrendorf, 1959). Finally there is
a position where it is maintained that the middle class is in a structurally
ambivalent situation (Lockwood, 1958).
Elaborating on the growth of the middle class, John Urry argues that Marxs
account of the rise of the middle class was in terms of a growing surplus that
demanded a class or classes to consume more than they produced and an
increasingly complicated industrial structure which needed non productive
functionaries to service it. In Theories of Surplus Value, Marx goes on to
argue that as capitalism develops there is an expansion of the middle class.
Taking the cue from Marx, Urry propounded that a historical analysis of the
growth of the middle class has illustrated that with the market structure
there has been the development of a highly significant middle class which
does not own the means of production but is a powerful favoured status
situation in the structure of workplace relationships (Urry, 1996: 255).
Like Marx and Weber, most modern sociologists use economic factors as the
basic criteria for differentiating social classes. Anthony Giddens identifies
three major classes in advanced capitalist society. They are upper class
based on the ownership of property in the means of production, a middle
class based on the possession of educational and technical qualifications
and a lower or working class based on the possession of manual labour
power. These classes, in Giddenss opinion, are distinguished by their
differing relationships to the forces of production and by their particular
strategies for obtaining economic reward in a capitalist economy. Another
viewpoint regarding class is the functional perspective whereby functional
requirements of society determines differential occupational rewards. An
alternative explanation is that power is a determinant of occupational
This is a very basic understanding of the concept of the middle class drawing
our attention to middle class in India. First and foremost, it becomes
significant to delve into the evolution of the middle class in India.
Reflection and Action 15.01
Read carefully the section on middle class in India. Observe your own
family and your immediate neighbours. Write a report of one page on Me
and My Class where you state, to which class you think you belong and why?
Discuss your report with other students at your Study Centre and your
Academic Counsellor.


15.4 Evolution of the Middle Class in India

The Middle Class

B.B. Misra (1961) in his seminal work on the middle classes in India had
concluded that institutions conducive to capitalist growth were not lacking
in India prior to the British rule. Pre-British India did witness an Indian
artisan industry as well as occupational specialisation and additionally a
separate class of merchants. The guild power remained purely money power
unsupported by any authority of a political or military nature. The British
rule resulted in the emergence of a class of intermediaries serving as a link
between people and the new rulers. In Misras viewpoint, there was a
fundamental revolution in social relations and class structure in India. The
emergent class of intermediaries was the middle class that continued to
grow in strength and prosperity with the progress of foreign rule. Significantly,
the establishment of trading relations followed by the rule of the British East
India Company set the stage in the creation of this class. Furthermore, as
part of their educational policy, the British attempted to create a class
comparable to their own to assist the former in the administration of the
country (Misra, 1961:10). The aim of the British was to create a class of
imitators and not originators of new values and methods (Ahmad & Reifeld,
As Pavan K. Verma points out in his work on the middle class, from the
circumstances of their origin and growth, the members of the educated class
such as government servants, lawyers, college teachers and doctors
constituted the bulk of the Indian middle class. This middle class, in Vermas
opinion, was largely dominated by the traditional higher castes (Verma, 1998:
27). Ahmad and Reifeld argue that in its formation and the role played in
history, the Indian middle class bore close resemblance, at least in some
parts, to its European counterparts (Ahmad & Reifeld, 2001). Like their
counterparts in Europe earlier, some of the entrants to commercial activity
either as agents or independently in the 17th and the first half of the 18th
century amassed great wealth and acquired social status far beyond what
they could aspire to have in the structure of economic relations in the
traditional society. But alongside, differences existed, too. While the
European middle class was independent, the Indian middle class was under
foreign rule. Initially, the middle class helped in the establishment of British
power and promotion of European commerce and enterprise in India. It was
only after the Mutiny that it began to assume the political role of competitor
for power with the British. With the passage of time, the competitor role
adopted by an important section of the middle class came to dominate over
that of a collaborator and this continued till the very end of the Raj. Ahmad
and Reifeld conclude that from the beginning of the 20th century, the Indian
middle class had come to pose a serious challenge to the continuance of the
British power. It was instrumental in arousing national consciousness and
giving a sense of unity as a nation to the people (Ahmad and Reifeld, 2001:10).
Sanjay Joshi, in his study of the making of the middle class in colonial India,
attempted to explain why traditional sociological indicators of income and
occupation cannot take us very far in understanding the category of middle
class. Though the economic background of the middle class was important,
the power and constitution of the middle class in India was based not on the
economic power it wielded, which was minimal, but on the ability of its
members to be cultural entrepreneurs. Being middle class was primarily a
project of self fashioning (Joshi, 2001: 4). Joshi articulated that the definition
and power of the middle class, from its propagation of modern ways of life,


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

heterogeneity was an attribute of the middle class. The rapid expansion of

a new middle class in India during the last decade of the 20th century and
its increasing influence in many parts of the public sphere constitute one of
the most important changes in Indias contemporary history.
Box 15.01: Rural and Urban Middle Class
According to Yogendra Singh (1991), if we compare the rural middle classes
with the urban, we find one major similarity. The rural middle classes have
ideological affinity at one level with the urban middle classes as both of
them share conservative and narrow utilitarian ethos. But the rural middle
classes also harbour, on another level, intense antagonism and conflict with
the urban middle classes, entrepreneurs and professional groups.
The antagonism and conflict has arisen due to certain historical reasons.
The process of development in agriculture has after a period of time slowed
down due to structural technological stagnation. He believes that even the
so called rich peasants have over the past few years confronted the prospect
of downward mobility in terms of social and economic status due to
unfavourable price policy, stagnation in agriculture productivity, fragmentation
of landholding due to rise in population and non-availability of other avenues
of employment for their youth. He says that this post-Green Revolution
under-development in agriculture further reinforces the alienation of middle
classes in rural areas from the urban and industrial middle classes. This fact
has been a setback to their level of aspiration which had seen its peak
during the Green Revolution phase.

Andre Beteille writes that the middle class is not only very large but also
highly differentiated internally to such an extent that it may be more
appropriate to speak of the middle classes than of the middle class in India,
stresses upon the heterogeneous nature of its social composition (Beteille,
2001: 73). The recent shifts in the economic policy in favour of privatisation,
liberalisation and globalisation have generated a wide interest in the middle
class, its size, composition and its social values. Andre Beteille views middle
class in India as part of a relatively new social formation based on religion,
caste and kinship. In Beteilles opinion, middle class values in India are
difficult to characterise because they are still in the process of formation
and have still not acquired a stable form (Beteille, 2001:74). As such, they
are marked by deep and pervasive antinomies meaning contradictions,
oppositions and tensions inherent in a set of norms and values.
Public discussion of the middle class in the last 10 years has been driven
largely by media. There is hardly anything substantial in the structure of the
middle class in the sociological literature. The discussion of the middle class
values is constrained by the absence of reliable and systematic data on the
size and composition of the class. Estimates of its size vary from under 100
million to over 250 million persons. There is no single criterion for defining
the middle class (Beteille, 2001: 76). Occupational functions and employment
status are the two most significant criteria although education and income
are also widely used. The new middle class, according to Beteille is not only
defined by occupation but also by education. In India, the origins of the
middle class derive not so much from an industrial revolution or a democratic
revolution as from colonial rule. In the last 50 years, the middle class has
grown steadily.


Commenting on the growing middle class, Gurcharan Das (Das, 2000) stated
that although the middle class is composed of many occupations, commerce
has always been at the center- as the businessman mediated between the
landed upper classes and the labouring lower classes. The 20th century
witnessed an entrepreneurial surge in the last decade after 1991 and the
expansion of the middle class in the last two decades after 1980. After
growing at a rate of 3.5% a year from 1950 to 1980, Indias economic growth
rate increased to 5.6% in the decade of the 80s. It climbed further to 6.3%
in the decade of 1990s. In these 2 decades the middle class more than
tripled. Between 1998- 2000, $2.5 billion in venture capital funds have come
to India (McKinseys studies have shown that there is a direct correlation
between the availability of venture funds and the proliferation of business
start ups). Writing about this middle class, Das argued that as a result of
changing trends, a new kind of entrepreneur has emerged in India (Das,
2000:195). As Gurcharan Das notes, although the reforms after 1991 have
been slow, hesitant and incomplete, yet they have set in motion a process
of profound change in Indian society. It is Joseph Schumpeter who coined
the term entrepreneur. Contrary to earlier times, the new millionaires
today are looked up to with pride and even reverence. For they are a new
meritocracy highly educated entrepreneur professionals who are creating
value by innovating in the global knowledge economy.

The Middle Class

The emergence of a sizeable middle class in the last decades is widely

regarded with hope by the modernisers and fear by the traditionalists as the
single most important development in the ongoing transformation of Indian
society (Kakar). According to a survey by NCAER the middle class grew from
8% of the population in 1986 to 18% in 2000 which is about 185 million. It
appears that for many modern sociologists of India, the emergent middle
class is a harbinger of modernity but the question of great relevance is how
does one define modernity. Can one define the middle class as modern,
based on material progress or is the middle class ethos to be analysed in a
more deep rooted manner with regard to the basis of formation of social
relations among people who constitute the middle class. In the subsequent
section, the focus will be on understanding the rising middle class in
contemporary India and whether we can define it as modern, traditional or
as Beteille (Beteille, 2001) labels it, as transitional.

15.5 Modernity and the Middle Class in

Contemporary India
We live in modern times times that are witnessing rapid changes in the
technological, economic, political and social realms. Microwaves, DVDs, palmtop
computers, cloning, genetic manipulation and so on all appear to corroborate
how much more technologically advanced contemporary society is in
comparison to the society of the past. Todays world appears to be peculiarly
dynamic, a world which is in the process of constant change and transformation. According to Marshall Berman, to live in a modern world is to live in a
maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and
contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish (Berman 1988:15). Essentially,
modernity signifies the destruction of past forms of life, values and identities
combined with the production of new ones. One of the major outcomes of
this has been the emergence of consumer culture or consumerism whereby
culture is constructed through consumption, not just production. Consumer
culture is bound up with central values, practices and institutions that define
modernity, such as choice, individualism and market relations. Primarily this


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

consumerist ideology involves a process of innovation, of constant turnover

and novelty. Extending viewpoints of scholars such as Simmel (1972) and
Campbell (1987) to present times, it can be stated that along with money
making, consumption of goods has become an end in itself. Fundamentally
both of these represent a break from tradition. In the 20th century we
witnessed consumer culture reaching its apogee in the West. Within this
contemporary consumer culture, what has developed is a lifestyle connoting
individuality, self- expression and stylistic self- consciousness (Featherstone
Most often, the terms consumption and consumer culture are used
interchangeably, but a sociological analysis reveals a definite distinction
between the two. Two important features that distinguish consumer culture
from consumption are:

Constant turnover of commodities with emphasis being laid on newer

and changed versions of goods. One consumes not because one needs
something but to be in fashion.


A generalised consumption it does not remain confined to the upper

echelons of society but becomes all pervading.

In modern consumeristic societies, people are no longer locked in their

respective positions. Lifestyles can be and are improved upon constantly.
Moreover, it becomes a generalised phenomenon with all classes of people
being subjected to a surfeit of images and signs because of advertising and
being active participants in consumer culture. What is present is essentially,
fluidization of consumption i.e. freeing up the previously static and relatively
fixed spatial and temporal dimensions of social life (Lee 1993:124-133). Also
consumption is viewed as a stage in a process of communication i.e. an act
of deciphering and decoding. What is required is to be able to move from
the primary stratum of meaning, which one can grasp on the basis of ordinary
experience to the stratum of secondary meanings that is the level of meaning
of what is signified (Bourdieu 1979:2). Therefore, in a modern society there
is a strong tendency for social groups to seek to classify and order their
social circumstances as well as use cultural goods as means of demarcation
and as communicators that establish boundaries between some people and
build bridges with others (Jameson 1991:XX of Introduction). The process by
which taste becomes a process of differentiation leading to creation of
distinctions between different categories of goods and between social groups
is an ongoing one. Contemporary Western societies have been witnessing,
what Mike Featherstone refers to as the doubly symbolic aspect of goods.
Symbolism is not only evident in the design and imagery of production and
marketing processes, but the symbolic association of goods may be utilised
and renegotiated to emphasise the differences in lifestyle which demarcate
social relationships (Featherstone 1991:86). This leads us to conclude that a
critical aspect of a modern consumer society is the presence of an open
system of stratification with avenues of upward mobility being available to
Rather than reflexively adopting a lifestyle through tradition or habit, new
heroes of consumer culture make lifestyle a life project and display their
individuality and sense of style in particularity of assemblage of goods,
clothes, practices, experience, appearance and bodily dispositions, they design
together a lifestyle.(ibid.: 86)


Consumer culture through advertising, media and techniques of displaying

goods, is able to destabilise the original notion of use or meaning of goods

and attach to them new images and signs which can summon up a whole
range of associated feelings and desires (Featherstone 1999:274). This, in
turn, results in impulsive purchase of newer and latest versions of products.
In fact, the commodity becomes the primary index of the social relations of
modern capitalist societies. Modern societies experience the reflexivity
process at both the institutional and personal levels that is decisive for the
production and change of modern systems and modern forms of social
organisation (Giddens 1991:1).

The Middle Class

True modernity cannot be defined only in terms of material progress. In

order to be able to get a comprehensive view of whether or not a social
order can be called modern, we need to view it through a larger prism, that
of the kind of interpersonal relationships existing among people. Modernity
confronts the individuals with a diversity of choices in all spheres of life.
Universalism, achievement and individualism are the important ingredients
of a modern social order. This affects the most personal and intimate aspects
of individuals including self- identity. As the ties of tradition are loosened
and compulsiveness of repetition disappears, new opportunities are created
for individuals in society. The availability of more options implies that people
have to make more decisions. Choices are not restricted to consumer items
alone but extend into all realms of personal lives of people. This allows
individuals to negotiate about conditions of all social relations, norms and
ethics that would form the basis of relations between men and women,
between friends and between parents and children. Tradition no longer
constitutes the basis of individuals decisions and actions.
Following from earlier discussions whereby it has been reiterated that the
pace of growth of the middle class has been accelerated by changing economic
policies in the post liberalisation era in India, it becomes pertinent to analyse
whether the material progress in India, more so in the case of the middle
class, is witnessing commensurate changes in the values and attitudes of
those belonging to the middle class to label them as modern. In a research
study undertaken among the urban populace of a metropolitan society such
as Delhi (Chandra, 2003), one of the primary objectives was to precisely
gauge the level of modernity existing among those belonging to the middle
class- upper and lower. To begin with, a class has been defined in terms of
income, occupation and quality of dwelling area. Those living in a metropolitan
centre such as New Delhi appear to be modern in terms of dress and eating
habits. But a more profound issue that needs to be thoroughly investigated
is whether a modern ethos is visible in the attitudes of people at a deeper
level. It is by analysis of the basis for the formation of interpersonal
relationships among individuals, that one can make an attempt to categorise
the middle class as traditional, modern or maybe transitional.
The affluent consumers, those belonging to the upper class and upper middle
class seem to indulge in a rapid turnover of products in order to differentiate
themselves from the masses as well as maintain commonalities with their
own kind. For most of the super rich consumers, irrespective of age and sex,
possession of the latest consumer durables as well as non- durables connotes
being technologically updated and in fashion. They are positively inclined to
wearing designer labels and eating out. Acts of consumption are taken as
critical indicators of a modern status by them. Even in the upper middle
class, possession of durables such as air conditioners, television sets,
computers and the like are viewed as necessities in the contemporary age.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

Throughout the research, it was discernible that this group of respondents

want to emulate the affluent in their preferences but is unable to replace
the goods at the same pace as the rich do because of financial constraints.
Significantly, the upper middle class are also buying consumer durables of
international brands in the post liberalisation era. On the whole, they appear
to be as fashion conscious as the affluent. In fact, apparently the upper
middle class are choosing clothes and places for eating out that enable them
to categorise themselves with the elite.
Reflection and Action 15.02
Do you think you are a modern person? What do you think constitutes
modernity in your opinion? Think about it and write an essay of about two
pages on Why I am a modern person? or Why I am not a modern person?
Discuss your essay with other students at your Study Centre.

On the other hand, the lower middle class respondents are unable to
participate in consumer culture due to lack of adequate resources. Although
the politics of culture of consumption has still not trickled down, yet there
is a definite change in their patterns of consumption. It is quite important
to take note of the fact that even those belonging to the lower middle class
are changing their consumption patterns in their endeavour to be categorized
as modern. This has been facilitated by a number of exchange schemes.
However, while purchasing durables and non-durables emphasis is laid on the
utilitarian aspects and the price of the required product. In clothes, the
younger generation are choosing cheaper imitations of the original designer
labels as they are affordable. The concept of eating out is catching on.
What differentiates them from the upper and upper middle classes, is that
they do not eat in expensive restaurants.
Box 15.02: The Great Indian Middle Class
The Indian middle class is not just growing at a rapid pace, it has also
become the segment driving consumption of luxury goods like cars and
air-conditioners, according to a survey by the National Council for Applied
Economic Research (NCAER).
While the middle class, which the survey defines as households with annual
incomes between Rs. 2 lakh and Rs. 10 lakh at 2001-02 prices accounted for
barely 5.7% of all Indian households in 2001-02, it already owned 60% of all
the cars and Acs in the country and 25% of all TVs, fridges and motorcycles.
Read that with the projection that the middle class will account for 13% of
Indias population by 2009-10 and you can see why the NCAER sees huge
growth potential in the market for cars and mobikes. The study predicts
that the market for cars will grow at 20% a year, while bikes will clock growth
of 16% per annum till 2009-10.
Fridges and colour TV makers can hope to cash in on the boom too, with
projected growth rates in the range of 10% to 11%. The market for radios,
electric irons, bicycles and wrist watches too will grow, though by a more
modest 7-9% a year.


On the flip side, black & white TVs, scooters and mopeds may be hit, with
the report suggesting that demand for these goods will actually decline.

The projected consumption boom isnt just restricted to urban India. On the
contrary, the survey sugests that the urban market for some relatively lowend products will be saturated by the end of the decade, while rural demand
picks up. As a result, 80% of radios, 65% of colour TVs, 48% of mobikes, 40%
of scooters and 33% of fridges will be owned by the rural populace by 200910. Indeed, the projection is that with rural incomes rising, even the demand
for cars will grow in the villages to the point where the country-side will
account for 11% of all cars by the end of the decade. The survey - The Great
Indian Middle Class-categorieses the population into four income groups.
The deprived are those with household incomes below Rs. 90,000 a year
and they constituted just under 72% of all households in 2001-02. By 200910, that share will be down to 51.6%, says the survey.

The Middle Class

The next step up the income ladder consists of the aspirers those with
annual household incomes between Rs. 90,000 and Rs. 2 lakh. This category
constituted a little under 22% of all households in 2001-02, but is likely to
rise to 34% by the end of the decade.
The middle class households numbered 10.7 million in 2001-2; by 2009-10,
theyre expected to rise to 28.4 million. The rich too are growing in
numbers, points out Rakesh Shukla, senior fellow and head of the survey
team, NCAER. From 0.8 million in 2001-02, theyre expected to grow to 3.8
million by the end of the decade.
While the number of crorepatis families was 5,000 in 1995-96, they increased to 20,000 in 2001-02. By the end of the decade, therell be 1.4 lakh
such households, says Shukla. Also, most of the deprived (85%) and the
aspirers (60%) will be concentrated in rural areas by the end of the decade,
while three-fourths of the rich and two-thirds of the middle class will be
found in cities.
The report is based on extensive surveys covering three lakh households
across 858 villages and 660 towns and cities all over India. It covered a list
of 20 durables, seven consumables and a host of services including mediclaim,
life insurance and credit cards. (TOI, N. Delhi, June 24, 2005)

Thus, on the whole, it can be concluded that with changing economic policies
in India, the middle class is witnessing a metamorphosis in their consumption
patterns but consumer culture is still in its nascent stage in urban India.
Rather than becoming an all-pervasive phenomenon, consumption is still in
terms of differences. Therefore consumerism has yet to evolve. It is quite
evident that material progress is taking place, albeit at a slow pace but most
importantly, it is imperative to delve into the kind of social relations those
belonging to the middle class are entering into, to understand whether they
are modern in the strict sense of the word.
With regards to formation of interpersonal relations, it is found that the
middle class as Andre Beteille writes, is still in the process of formation and
have still not acquired a stable form (Beteille, 2001:74). As such they are
marked by deep and pervasive antinomies meaning contradictions, oppositions
and tensions inherent in a set of norms and values.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

15.6 Values Related To Family, Marriage and

Womens Status Amongst the Middle Class
Even in the 21st century, marriage is considered an important traditional
social institution that all are supposed to enter into. Choices available with
individuals, specifically women, are very few as marriage and motherhood
are taken to be the ultimate goals. A womans identity is seen to be largely
dependent on her marital status.
Marriage is still seen as a way of life through which an individual entered
adulthood in both upper and upper middle classes of urban India, who
outwardly appear to be modern. Although marriage is considered essential
for both men and women, yet in the case of women, adherence to the
social norms becomes more rigid. In the context of remaining single and
unmarried, women seem to have a limited choice. In other words, men have
more options as they could choose to remain single but women, by and
large, do not enjoy such freedom.
Particularistic criteria continue to provide the normative basis for the
formation of intimate relations among people across all classes. Although
arranged marriages, whereby parents choose the prospective mates for their
children are the preferred form of marriage, in the upper and upper middle
classes, certain changes are observable. Semi- arranged marriages, in which
individuals choose their own life partners but marry only with the consent
of their parents, are also taking place. In such marriages, inter-caste and
inter- religious marital alliances are being tolerated, albeit conditionally. HinduMuslim and Hindu-Christian marriages are still taboo. The main reason cited
for disapproval of such alliances is the higher probability of mal-adjustment
between spouses because of religious differences leading to breakdown of
ties. Other than these exceptional cases, a majority continue to subscribe
to the traditional value system with emphasis being laid on marriages taking
place within the same caste and religion. However, certain changes have
occurred from previous generations as the prospective mates are allowed to
meet once or twice before the finalisation of the marital unions. In the
lower middle and lower classes, there is strict adherence to social norms.
Wedding ceremonies are performed in a traditional way. Choices available
with individuals are very few. In case of the lower middle class, such values
and norms are comparatively more deep- rooted. Certain ambiguities are
quite evident in the attitudes of those belonging to the middle class as they
seem to be more open to change while responding to the same queries in
questionnaires but adopt a more traditional viewpoint while narrating their
life histories without being too conscious during in-depth interviews. Such
contradictions are inherent in the set of social norms and values upheld by


Furthermore, the stereotypical roles of man being the breadwinner and

woman the nurturer are perpetuated. In the upper and upper middle classes,
certain changes are observable. There is superficial emancipation as women
are choosing clothes that are in tune with the latest in the world of fashion.
Nonetheless, they do not have complete freedom to decide on matters
related to their occupations and marriage. Since marriage and motherhood
are considered to be the most important goals, all decisions have to be in
consonance with these. Women, in the upper class, are not encouraged to
be gainfully employed as that is taken to reflect a poor status of the families
that they belong to. Vocations with flexible timings are subscribed to making

it convenient for them to complete their primary tasks of home management

and therefore not facing any form of role conflict.

The Middle Class

Although women in the upper and upper middle classes in the contemporary
age appear to be more autonomous compared to those belonging to the
previous generations, they are still considered to be appendages to men.
Only in the realm of the size of the family, the former seem to have as much
say as the latter. In the upper middle class, parents lay emphasis on their
daughters excelling in their studies just as they would wish their sons to.
However, emphasis is not laid on higher education as that is taken to be a
hindrance in getting good matrimonial matches. A harmonious marital
relationship is seen to be dependent on women occupying a sub-ordinate
status to men.
In the lower middle class, also, women appear to have limited choices in the
sphere of education. Education is considered important in order to enable
them to be better wives and mothers. Significantly, most women are gainfully
employed but they are compelled to join the work force to meet the economic
needs of the family. Women are essentially expected to remain within the
domains of their households and cater to the needs of their families. This
is viewed as a natural phenomenon. Women do not have absolute freedom
to decide on matters concerning selves. Thus, it is quite apparent that
women in the middle class, both upper and lower are still not self- determining
individuals. Social roles continue to be defined in accordance with traditional
Also, while forming friendships, particularistic norms continue to play some
role as such relationships are usually based on class similarities i.e. with
similar economic background and value systems.
Thus, it is quite interesting to note that in contemporary times, the middle
class in India has not acquired a stable form and cannot be labeled as modern.

15.7 Conclusion
At the outset, there would be a strong tendency to state that the middle
class in urban India is modern, based on the fact that materialistically, there
is a marked change, albeit slowly. While there is no denying the fact that
consumer culture has still not taken a well-entrenched form in India, yet it
must be conceded that consumption patterns of the urban Indian middle
class is changing. Overt symbols such as cars, electronic goods, designer
clothes are being used to portray progressive attitudes and supposedly modern
status of individuals. However, to define class in terms of economic status
alone will not be an adequate representation of the class situation in India.
In this Unit, we have tried to bring out the fact that the basis for formation
of social relations is an important criterion for understanding the middle
class in India. Middle class in India cannot be defined as being completely
modern. Modernisation is not just about possessing the latest electronic
appliances and being technologically updated.
Rather it needs to be visible in the attitudes of people that come into
effect in their social relations with others. Modernity brings in its wake new
forms of social interaction. In the context of the urban middle class in India,
lack of modernity is perceptible in most realms of the personal lives of
people with social relations continuing to be embedded in traditional


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

expectations, norms and mores. Essentially, those living in this cosmopolitan

city appear to be grappling with the difficult alternatives of tradition and
modernity. Normative patterns and value orientations are still particularistic,
ascriptive based and patriarchal. Choices in interpersonal relationships are
socially controlled. Furthermore, social conditioning perpetuates reactions
and thinking along expected lines that underline the predominant codes of
a male dominated society. We are in no way suggesting that Indian middle
class has not progressed at all. As Dipankar Gupta argues though the past
is in our present, it is not as if the past in its entirety is our present (Gupta
2000: 206). Metamorphosis is taking place which is why people are appearing
to be ambivalent in their thinking as is evident while conducting research
amongst them on these aspects. Modernity brings in its wake contradictions
and ambiguities in the minds of people as options available with them expand
manifold. This phenomenon is being experienced by the urban middle class
of India. Therefore, one can conclude that the social order is in a transitional
stage with the traditional value system still being predominant in the traditionmodernity continuum.

15.8 Further Reading

Beteille, Andre 2001 In Middle Class Values in India and Western Europe,
(ed.) by Imtiaz Ahmad and Helmut Reifeld, Social Science Press, New Delhi.
Gupta, Dipankar 2000, Mistaken ModernityIndia Between Worlds. Harper
Collins, New Delhi.
Varma, Pawan, 1998,. The Great Indian Middle Class. Viking: Delhi.
Wright, E.O., 1997, Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis.
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.


Unit 16

Gender, Caste and Class

16.1 Introduction
16.2 What is Gender?
16.3 Gender and Caste
16.4 Gender and Class
16.5 Regional Variations in Gender, Caste and Class
16.6 Conclusion
16.7 Further Reading

Learning Objectives
After studying this unit you will be able to:

define the concept of gender;

explain the relationship between gender and caste;

discuss the links between gender and class; and finally

describe briefly the regional variations in gender, caste and class.

16.1 Introduction
So far you learnt about agrarian classes and categories, the working class and
the middle class in India. In this unit we will explain the third kind of social
stratification based on gender. Indian society is marked by multiplicity of
languages, customs and cultural practices. Within the broad social hierarchy
of caste and class, gender cuts across caste and class. In contemporary India
gender, caste and class are dynamic phenomena, which vary between different
regions and communities.
Since the previous units have already described to you the various aspects
of caste and class system of stratification, here we will focus on the dynamics
of gender a system of stratification and its various dimensions in Indian
society. Gender roles are determined through the interaction of several
factors such as material factors, the division of labour, constraints which are
imposed through the processes of socialisation within family, caste, marriage
and kinship organisation, inequality in inheritance and in access to resources
for maintaining health, life and livelihood. Social hierarchies that exist within
the family are also expressed and are visible outside in the realms of wage
work on the basis of gender, caste and class.
Some of these factors are ideological factors based on domestic ideologies,
religious beliefs, rituals and customs that reinforce inequality, and lead to
the internalisation of hierarchies by women themselves. Most of the material
and ideological factors are very deeprooted in our society and culture, in our
social institutions, which play a significant role in sustaining and reproducing
womens subordination in society.

16.2 What is Gender?

Gender is perhaps the oldest and the most enduring source of social
differentiation. It is one that has claimed critical address only within the last


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

century. Within the academia, the conceptualisation and re-conceptualisation

of gender, as an idea and as a set of practices, has occurred during the last
three decades, which surely reveals the deeply political character of the
issue that it raises. Further, gender encompasses the social division and
cultural distinctions between women and men as well as the characteristics
commonly associated within femininity and masculinity. It should be
remembered, however, that gender could not be abstracted from the wider
social relations with which it is enmeshed, that gender intersects other
social divisions and inequalities such as class, race and sexuality, and that
the meanings of masculinity and femininity vary within, as well as between
societies. Gender does not replace the term sex, which refers exclusively to
biological difference between men and women. Gender identities are plural,
divided and potentially unstable, gender always includes the dynamics of
ethnicity and class. Let us see how various sociologists have discussed the
concept of gender.

1) Gender and Sex

Gender refers to the socially constructed and culturally determined roles
that women and men play in their daily lives. It is a conceptual tool for
analysis and has been used to highlight various structural relationships of
inequality between men and women as manifested in labour markets and in
political structures, as well as, in the household. Sex on the other hand,
refers to the biological differences between male and female, which are
much the same across space and time. Gender, the socially constructed
differences and relations between males and females, varies greatly from
place to place and from time to time. Gender can therefore be defined as
a notion that offers a set of frameworks within which the social and ideological
construction and representation of differences between the sexes are
explained. (Masefield. A. 1991).
According to a UNESCO document titled: The Needs of Women, the
definition of gender given by the international labour organisation refers to
the social differences and relations between men and woman, which are
learned, which vary widely among societies and cultures and change over
time. The term gender does not replace the term sex, which refers exclusively
to biological difference between men and woman. The term gender is used
to analyse the role, responsibilities, constraints, needs of men and women
in all areas and in any given social context. Gender involves power structure
and economic relationships. Gender identities are plural, divided and
potentially unstable. Gender always includes the dynamics of ethnicity and

2) Social Construction of Gender


Social scientists like E.D. Grey (1982: 39) believe that social construction is
a continuous process in which both individual, as well as, wider social
processes take a part. It is the process by which everyday sense of things
forms the foundation of the social construction of reality. Each and every
construction is influenced by the individual understanding of the social actors
and therefore it has obviously a subjective bias. Social construction of reality
is also shaped, by the interests of particular groups and classes in a society.
In this sense too it is biased. Generally, cultural values, norms, customs,
languages, ideologies and institutional frameworks of society are used to
justify particular social constructions with a view to projecting the subjective
bias of groups and classes as rational and to make it broad based and
legitimate. Hence, social construction through which we understand our

everyday experience, make moral judgements and classify other people

according to religion, sex, caste etc. are culturally determined and can be changed.
They shape social norms, values, customs, beliefs etc. and are also inculcated
through them. The social processes like socialisation and education also help
to make a particular kind of social construction enduring and widely accepted.
Gender is a product of such social construction. It is also shaped within the
given cultural apparatus of a society. (Kannaviran, K. 2000 FWE-01, IGNOU)

Gender, Caste and Class

Gender or the cultural construction of the masculine and feminine, plays a

crucial role in shaping institutions and practices in every society. It is important
in order to understand the system of stratification and domination in terms
of caste, class, race and especially the relations of power between men and
women within a culture.
Reflection and Action 16.01
Reflect upon the customs and traditions of your family. Write a description
of at least one ritual or ceremony, which discriminates men from women.
What are the implications of the ritual for your family and your own status?
Discuss your account with other students of your Study Centre.

16.3 Gender and Caste

In Block-2 Perspectives on Caste of this course, Sociology in India you have
already learnt about the various perspectives on caste in India how the
upper castes like the Brahmins viewed it, how the colonial rulers (the
Britishers and other Europeans) viewed caste in India, and how other castes
lower in the caste hierarchy perceived caste. Caste as a system of social
stratification is said to have subsumed class in India. In the traditional Indian
society, the upper castes were generally upper class having all the resources
and power, social, political and economic in their favour. The lower castes
were generally landless labourers or service castes that were low in status,
economically poor and politically powerless.
It was only later that this harmony was disturbed during the colonial rule in
India when land became a marketable commodity. The traditional power
structure was disturbed and social mobility rate increased multifold due to
the colonial impact and openening up of different occupational avenues,
economic betterment of middle castes and some lower castes as well, such
as the Jatavs of Agra (OM Lynch 1968 in Milton Singer (ed.) 1968).
There are various theories of the origin of caste in India, such as the theory
of racial origin, origin in terms of occupational specialisation etc. But none
of the writings on caste has looked at it in politically conscious or gendered
terms and they do not address the issues of power, dominance and hegemony
as key issues in caste society throughout its history. Kalpana Kannaviran in
IGNOU FWE-01, Block 1: pp. 16) writes that any analysis of caste by Indians
is by definition political. It either consciously chooses or unconsciously
identifies with one of the two positions:

supporting the status quo by proposing a case for the concentration of

power in the hands of those who already have it, or


engaging critically with the status quo by developing a critique of Indian



Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

Needless to say, the most radical critique of caste and by extension, the
Indian tradition, have come from intellectuals and political activists, from
Dalit groups and anti-Brahmin movements, that is, critiques that have emerged
from the life experience and world views of these groups. These critiques
re-centre caste firmly within the socio-political and cultural realities of those
whose labour and sexuality has been traditionally mis-appropriated by the
hegemonic groups in caste society, namely the dominant castes.
She believes that the single most important arena for the gendering of caste
occurs in the arena of sexuality. The desire to regulate female sexuality has
led to a considerable ritual preoccupation with female purity in the caste
societies of Sri Lanka and India. Predictably, male sexuality is not ritualised
in the same way.
Box 16.02: Low Female Male Ratio (FMR) in Uttar Pradesh
Leiten and Srivastava (1999 : 71) say that Uttar Pradesh has among the
lowest Female-Male ratio (FMR) in the world, and the lowest in India, with
the exception of Haryana. A closer look at the regional dissimilarities shows
that the epicentre of the problem of low FMR is not in Haryana but in
western Uttar Pradesh. This region has more than one third of the population
of the entire state and nearly three times the population of Haryana. Also,
this region has the lowest FMR of only 0.84.

I) Construction of Gender and Rituals

As is well known, rituals reveal a lot about the gender construction in a
particular society. Amongst the Kandyan Singhalese, Yalman (1963) highlights
two important ceremonies.

The most important ritual for Kandyan Children, which is gender

differentiated is the ear piercing ceremony for girls before they attain


The second and by far the most significant ritual is the one that marks
the onset of male puberty.

Here, as well as in many caste communities of the South of India, there are
specific rituals which are performed when a girl begins to mensurate. The
rites of passage marking her entry into adulthood is publicly celebrated and
rituals are performed. During the period of mensuration she is confined into
a hut or a closed room so that she does not pollute others nor does harm
come to her. The segregation is partly to protect her from hostile powers
and demons that are attracted to her at this time. Elaborate rituals surround
the girls purification after her first period. (Yalman, N. 1963 : 25)
What is the need for only girls to go through these rituals? As believed by
the villagers themselves amongst the Singhalese, Yalman reports, these rituals
relate as much to female fertility as to more honour. The villagers say that:

It protects the fecundity of the womb of the woman and


This is necessary since the honour and respectability of men is protected

and preserved through their women.

II) Caste and Regulation of Sexuality and Reproduction


Thus, it is very clear that caste and gender are closely related since the
question of sexuality of women is directly linked with the purity of the race,

honour of the men. Therefore, the higher the caste, the more controlled
would be the sexuality of their women. In caste societies, such as, Sri Lanka
and India, more so in the upper castes than the lower castes, elaborate
institutions of hypergamy where women can cohabit only with men of
their own caste or of a superior caste is practised. They cannot marry a man
who is lower in caste status than their own. Kannaviran (2000 : 17) says that
women as seen through the lens of the dominant castes are mere receptacles
for the male seed. The purity of the receptacle (here, womens womb) then
ensures the purity of the offspring and sets to rest doubts about paternity.
As said earlier, the control and concern over female sexuality are greatest in
the castes which have the highest stakes in the material assets of society
i.e. the upper castes and classes.

Gender, Caste and Class

The concern with marriage networks, endogamy and exogamy being crucial
to the maintenance of the caste system where men regulate the system
through the exchange of or control over women is central to any discussion
on caste. The customary right of male family members to exchange female
members in marriage, according to Lerner, antedated the development of
the patriarchy and created the conditions for the development of the family.
In India, the customary right acquired a further economic significance with
the development of private property and caste stratification. The primary
consideration in the forming of marriage alliances was and still is, the
maximising of family fortunes. Women play a crucial economic role not only
by providing free domestic labour, but also through their reproductive
services. Lerner argues that it was the sexual and reproductive services of
women that were cared under patriarchy, not women themselves. (Lerner,
G. 1986 quoted in IGNOU 2000 FWE-01, Block 1)
The commodification of women in the marriage market in patriarchal, patrilined
caste society goes hand in hand with prescriptions for womens behaviour
and restrictions on their mobility, the dispossession of women in property
and inheritance matters, and their absence in local level political and decision
making bodies. The entire complex constituting the construction of gender
in caste society is a construction that radically devalues the status of women
in these societies (Kannaviran, K. 2000 : 17)

III) Changing Caste System and its Impact on Women

In contemporary India, many constraints on women due to their caste identity
have been greatly reduced. In capitalist India, several new social classes
have emerged. However, this does not mean that the age-old subordination
of women has disappeared. The emergence of new classes has meant control
of women in new and different forms from those under the caste system.
Let us examine some of the issues related with gender and class in the next

16.4 Gender and Class

In order to understand womens status in traditional as well as contemporary
Indian society it is imperative to understand the class concept in determining
the status of women in society. Many scholars consider caste and class as
polar opposites. According to them caste and class are different forms of
social stratification. The units ranked in the class system are individuals, and
those ranked in the caste system are groups. Therefore, change takes place
from caste to class, hierarchy to stratification, closed to open and from
organic to segmentary system. In reality both caste and class are real and


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

empirical and both interactional and hierarchical, in fact, both incorporate

each other. (Kaur, Kuldip 2000 : 34, WED-01, Block-3, IGNOU)
The caste and class nexus is highlighted by Kathleen Gough in her analysis
of the mode of production as a social formation in which she finds connections
between caste, kinship, family and marriage on the one hand and forces of
production and productive relations on the other. Class relationships are
taken as the main assumptions in the treatment of caste and kinship in
India. Some scholars have even explained the Varna and Jajmani system
(about which you learnt in Block-4 Perspectives on Caste) in terms of class
relations and the mode of production. Therefore, we can say that caste
incorporates class, class incorporates caste. (Gough, 1980 quoted in IGNOU:
WED-01, Block-3)
The caste-class nexus is related with the status of working women in urban
and rural India. Andre Beteille in his book Six Essays in Comparative Sociology
has highlighted this aspect. He asks the relevant question How are we to
view families in which men work in the fields but women are by custom
debarred from such work? This is quite prevalent among the families of the
upper castes. Even among some families of the intermediate and lower
castes who have become economically well off have adopted this norm with
a view to elevate their social status in the village community. But it does not
mean that this position leads to equal treatment being meted out to women.
Withdrawal from work only results in elevation of family status. But as
explained by Beteille (1974) this also arises from caste to caste, and also
depends upon the economic and social standing of particular families.
Box 16.03: Sanskritisation of Lower Castes in Uttar Pradesh
The negative aspect of Sanskritisation (i.e. adopting the norms and values
and style of life of the upper castes by the lower castes to gain higher social
status) seems to be the fall-out of general upward economic mobility. However,
this economic mobility leads to the domestication of women and a fall in
their status and value. (Dreze & Sen A. 1995 : 158)

Andre Beleille also comments upon the process of change in the status of
women in the context of manual labour. He points out how women are first
withdrawn from the family farm. Finally, with economic mobility, the men,
too, either withdraw from work, or change their role from cultivator to
supervisor. Therefore withdrawing womenfolk from manual labour on farms is
a symbol of high social status in the countryside. Due to variation in life
styles, the caste duties differ from one caste to another or one class to
another. But inspite of the differences of caste backgrounds, the status of
women across castes does not differ in comparison with men. So far as the
ideology of the Pativrata is concerned, which directs women to maintain
male authority in all castes. applies to women of all castes and class. (Kaur,
Kuldip 2000 : 35 quoted in IGNOU 2000 : WED, Block-3)

New Social Classes and Status of Women


A study of classes in India shows that it is a very complex phenomena.

Infact, the rise of new classes among different communities is an uneven
phenomena. During, the British period, Indian society was exposed to certain
new forces as mentioned earlier e.g. the Western system of education, the
new land settlements and the provision of new transport facilities such as
the railways. This phenomena led to a lot of changes in the caste/class

relationships. In rural India there emerged a new class especially in Bengal

Presidency called the Zamindars. Under the new settlement the right of
ownership was conferred on the Zamindars. According to the new settlement,
failure on the part of some Zamindars to pay the fixed revenue led to the
auction of portions of large estates. This in turn, led to the entry of new
classes of landlords who were primarily the merchants and money lenders.
Besides the zamindars, the peasants formed an important social class in rural
India. The peasantry in India is not a homogeneous category. It consists of
(i) the rich class, (ii) the middle class and (iii) the poor peasants. Along with
the peasantry the artisan class also formed an important part of the village
community. The artisans mainly consisted of carpenters (Badhai), the ironsmith
(Lohar), the potter (Kumhar), and the goldsmith (Sonar).

Gender, Caste and Class

Within the above mentioned classes the status of women has varied. Among
the above classes women generally occupied a secondary place interestingly,
this phenomenon continues to exist in contemporary times. Given below are
some tables that portray the status of women among different economic
Table 1
Percentage Distribution of Female Main Workers by
Industrial Category in India, 1981 and 1991


Industrial Category














Agricultural Labourers







Livestock, Forestry,
Fishing, Hunting,
Plantations and Allied







Mining & Quarrying







a) Household Industry







b) Other than
Household Industry














Trade and Commerce







Transport, Storage &








Other Services







Processing, Servicing
& Repairs

Source: Census of India, 1991, Final Population Totals, series-I, India, Paper 2
of 1992, Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, New Delhi]
The above table clearly depicts that the percentage of female workers in the
industrial category has increased over the years. The percentage of women
cultivators and agricultural labourers has not only increased but is the largest
sector that employs women.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

Table 2
Women in the Organised Sector
(In lakhs)
Public Sector

Private Sector





































Source: DGE and T, Ministry of Labour, Government of India, New Delhi.

The above table portrays that women are largely employed in private sector
The state wise break up is given in table (3)
Table 3
Table Employment Statistics, 1991

Public Sector

Private Sector








2. Arunachal Pradesh




3. Assam




4. Bihar




6. Delhi




7. Goa




8. Gujarat




9. Haryana




10. Himachal Pradesh




11. Jammu & Kashmir




12. Jharkhand

13. Karnataka




14. Kerala




15. Madhya Pradesh




16. Maharashtra




17. Manipur




18. Meghalaya




1. Andhra Pradesh

5. Chhattisgarh


Employment of Women (in thousands)

as on 31.3.99

19. Mizoram




20. Nagaland




21. Orissa




22. Punjab




23. Rajasthan






















31. Chandigarh




32. Dadra & Nagar Haveli




33. Daman & Diu




34. Lakshadweep







24. Sikkim
25. Tamil Nadu
26. Tripura
27. Uttar Pradesh
28. Uttaranchal
29. West Bengal
30. Andaman &
Nicobar Island

35. Pondicherry

Gender, Caste and Class

Source: India, Ministry of Labour, DGET Employment Review January-March

1999, p. 23.
It is significant to note that the above table depicts that the status of
women has fluctuated in different economic sectors. However in the NorthEast region especially among the Khasis and the Gharos the status of women
is high both economically and socially. Among the Khasis in Meghalaya the
ancestral property is inherited by females. One of the distinguishing feature
of the Khasi family structure is that women hold property. Infact, they are
the hub of the economy, and the youngest daughter performs all the religious
rites, yet the outside world is dominated by men. They have a saying war
and politics for men, property and children for women (Tiplut Nongbri 1994).
Reflection and Action 16.02
Recount a short incidence about your experience regarding the status of
women in a patriarchal family system or a matriarchal set-up. Write a short
note of about a page. Compare it, if possible, with other students at your
Study Centre.

16.5 Regional Variations in Gender, Caste and Class

As stated earlier, gender class and caste relationships are highly complex and
dynamic phenomena. In a patriarchal family system which exists in the
northern belt of India and among Brahmins, Thakurs, Kayasthas and Banias
the womenfolk occupy a secondary place in the family. In such families
power is wielded by the eldest male members or other males in the family
Prevalent customs like child marriage, enforced widowhood, sati purdah etc.
purdah have had an adverse impact on the status of women. The above
mentioned customs, along with socialisation practice have led to the girls/


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender

women occupying a subordinate position in the family. Further, womens

education in such families is not valued. Field studies have shown that
violence in patriarchal families have been reported to be higher. According
to Vina Mazumdar, we remember that this region (India) had thrown up
some of the most powerful women rulers in the world, but they did not
work for restructuring of the social order, eliminating patriarchal institutions.
We have taken pride in their successful defence of national sovereignty and
leadership role in defending third world interest in global fora. But as prisoners
of power in hierarchical global and national social order, they could not be
creators or defenders of democracy from below. Nor could they even begin
the task of eliminating the subordination of women in the masses.
Leela Dube also states in her work Women and Kinship: Comparative
Perspectives on Gender in South and South East Asia that it is a peculiarity
of South Asia that the female sex is denied the right to be born, to survive
after birth, and to live a healthy life avoiding the risks of pregnancy and
childbirth. The under valuing of women across different castes, classes and
even regions has had an impact on the educational status of women as well
as their ratio in the total population of India. Given below are tables depicting
the literacy rate, as well as sex ratio of women in India. These are selfexplanatory where status of women in India is concerned.
Table 4
Literate and Literacy Rates by Sex : 2001

Literacy rate #








Jammu & Kashmir





Himachal Pradesh



































Uttar Pradesh















Arunachal Pradesh



































West Bengal





India/State/Union Territory*

















Madhya Pradesh










Daman & Diu*





Dadra & Nagar Haveli*










Andhra Pradesh

























Tamil Nadu










Andaman & Nicobar Islands*




Gender, Caste and Class

Table 5
Population and Sex-Ratio
S.No. India/State/Union


Literacy rate #



Sex ratio
per 1,000






Jammu & Kashmir






Himachal Pradesh










































Uttar Pradesh


















Arunachal Pradesh
























Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender




















West Bengal
























Madhya Pradesh












Daman & Diu*






Dadra &
Nagar Haveli*












Andhra Pradesh






























Tamil Nadu












Andaman &
Nicobar Islands*





16.6 Conclusion
In this unit an attempt has been made to examine the close relationship
between gender, caste and class in the Indian context. An in-depth definition
of gender, caste and class is also stated. An analysis of the position of
women within the different castes in India has been described. The
relationship between caste and class in the context of gender has been
explained. Further, an attempt has been made to discuss the participation
of women in different sectors of the economy such a the public and private
sectors through tables. Finally the regional variation of status of women in
patriarchal and matriarchal families is discussed. The table mentioning the
literacy rate and sex ratio of women state-wise highlighting the regional
variations is also given.

16.7 Further Reading

Desai Neera & Thakkar, Usha, 2001, Women in Indian Society. National Book
Trust: New Delhi
Tiplut Nongbri, 1994, Gender & the Khasi Family structure in Patricia Uberoi,
ed., Family, Kinship & Marriage in India. Oxford University Press: New Delhi
Ketkar, S.V., 1990 (1909) The History of Caste in India. Low Price Pub., Delhi.
IGNOU, 2000. FWE Foundation Course In Womens Empowerment and
Development, Block-1 to 4.



It refers to descriptive studies of both a

qualitative and a quantitative kind. It was
used first by Ferdinand Tonnies who placed
great emphasis on the use of statistics. For
him sociography means descriptive
sociological studies using statistics.


The right of a country to rule over another



Any field of study, which may or may not

have an explicit theory, is seen as a
different order of inquiry from that which
either (a) sets out a conceptual language
for analysing social relations or (b) outlines
a theory or explanation of some aspect of
social life without testing its truth or falsity.
(Mitchel, Dumcan G. 1968 : 65)


Those scholars and thinkers who resisted

change from the traditional order.

Utilitarian rationalism

Its a philosophical outlook associated with

the name of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
in whose thought, ethics and psychology
rest on the fundamental fact that pleasure
is better than pain. Utility is the greatest
happiness of the greatest number. The
maximisation of utility is the proper end of
humankind. (I vid 1968)


Solving problems in a practical and sensible

way rather than by having fixed ideas or


The changes in the number of births,

deaths, diseases etc. in a population over
a period of time.


Anything related with the network of social

relationships in a society, which are


A set of beliefs and ideas, especially one

held by a particular group of people that
influences their behaviour.


View of social scientists based on first-hand

observation or field work of the area of
study. It refers to the way a system, for
eg. caste system, functions in reality in
different communities in India.


It is the process of the colony such as India

becoming independent.


When each part takes up a different

function or specialisation in a society.


Technological advance when dependence on

manual labour shifts to the use of machines.


Perspectives on Class,
Caste and Gender



The process of becoming more modern or

contemporary. It applies to the use of
technology, changes in values, beliefs and
ideas etc.


The institution of giving protection to the

lower castes, in terms of cash and kind
and receiving services from them in lieu of
it by the upper castes or the relationship
between lords and peasants.


Refers to the obligation that the peasants

or the lower castes felt for the Lord or the
upper caste landowner who gave them


Relationship by marriage is described as



Related through male descent or on the

fathers side.


In the context of kinship studies, the bond

between two families following a marriage
is described as relationship of alliance.


A group united through a belief that they

have a common ancestor, is called a clan.
In the context of Indian society, subcaste
sharing a common gotra is called a clan.


It refers to the state of being related by

blood. All blood relatives of a person are
his/her consanguine.


Derivation from an ancestor is called

descent. There are various ways of
derivation and hence different systems of
descent are found in human societies.


When marriage is specifically required within

a group, this specification is called the rule
of endogamy.


When marriage is specifically required

outside a group, this specification is called
the rule of exogamy.


When marriage is specifically required in

an equal or higher social group or subcaste,
this specification is called the rule of


This term refers to residence after

marriage. In this type of residence, the
husband and the wife set up an
independent household.


In this type of residence, after marriage,

the married couple lives with the husbands
fathers family.



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Confusing Overlaps
The Debate on Land Policy
The System of Control
The Issue of Nationalisation
The Issue of Planning
Industrial Relations
The Political Debate
The Objectives Resolution of the Constituent Assembly

In a democracy, it is an essential prerequisite to have an ideal model of development. The
formulation and implementation of policies greatly depend on the model of development
adopted for this purpose. Several debates took place in the Indian political and business
circles, about the time of Independence and Constitution making in India, on the future course
of development of India. Infact the very concern of Indias survival as a single entity was
foremost in the minds of its founders. The purpose of evolving an ideal pattern was not only
to safeguard the democratic principles but also create necessary social and political conditions
to ensure an overall development. The debates on the issues of development were complex
and diverse ranging from land policies to the industrial development and planning.

It has been seen in the previous unit that, about the time of independence, three broad streams
of thinking on Indias socio-economic development crystallised: capitalist industrialisation with
minimal state control and support, socialist industrialisation under state guidance and the
Gandhian view of sarvodaya philosophically based on a distrust of state power.
The ideological debate was complicated by the political and economic problems arising out
of the Second World War and partition of the country. Thus, the question of control over food
supply that had been imposed during the war became critical for a country that had just lost
the richest food-producing provinces to Pakistan and had been inundated by a huge refugee
influx. Gandhi opposed control on moral ground as it enhanced corruption and control was
abolished. As a result food prices rose steeply and control had to be re-imposed.



The three broad streams of thinking mentioned above were not clearly demarcated from each
other. No Indian political leader was more committed to the poorest of the poor than Gandhi.
This placed him close to the socialist position. But no Indian had a greater distrust for the state
power than Gandhi and this made him morally opposed to state control of economic activities.
This made him a favourite of the Indian capitalist class. Yet the Indian capitalists rejected
Gandhis stress on the small and cottage industries which, according to them, might be temporarily
accommodated but only for meeting the problem of unemployment in the country. Like the
capitalists, the socialists believed in large-scale industries as the chief strategy in solving the
economic problems of the newly decolonised underdeveloped countries and, naturally, rejected
the efficacy of the small and the cottage industry. But, unlike the capitalists, they were firm
believers in state control.
A part of this debate concerned the traditional socialist policy of nationalisation as had been
implemented in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Nehrus utterances before independence
and his installation as the Prime Minister of the Government of independent India raised a
certain alarm among the Indian capitalists. The same reason, combined with the rise of
militancy among the industrial working class in India, raised critical questions about industrial
relations. The Indian capitalists naturally did not like trade unionism and state support to the
cause of labour. Gandhi supported trade unionism as long as it worked in amity with the
owners of industries and set aside the philosophy of class contradiction. The socialist doctrine
was based on class contradiction. This made it possible for the industrial capitalists of India
to use Gandhis name in aid of their position.
It was only on the question of land reforms that the broadest amount of national consensus
had been reached. This was partly because permanent settlement of land did not encompass
the entire country and a big chunk of the permanent settlement area was transferred to
Pakistan East Bengal. Yet Jagirdari and other intermediate right owners in the rest of British
India were unhappy about the new trend.



It may be convenient to start with the question of land reform on which the broadest consensus
was obtained. It has been seen in the earlier unit that even the Bombay Plan of the big
industrialists of India envisaged land reforms. On 28 June, 1946 the Eastern Economist,
house journal of the Birlas, made a strong case for land reform declaring that the landlord
has no economic justification for his existence. In December 1946 the sub-committee on land
reform of the National Planning Committee of the Congress headed by J.C. Kumarappa, a
staunch Gandhian, laid down three stages of land reform: abolition of zamindari and other
intermediary rights, grant of tenancy right to the actual cultivator and ceiling on land holding.
The fate of zamindari and intermediary rights was thus sealed. The debate, therefore, focused
on compensation. During discussion on the right to property in the Constituent Assembly of
India this issue acquired poignancy. On 2 May 1947 Raja Jagannath Baksh Singh moved an
amendment to the draft article on the right to property which allowed acquisition of private
property by the state, for public purpose, against compensation inserting the word just
(before compensation). Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel rejected the amendment proposal making
it clear that the zamindars or some of their representatives could not thwart the programme

of land reform in that way. They must recognise the times and move with the times, he
announced. Legislations had already been undertaken in the provinces for the abolition of
zamindari and laws to that effect would be made even before the Constitution came into
force. The process of acquisition is already there and the legislatures are already taking steps
to liquidate the zamindaris, Patel declared.



The system of control and ration on food supply had been necessary during World War II
for the Imperial Government for the purpose of food supply to the war fronts. At the end of
the War it was continued in view of continued uncertainty of the market. Partition only
aggravated the scarcity in the food front.
As early as 14 January 1944, the Eastern Economist, had suggested a progressive
strengthening of the present system of controls, in scope and character, so that not only may
it strengthen the smooth transition to peace economy, but may also become the instrument of
long-term economic planning in our country. In 1946, however, the issue became contentious.
Early that year the Commodity Prices Board, consisting of noted economists A.D. Gorwala
and D.R. Gadgil was appointed. It submitted a report in the same year recommending not
abolition but the improvement of the system of controls. On the other hand, the Food-grains
Policy Committee, appointed in September 1947 with mostly industrial magnates as members,
adopted by a majority and submitted in December the same year an interim report
recommending reduction of the Governments commitment under the existing system of food
controls. As has been noted in the earlier unit Gandhi lent his moral support to the decontrol
demand and control was lifted for a period. When the prices rose high, control was again



Indian businessmen were alarmed at the talk of nationalisation emanating from the socialists
and the left radicals. On 14 June 1946, the Eastern Economist declared: We reject
unreservedly the Soviet ideal of complete and immediate socialisation of the whole range of
the economy. At the twentieth annual session of the Federation of Indian Chambers of
Commerce and Industry, Jawaharlal Nehru had to assure the businessmen. It is wrong to
imagine, he said, that this Government is out to injure industry. It will be folly on our part.
We want to provide facilities for industry and facilities for production technical, scientific and
power resources and all that. On 4 April 1947, in an address to the All-India Manufacturers
Organisation he repeated the assurance.


Though there was a general welcome to the idea of planning among all sections of the Indian
population, the ideas about the character of the plan varied among them. Indian businessmen
firmly rejected the Soviet-type planning and welcomed a vague system of state guidance.
They would even welcome a state role in the expansion of basic and heavy industries for
which the private sector did not have much resource. But the states role, according to them,
would be minimal. The socialists and the left radicals envisaged a much greater role of the state
in the national economic activities.
It is believed that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was sympathetic to the first view and Jawaharlal
Nehru to the second view. However, Patel is believed to have strongly resisted the establishment
of a Planning Commission by the Government which he thought would reflect the Soviet
Unions economic ideology and would encroach upon the domain of the Government. It was
only after the death of Patel that a Planning Commission of India could be set up under the
cabinet and with the Prime Minister as the chairman.



It was at the trade union front that the sharpest conflict arose. When the All-India Trade Union
Congress (AITUC) was set up in 1920, at the instance of the International Labour Organisation,
Congressmen, by and large, distanced themselves from it. They joined it only after the Gaya
session of the All-India Congress Committee in 1922. The Ahmedabad Textile workers
Union, directly patronised by Gandhi, never joined it. As a result the AITUC was under strong
influence of the communists and the socialists. When, in and after 1942, in the wake of the
Quit India movement, Congressmen, including the Congress socialists, went to jail in large
number the field was almost entirely left to the communists.
The differences were aggravated by two main factors. In 1942 the Communist Party had
opposed the Quit India movement on which ground the communist members of the All-India
Congress Committee were expelled. Secondly, after the end of the Second World War,
Communist militancy in the labour front increased greatly. In view of the smooth transfer of
power, that was accompanied by smooth transfer of several British industries to Indian hands,
this labour militancy was disliked by the Congress leadership that had the support of the Indian
big business. Congress leaders prescribed compulsory arbitration of industrial disputes and
disfavoured the workers right to strike.
In early 1947, Hindustan Mazdoor Sevak Sangh was set up with the Ahmedabad Textile
Workers Union as the nucleus. In view of the Sanghs failure to gather strength, in May 1947
the top leaders of the Congress met in New Delhi at a high-level conference under the
leadership of Patel and decided to have a separate labour organisation. As a result the Indian
National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) was set up. Within about another year, two other
central labour organisations cropped up: the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (splitting from the
INTUC) and the United Trade Union Congress (splitting from the AITUC).
At the time of transfer of power, when Indian capitalism was coming to its own, therefore,

the issue of class contradiction acquired sharpness and it naturally affected industrial relations.
For the capitalists industrial peace was necessary for industrial development and militant trade
unionism was inimical to industrial peace. Since Independence the Communists and Socialists
wanted that the class relations within the economy to be immediately settled.


The ideological debate had its impact on the politics around the period of independence.
The first post-war budget was inflationary. To counteract the inflationary tendency of the
national economy, the finance minister of the Interim Government, Liaquat Ali Khan, presented
a budget which proposed a 25% tax on all business profits above one hundred thousand
rupees. The tax was intended to restrict the spending habits of the wealthy Indians and had
a socialistic colour. But it created a furore among the Congressmen who alleged that the
budget was aimed at harming the interests of the businessmen who were mostly Congress
supporters. This budget practically sealed the fate of the Congress-League cooperation and
was one of the major factors leading to the partition of the country.
On the eve of independence, in June 1947, the Central Committee of the Communist Party
of India concluded that though the forces of freedom movement had compelled the imperial
rulers to open negotiations with the Indian leaders, the former were trying to forge a new
alliance with the princes, big landlords and big business of India in order to control the Indian
state and economy. Yet, the party held that the agreement embodied in the Mountbatten
proposal of 3 June 1947 for partition of British India offered new opportunities for
national advance and the two popular governments and Constituent Assemblies were strategic
weapons in the hands of the national leadership. It welcomed Independence on 15 August
1947. In December 1947, however, it reversed the position and called the acceptance of the
Mountbatten plan an abject surrender on the basis of an imperialist-feudal-bourgeois combine.
The resolution led to the communist militancy in 1948-49.
In 1947 the Forward Bloc left the Congress. On 28 February 1947 the Congress Socialist
Party decided to drop the word Congress from its name. Rammanohar Lohia, a socialist
leader, accused the Congress of compromising with the vested interests. In March the party
opened membership to non-congressmen. In March 1948, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, after
having been accused of neglecting the security of Mahatma Gandhi, who had been assassinated
in January 1948, decided to quit the Congress. Jayaprakash Narayan declared that the Draft
Constitution framed by the Constituent Assembly of India was clumsy and not inspiring. The
partys Legislative Assembly members in U.P., who had been elected on Congress ticket,
resigned and sought re-elections but were defeated.
The period around Independence, therefore, saw sharp ideological debate on the future
course of Indias development. No wonder, the ideological debate was partly reflected in the
proceedings of the Constituent Assembly of India that framed the Constitution.



All these issues were sought to be sorted out in the Objectives Resolution that was passed
in the Constituent Assembly of India in a fairly early stage of its proceedings. That resolution
pledged to establish an independent Sovereign Republic of India which, along with its component
parts, would derive all power and authority from the people of India. This would also
guarantee to all people of India justice, social, economic and political; equality of status, of
opportunity and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, worship, vocation,
association and action, subject to law and public morality. Further, adequate safeguards would
be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward
These liberal and welfarist ideas, as will be seen, were reflected in the Preamble to the Indian
Constitution that presents the essential philosophy of the independent Indian state. The
Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy were their elaborations.

In this unit, you have learnt about the debates on the models of development in the Independent
India. Some debates centred on the Gandhian views and their feasibility, while others deliberated
on the capital mode of industrialisation. The issues of debate included the system of control,
nationalisation, industrial policies and so on. On the whole, the final outcome of these debates
pledged to safeguard the interests of the people of India in all aspects- political, social and
economic and uphold the liberal and welfarist ideas.



What were the major streams of thinking in the Indian political leadership at the time of
Independence about the future economic development in India? To what extent did they
conflict and to what extent did they overlap?

ii) What was the type of land reform envisaged by the Indian political leadership at the time
of Independence? What was the attitude of the Indian business class toward land reform?
iii) What was the debate on control and planning at the time of Independence?
iv) Why did the Congress Socialists leave the Congress in 1948?
v) What was the analysis of the Communist Party of India regarding Independence?
vi) Discuss the circumstances leading to split in the Indian labour movement.
vii) What did the Objectives Resolution of the Constituent Assembly of India look forward
to establishing?



Outlook of the Indian Constitution
The Preamble
The Rise of the People
Rights of the People




Nature of the Rights

The Directive Principles of State Policy


Common Good and Life of Dignity


In the Sphere of Law


In the Economic Sphere


Rights of Workers


For Children and Weaker Sections


In the Sphere of Agriculture and Environment



The Constitution of a country is the highest legal-political document for its government. It also
embodies the statement of rights of the people as lawfully established. In a general sense it
lays down the structure of power and obligations of the rulers towards the ruled. Such
obligations imply not only the limit of the governmental power but also the expectation of the
people from the government.
A significant point about a Constitution is that it is future oriented, rather than past oriented.
People who administer their affairs according to traditions and customs do not need a constitution.
The memories of their elders are sufficient for them. Historically, whenever a constitution has
been framed, it has followed a revolution. A constitution has been intended to usher in a new
social and political order.
In the eighteenth century, when the first written constitution in the world appeared in the
United States of America - only the bare structure of a federal republican government was
laid down in 1789. That was a break with the monarchical colonial links with Britain. Within
two years, the Constitution of the United States went through ten amendments incorporating
the rights of the people in the form of limits to governmental power. The assumption was that
the people had certain rights, naturally, and the Government could not take them away. Those
rights were conceived in terms of the liberal laissez faire doctrine that put premium on the
rights to life, liberty and personal property.

In the twentieth century, this view of rights was considerably widened by the welfare, and even
socialist approach. New rights were included in the other constitutions of the world and the
scope of old rights were widened by judicial interpretations. Even the form of the statement
of the rights was modified. Thus, the Constitution of the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics incorporates the right to gainful employment as the fundamental right of every
citizen. In the USA, affirmative action in favour of the weaker sections of the people was
legally validated. The Constitution of Ireland incorporated certain directives to the Government
on the peoples welfare.


The proclamation of the Indian Constitution after the transfer of power from Britain heralded
a new era too. First and foremost, it established a Republican Democracy in place of the
monarchical empire of the British Government. Expectedly, the Indian Constitution inherited
the world trend through the experiences of the people during the freedom struggle. The Indian
Constitution retained the liberal democratic framework but broadened the scope of governmental
intervention with a view to promoting social reform and welfare. There was prohibition on the
state to violate the rights and equality of the citizens the rights that were essentially of
negative character. There was a prohibition on the society to practise untouchability. Permission
was granted to the state to take special measures for the improvement of weaker sections of
the people. The Constitution also adopted the Irish model of issuing positive directives to the
Government for the promotion of welfare measures.



Every liberal democratic constitution has a preamble articulating its spirit. The Preamble to the
Indian Constitution also has stated the noble aims of the polity.
The first point that needs mention is that, according to the Preamble, it is We, the people of
India who, in the Constituent Assembly of India, adopted, enacted and gave to ourselves this
Constitution. In short, the authority of the Constitution, as the Supreme Law of the land, is
derived from the people and not from the grace of any external sovereign. Therefore, India
is a Democratic, Sovereign country. India is also a Republic. It does not recognise any
hereditary rule.
The democratic character of the state is ensured by the right of the people to elect the first
chambers of the Union Parliament and the state Legislative Assemblies on the basis of adult
franchise. Every resident, adult citizen of sound mind, and not legally barred on grounds of
crime, corruption or illegal practice, is entitled to be registered as a voter (Article 326 of
the Constitution).
The Constitution also promises to all its citizens Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty
of thought expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity and to
promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual. By an amendment in
1976 the aims of establishing secularism and socialism and promoting the unity and integrity
of the nation were proclaimed.


The significance of the universal adult franchise can never be overstressed. The British had
introduced an elective system of legislature in India. Until the coming into force of the new
Constitution, however, only about 15% of the adult Indians were voters, the voting right being
conditioned by property and educational qualifications. By one stroke it was made universal
and became a key factor in the making and unmaking of the government.
The Constitution not only made the people the ultimate masters of their destiny, but it also
made them equal. The traditional Indian social system, fragmented by religious and ethnic
differences and stratified by caste, lost its legitimacy. Individual human beings became the
fundamental units of polity. All political and economic rights were granted to the individuals.
At the same time, some cultural rights were granted to the minority groups.



There are two kinds of rights under the Indian Constitution: some granted to all persons and
some to citizens only. The first kind of rights is available to non-citizens too and include
equality before the law and equal protection of the law (Article 14), protection against unlawful
conviction (Article 20), life and personal liberty (Article 21), protection against unlawful
detention (Article 22), right against exploitation in the form of traffic in human beings and
forced labour except for public purposes (Article 23), right of children against hazardous
employment (Article 24), freedom of religion (Article 25), freedom of religious denominations
to manage their religious affairs (Article 26), and freedom from payment of taxes the proceeds
of which specifically go to the benefit of any particular religion or religious denomination
(Article 27), freedom from enforced religious instruction in schools run by religious denominations
(Article 28), protection of minorities (Article 29), right of minorities to establish and administer
educational institutions of their choice (Article 30), right to Constitutional Remedies (Articles
32 and 226) and the right not to be deprived of property save by authority of law (Article
300A). All other rights right against discrimination by the state (Article 15), equality of
opportunity in matters of public employment (Article 16), right against practice of untouchability
(Article 17), right against creation of state titles other than military or academic (Article 18),
right to freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peacefully and without arms, to form
associations or unions, to move freely throughout the territory of India and to reside and settle
in any part of the territory of India and to practise any profession or carry on any occupation,
trade or business (Article 19) are granted to the citizens.


Nature of the Rights

The following points need to be noted about the rights: (1) These rights are negative in form
in as much as they restrict the authorities from violating these rights. (2) While most of these
rights are against the state, some of them, like the right against untouchability (Article 17) and
the right to protection of minorities (Article 29) are against the society. (3) While most of the
rights are granted to the individuals, some are granted to groups (Article 27, 29 and 30) (4)
Most of the rights are conditional upon considerations of public interest, law and order,
decency and welfare of certain weaker sections of the people.

These points are significant in the understanding of the nature of rights in India. We have said
that in the traditional liberal democracies like the United States, the rights are negatively
framed so that the state does not take them away. The question of protection of those rights
from the assault of other members of the society is tackled by the law and order functions
of the state. For instance, race riots in the USA are dealt with exclusively under the criminal
law which the State is constitutionally obliged to apply without discrimination. In India, on the
other hand, practice of untouchability by members of the upper castes is directly an offence
against the Constitution. Similarly, violation of the rights of minorities by members of the
majority community is an offence against the Constitution. It is the direct constitutional
responsibility of the state to protect the social rights of the dalits ( the people of the Scheduled
Castes), the adivasis (the people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes) and the religious and
linguistic minorities.
The other significant difference with the older liberal constitutions is the specification of limits
of the rights by the Constitution of India itself. In the United States such limits are set by the
courts of law and depend upon the personal views of the judges. Such personal views are
not ruled out in India but they are restricted by the Constitution itself. As has been mentioned,
these constitutional restrictions spring from the Constitutions concern for not only law and
order but also public interest in general, including decency, morality and welfare of the weaker
sections of the society.
Finally, constitutional acknowledgement of groups as well as individuals is the result of the
rather unhappy communal history of the country. This concern of the Constitution of India with
the plight of the religious and linguistic minorities and the weaker castes is reminiscent of
certain European constitutions set up between the two World Wars in pursuit of the minority
treaties some of the states had to sign before their establishment. Such countries were Poland,
Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. The difference is that those European states never seriously
implemented them. In India they have been implemented with all seriousness.
Thus the structure of rights in the Indian Constitution envisaged an active role of the state in
bringing forth social transformation.



A more direct activist role of the state in bringing forth socio-economic transformation was
assigned by the Constitution of India through Directive Principles of State Policy. These
principles are not directly enforceable by the law courts. But the courts, while interpreting the
Constitution, including the Fundamental Rights, are to be guided by them. The Constitution
enjoins the state to regard them as fundamental in governance and to apply them when making


Common Good and Life of Dignity

The most fundamental directive to the state is to strive to secure a social order in which justice,
social, economic and political shall inform all the institutions of their national life. The state
shall, in particular, strive to minimise inequalities in income and eliminate inequalities of status,

facilities and opportunities not only among the individuals but also among groups of people
residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations (Article 38). In particular the state
shall direct its policies toward securing adequate means of livelihood for all citizens, men and
women equally, distribution of ownership and control to best serve the common good, preventing
concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment, ensuring equal pay
for equal work for both men and women, protection of the health and strength of the workers,
men and women, prevention of the abuse of the children, and facilitation of the children to
grow in a healthy manner and with freedom and dignity (Article 39).


In the Sphere of Law

Most other Articles in this part of the Constitution (Part IV) are elaborations of these basic
objectives. The state shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on
a basis of equal opportunity, and shall, in particular, provide free legal aid, by suitable legislation
or schemes or in any other way, to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied
to any citizen by reason of economic and other disabilities (Article 39A, added in 1977 by
the 42nd amendment to the Constitution). The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens
a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India (Article 44). The state shall take steps
to separate the judiciary from the executive in the public services of the state (Article 50).
The state shall take steps to organise village panchayats and endow them with such powers
and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government
(Article 40).


In the Economic Sphere

There is a more guarded promise in the economic sphere. The state shall, within the limits of
its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to
work, to education and to public assistance in case of unemployment, old age, sickness and
disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want (Article 41). The right to work as such
cannot be granted by any liberal democratic state simply because it does not control all the
means of production. The system of social insurance is also provided by only developed
industrial countries though its operation is unstable. For a developing country like India the
promise of universal right to work and/or social insurance is obviously too ambitious.
The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of the
people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular,
endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of
intoxicating and harmful drugs (Article 47).


Rights of Workers

The State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for
maternity relief. The state shall endeavour to secure, by suitable legislation or economic
organisation or in any other way, to all workers, industrial, agricultural or otherwise, a living
wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and
social and cultural opportunities and, in particular, the state shall endeavour to promote cottage

industries on an individual or co-operative basis in rural areas (Article 43). By the 42nd
Amendment to the Constitution, the State was enjoined to take steps, by suitable legislation
or any other way, to secure the participation or workers in the management of undertakings,
establishments of other organisations engaged in any industry (Article 43A)


For Children and the Weaker Sections

The state is directed to provide, within a period of ten years (from the proclamation of the
Constitution) to all children up to the age of fourteen years (Article 45).
The state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker
sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes,
and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation (Article 46).


In the Sphere of Agriculture and Environment

The state shall endeavour to develop agriculture and industry along modern scientific lines
(Article 48).
It is the obligation of the state to protect every monument or place or object of historic interest
declared by the Parliament to be of national importance from spoilation, disfigurement,
destruction, removal, disposal or export, as the case may be (Article 49).
Article 48A, incorporated by the 42nd amendment in 1977 enjoins the duty to protect and
improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.



This unit focused on the developmental aspirations of the national movement that were embodied
in the Constitution of India, the highest legal- political charter of the Indian polity. The Indian
Constitution enshrined in itself the positive aspects based on experiences of the people around
the world. Infact, the Preamble remains the soul of the Constitution, with the utmost aim of
safeguarding the rights of the people and ensure justice in all aspects. There is also a provision
for Directive Principles of State Policy regarded as fundamental in the matters of governance.
It also ensures to safeguard the rights of the workers, children, weaker sections and nurture,
develop and protect agriculture, environment, forests and wildlife of the country.


Discuss the worlds perception of rights that served as the background of rights embodied
in the Indian Constitution. To what extent was it transformational?


What place do the people have in the Indian Constitution?


What are the negative and the positive rights in the Indian Constitution?


What are the rights in India granted to the individuals? What are the rights of the groups?


How much tansformational potential exists in the Directive Principles of State

Unit 3

Village Studies in India




Historical Background


The Context


Field and the Fieldwork


Perceived Significance of the Village


General Features of the Village


Social Structure of the Village : Caste, Class and Gender


Field-View and the Fieldwork



3.10 Further Reading

Learning Objectives
After going through this unit you will be able to

Provide a historical background to the emergence of village studies in India

describe the general context in which the village studies were undertaken

explain the how and why sociologists/social anthropologists chose this

field of study

discuss why the study of villages in India came to gain importance

outline the general features of the village

describe the social structure of the village which involves the description
of caste, class and gender as significant aspects, and finally
explain the nature of the field view and the fieldwork done by the
sociologists/social anthropologists.

3.1 Introduction
So far you have learnt about the social background of the emergence of
sociology in India, its later development and growth and some major issues
and themes of research. Village studies, during the 1950s and 1960s constituted
a major area of concern and several monographs and papers were published
during this period of growth and professionalisation of the discipline. In the
present unit you will learn more about these village studies.
Village occupies an important place in the social and cultural landscape of
contemporary India. Notwithstanding Indias significant industrialisation over
the last five or six decades, and a considerable increase in its urban population,
a large majority of Indians continue to live in its more than five lakh villages
and remain dependent on agriculture, directly or indirectly. According to the
2001 Census, rural India accounted for nearly 72 per cent of Indias total
population. Similarly, though the share of agriculture has come down to
around one-fourth of the total national income, nearly half of Indias working
population is directly employed in the agricultural sector.


Apart from it being an important demographic and structural reality

characterising contemporary India, village has also been an important

ideological category, a category through which India has often been imagined
and imaged in modern times. The village has been seen as the ultimate
signifier of the authentic native life, a place where one could see or
observe the real India and develop an understanding of the way local
people organise their social relationships and belief systems. As Andre Beteille
writes, The village was not merely a place where people lived; it had a
design in which were reflected the basic values of Indian civilisation
(Beteille1980:108). Institutional patterns of the Indian village communities
and its cultural values were supposed to be an example of what in the
twentieth century came to be known as the traditional society.

Village Studies in India

This unit will provide you an overview of the tradition of village studies
among sociologists and social anthropologists in India. Apart from looking at
the manner in which the village social life was studied, the methods used
and issues/questions focussed on, the unit will also offer a critical assessment
of the tradition of village studies.

3.2 Historical Background

Though one may find detailed references to village life in ancient and medieval
times, it was during the British colonial rule that an image of the Indian
village was constructed by the colonial administrators that was to have far
reaching implications ideological as well as political for the way Indian
society was to be imagined in the times to come.
Along with the earlier writings of James Mill, Charles Metcalfes notion of the
Indian village community set the tone for much of the later writings on rural
India. Metcalfe, in his celebrated remark stated that the Indian village
communities were little republics, having nearly everything they wanted
within themselves, and almost independent of foreign relations. They seemed
to last where nothing else lasted. Dynasty after dynasty tumbled down;
revolution succeeded revolution but the village community remained the
same. (as in Cohn, 1987:213). Though not all colonial administrators shared
Metcalfes assessment of the Indian village, it nevertheless became the most
popular and influential representation of India. The Indian village, in the
colonial discourse, was a self-sufficient community with communal ownership
of land and was marked by a functional integration of various occupational
groups. Things as diverse as stagnation, simplicity and social harmony were
attributed to the village which was taken to be the basic unit of Indian
civilisation. Each village was an inner world, a traditional community, selfsufficient in its economy, patriarchal in its governance, surrounded by an
outer one of other hostile villages and despotic governments. (Inden,
In many ways, even in the nationalist discourse, the idea of village as a
representative of authentic native life was derived from the same kind of
imagination. Though Gandhi was careful enough not to glorify the decaying
village of British India, he nevertheless celebrated the so-called simplicity
and authenticity of village life, an image largely derived from colonial
representations of the Indian village. The decadence of the village was seen
as a result of colonial rule and therefore village reconstruction was, along
with political independence, an important process for recovery of the lost
self (see Jodhka 2002).
In the post-Independence India also village has continued to be treated as


Emergence of Sociology
in India

the basic unit of Indian society. Among the academic traditions, the study
of village has perhaps been the most popular among the sociologists and
social anthropologists working on India. They carried-out a large number of
studies focussing on the social and cultural life of the village in India. Most
of these studies were published during the decades 1950s and 1960s. These
village studies played an important role in giving respectability to the
disciplines of sociology and social anthropology in India.
Generally basing their accounts on first-hand fieldwork, carried out mostly in
a single village, social anthropologists focused on the structures of social
relationships, institutional patterns, beliefs and value systems of the rural
people. The publication of these studies also marked the beginning of a new
phase in the history of Indian social sciences. They showed, for the first
time, the relevance of a fieldwork based understanding of Indian society, or
what came to be known as field-view of the India, different from the then
dominant book-view of India, which was developed by the Indologists and
orientalists from classical Hindu scriptures.

3.3 The Context

After the colonial administrators/ethnographers, it was the young discipline
of social anthropology that took up the study of Indian village during 1950s
and 1960s in a big way. This new interest in the village social life was a direct
offshoot of the newly emerged interest in the study of the peasantry in the
Western academy.
Emergence of the so-called new states following decolonisation during the
post war period had an important influence on research priorities in the
social sciences. The most significant feature of the newly emerged third
world countries was the dependence of large proportions of their populations
on a stagnant agrarian sector. Thus, apart from industrialisation, one the
main agenda for the new political regimes was the transformation of their
backward and stagnant agrarian economy. Though the strategies and
priorities differed, modernisation and development became common
programmes in most of the Third World countries.
Understanding the prevailing structures of agrarian relations and working out
ways and means of transforming them were recognised as the most important
priorities within development studies. It was in this context that the concept
of peasantry found currency in the discipline of social anthropology. At a
time when primitive tribes were either in the process of disappearing or had
already disappeared, the discovery of the peasantry provided a new lease
of life to the discipline of social anthropology.
The village community was identified as the social foundation of the peasant
economy in Asia. It is quite easy to see this connection between the
Redfieldian notion of peasant studies (Redfield 1965) and the Indian village
studies. The single most popular concept used by the anthropologists
studying the Indian village was Robert Redfields notion of little community.
Among the first works on the subject, Village India: Studies in the Little
Community (edited by M. Marriot, 1955) was brought out under the direct
supervision of Redfield. He even wrote a preface to this book.


Having found a relevant subject matter in the village, social anthropologists

(many of whom were either from the West or were Indian scholars trained

in the Western universities) initiated field studies in the early 1950s. During
October 1951 and May 1954 the Economic Weekly (which later became
Economic and Political Weekly) published a number of short essays providing
brief accounts of individual villages that were being studied by different
anthropologists. These essays were later put together by M.N. Srinivas in
the form of a book with the title Indias Villages in 1955. As mentioned
above Mackim Marriots book Village India also appeared in the same year.
Interestingly, the first volume of Rural Profiles by D.N. Majumdar also appeared
in 1955. S.C. Dube also published his full length study of a village near
Hyderabad, Indian Village in the same year.

Village Studies in India

Box 3.01: Views of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru on Village

in India
Mahatma Gandhi in his letter to Shri Jawaharlal Nehru on October 5, 1945
orignially written in Hindi expressed his views on village, in general and
specially in India. He wrote ......... I am convinced that if India is to attain
true freedom and through India the world also, then sooner or later the fact
must be recognised that people have to live in villages, not in towns, in
huts, not in palaces. Crores of people will never be able to live in peace with
each other in towns and palaces. They will then have no recourse but to
resort to both violence and untruth. I hold that without truth and nonviolence there can be nothing but destruction for humanity. We can realise
truth and non-violence only in the simplicity of village life................ .
Jawaharlal Nehru, in his reply to Bapus letter, wrote amongst other things,
that, The whole question is how to achieve this society and what its
content should be. I do not understand why a village should necessarily
embody truth and non violence. A village, normally speaking, is backward
intellectually and culturally and no progress can be made from a backward
environment. Narrow-minded people are much more likely to be untruthful
and violent. (The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Vol. IV. Selected
Letters General Editor Shriman Narian. Navajivan Publishing House,
Ahmedabad. pp. 98-101)

There was a virtual explosion of village studies in the sixties and seventies.
Although social anthropologists were the first in the field which they
dominated throughout, scholars from other disciplines political science,
history, economics, and so on were also attracted to it (Beteille, 1996:235).
Though most of the studies provided a more general account of social,
economic and cultural life of the rural people, some of the later studies also
focused on specific aspects of the rural social structure, such as, stratification,
kinship, or religion.

3.4 Field and the Fieldwork

An anthropologist typically selected a single middle sized village where he/
she carried-out an intensive fieldwork, generally by staying with the
community for a fairly long period of time, ranging from one to two years,
and at the end of the stay he/she was supposed to come out with a holistic
account of the social and cultural life of the village people.
The most important feature that qualified these studies to be called
anthropological was the fieldwork component and the use of participantobservation, a method of data collection that anthropologists in the West


Emergence of Sociology
in India

had developed while doing studies of tribal communities. The participantobservation method was seen as a method that understood social life from
within, in terms of the values and meanings attributed to it by the people
Box 3.02: Participant Observation
The method of participant observation also provided continuity between the
earlier tradition of anthropology when it studied the tribal communities and
its later preoccupation with the village. As Beteille writes:
In moving from tribal to village studies, social anthropologists retained one
very important feature of their craft, the method of intensive field work....
Those standards were first established by Malinowski and his pupils at the
London School of Economics in the twenties, thirties and forties, and by the
fifties, they had come to be adopted by professional anthropologists the
world over (Beteille, 1996:233-4).

3.5 Perceived Significance of the Village

The discovery of peasantry thus rejuvenated the discipline of social
anthropology. In the emerging intellectual and political environment during
the post war period, anthropologists saw themselves playing an important
role in providing authentic and scientific account of the traditional social
order, the transformation of which had become a global concern. Many of
the village monographs emerged directly from the projects carried-out by
sociologists and social anthropologists for development agencies. These
included studies by Dube (1955), Majumdar (1958), and Lewis (1958). Lewis,
who studied a village near Delhi writes:
Our work was problem oriented from the start. Among the problems we
studied intensively were what the villagers felt they needed in housing,
in education, in health; land consolidation programme; and the newly
created government-sponsored panchayats (Lewis, 1958:ix).
Lewis was appointed by the Ford Foundation in India to work with the
Programme Evaluation Organisation of the Planning Commission to help in
developing a scheme for the objective evaluation of the rural reconstruction
A typical anthropologist, unlike his/her economist counterpart, saw the village
in the context of the cultural life lived by the people and the way rural
life was inter-locked and interdependent which baffled social engineers as
it could not be geared to planned economy. It was here that the economists
needed the assistance of sociologists and anthropologists (Majumdar, 1955:iv).
Though they were supposed to only assist the big brothers economists in
the planning process, the anthropologist viewed their perspective as being
superior because they alone studied village community as a whole, and
their knowledge and approach provided an indispensable background for the
proper interpretation of data on any single aspect of rural life. Their approach
provided a much-needed corrective to the partial approach of the economist,
political scientist and social worker (Srinivas, 1955:90).


Anthropologists criticised economists and official planners view because they

tended to treat people like dough in their hands. The fact that people had

resources of their own, physical, intellectual and moral, and that they could
use them to their advantage, was not recognised by those in power (Srinivas,

Village Studies in India

While economists used quantitative techniques and their method was more
scientific, the anthropological approach had its own advantages.
Anthropological studies provided qualitative analysis. The method of
anthropology required that its practitioners selected a small universe which
could be studied intensively for a long period of time to analyse its intricate
system of social relations (Epstein, 1962:2).
However, not all of them were directly involved with development
programmes. In fact most of them saw the relevance of their works in
professional terms. Taking a position against the close involvement with
official agencies, Srinivas argued that the anthropologist has intimate and
first hand knowledge of one or two societies and he can place his
understanding at the disposal of the planner. He may in some cases even be
able to anticipate the kind of reception a particular administrative measure
may have. But he cannot lay down policy because it is a result of certain
decisions about right and wrong (Srinivas, 1960:13). Thus maintaining a safe
distance from the political agencies was seen to be necessary because,
unlike economics, social anthropology did not have a theoretical grounding
that could help them become applied sciences.
The relevance of studying the village was viewed more in methodological
terms. The village and its hamlets represented India in microcosm (Hoebel
in Hiebert, 1971:vii). For the anthropologist, they were invaluable
observation-centres where he/she could study in detail social processes and
problems to be found occurring in great parts of India (Srinivas 1955: 99).
Villages were supposedly close to people, their life, livelihood and culture
and they were a focal point of reference for individual prestige and
identification. As an important administrative and social unit, the village
profoundly influenced the behaviour pattern of its inhabitants. Villages were
supposed to have been around for hundreds of years, having survived
years of wars, making and breaking up of empires, famines, floods and other
natural disasters. This perceived historical continuity and stability of villages
strengthened the case for village studies (Dasgupta, 1978:1).
Carrying-out village studies during the fifties and the sixties was also important
because the Indian society was changing very fast and the anthropologist
needed to record details of the traditional social order before it was too
late. Underscoring this urgency Srinivas wrote We have, at the most, another
ten years in which to record facts about a type of society which is changing
fundamentally and with great rapidity (Srinivas, 1955: 99)

3.6 General Features of the Village

Unlike the tribal communities, the Indian villages had a considerable degree
of diversity. This diversity was both internal as well as external. The village
was internally differentiated in diverse groupings and had a complex structure
of social relationships and institutional arrangements. There were also
different kinds of villages in different parts of the country. Even within a
particular region of the country, not all villages were alike.
The stereotypical image of the Indian village as a self-sufficient community


Emergence of Sociology
in India

was contested by anthropological studies. Beteille, for example, argued at

least as far back in time as living memory went, there was no reason to
believe that the village (he studied) was fully self-sufficient in the economic
sphere (Beteille, 1996:136-7). Similarly Srinivas too contested the colonial
notion of the Indian village being a completely self-sufficient republic. The
village, he argued, was always a part of a wider entity. (Srinivas, 1960:10).
However, despite this contention about the village having links with the
outside world and explicating the diversities that marked the rural society
of India, it was the unity of the village that was underlined by most
anthropologists. The fact that the village interacted with the outside world
did not mean it did not have a design of its own or could not be studied
as a representative unit of Indian social life. While villages had horizontal
ties, it was the vertical ties within the village that governed much of the
life of an average person in the village.
Village provided an important source of identity to its residents. Different
scholars placed different emphasis on how significant the village identity
was when compared to other sources of identification, such as those of
caste, class or locality. Srinivas argued that individuals in his village had a
sense of identification with their village and an insult to ones village had
to be avenged like an insult to oneself, ones wife, or ones family (Srinivas,
1976:270). Similarly, Dube argued that though Indian villages varied greatly in
their internal structure and organisation, in their ethos and world-view, and
in their life-ways and thought-ways, on account of variety of factors, village
communities all over the Indian sub-continent had a number of common
features. The village settlement, as a unit of social organisation, represented
a kind of solidarity which was different from that of the kin, the caste, and
the class. Each village was a distinct entity, had some individual mores and
usages, and possessed a corporate unity. Different castes and communities
inhabiting the village were integrated in its economic, social, and ritual
pattern by ties of mutual and reciprocal obligations sanctioned and sustained
by generally accepted conventions. Notwithstanding the existence of groups
and factions inside the settlement, people of the village could, and did, face
the outside world as an organised, compact whole (Dube,1960:202).
Reflection and Action 3.01
Read a sociologists study of an Indian village and then read a novel, such
as, Shreelal Shukls Ragdarbari in Hindi or R.K. Narians Malgudi Days in
Write down an essay on the depiction of an Indian village, as given by a
sociologist and compare it with the account of an Indian village by a creative
writer. Compare your essay with those of other students at your Study


It was W.H. Wiser who had initially, in his classic study of The Hindu Jajmani
System, first published in 1936, had conceptualised the social relationships
among caste groups in the Indian village in the framework of reciprocity.
The framework of reciprocity implied that though village social organisation
was hierarchical, it was the interdependence among different caste groups
that characterised the underlying spirit of the Indian village. Reciprocity
implied, explicitly or implicitly, an exchange of equal services and nonexploitative relations. Mutual gratification was supposed to be the outcome
of reciprocal exchange.

Each serves the other. Each in turn is master. Each in turn is servant
(Wiser 1969:10).

Village Studies in India

Though the later studies were much more elaborate and contained long
descriptions of different forms of social inequalities and differences in the
rural society, many of them continued to use the framework of reciprocity
particularly while conceptualising unity of the village social life. However
not everyone emphasised the unity of the village the way Srinivas and Dube
or earlier Wiser did. Some of the anthropologists explicitly contested the
unity thesis while others qualified their arguments by recognising the conflicts
within the village and the ties that villagers had with the outside world. For
instance, Paul Hiebert in his study of a south Indian village, although arguing
that the caste system provided a source of stability to the village, also
underlined the fact that deep seated cleavages underlie the apparent unity
of the village and fragmented it into numerous social groups (Hiebert,
1971:13). Similarly, Beteille had argued that his study of village Sripuram as
a whole constituted a unit in a physical sense and, to a much lesser extent,
in the social sense(Beteille, 1996:39).
Among those who nearly rejected the idea of the communitarian unity were
Lewis and Bailey. F.G. Bailey, for example provided a radical critique of the
unity-reciprocity thesis and offered an alternative perspective. Stressing
on the coercive aspects of caste relations, he writes:
... those who find the caste system to their taste have exaggerated the
harmony with which the system works, by stressing the degree of
interdependence between the different castes. Interdependence means that
everyone depends on everyone else: it means reciprocity. From this it is
easy to slip into ideas of equality: because men are equally dependent on
one another, they are assumed to be equal in other ways. Equality of rank
is so manifestly false when applied to a caste system that the final step in
the argument is seldom taken, and exposition rests upon a representation
of mutual interdependence, and the hint that, because one caste could
bring the system to a standstill by refusing to play its part, castes do not in
fact use this sanction to maintain their rights against the rest. In fact, of
course, the system is held together not so much by ties of reciprocity, but
by the concentration in one of its parts. The system works the way it does
because the coercive sanctions are all in the hands of a dominant caste.
There is a tie of reciprocity, but it is not a sanction of which the dependent
castes can make easy use (Bailey, 1960:258).
However, this kind of a perspective did not become popular among the
sociologist anthropologists during 1950s and 1960s. They continued to work
largely within the unity-reciprocity framework, with varied degrees of

3.7 Social Structure of the Village: Caste, Class and

The intellectual and historical contexts in which social anthropologists worked
largely guided the kinds of research questions they identified for their studies.
The tradition of studying tribal communities that emphasised a holistic
perspective also had its influence on the way village was visualised.
Despite their primary preoccupation with kinship, religion and ritual life of


Emergence of Sociology
in India

the little communities, documenting their internal structures and village

social life could not be completed without looking at the prevailing social
differences. Theoretically also the emphasis on unity did not mean absence
of differences and social inequality. Neither did it mean that these questions
were not important for social anthropology. Though not all of them began
their work with a direct focus on understanding the structures of inequalities,
almost every one of them offered detailed descriptions of the prevailing
differences of caste, class and gender in the village social life. Being rich in
empirical description, one can construct a picture of the social relations,
which may not necessarily fit within the framework with which these studies
were actually carried out.

i) The Caste System

Caste and hierarchy have long been seen as the distinctive and defining
features of the Indian society. It was during the colonial period that caste
was, for the first time, theorised in modern sociological language. The colonial
administrators also gathered extensive ethnographic details and wrote detailed
accounts of the way systems of caste distinctions and hierarchies worked in
different parts of the sub-continent. Social anthropology in the postindependence India continued with a similar approach that saw caste as the
most important and distinctive feature of Indian society. While caste was a
concrete structure that guided social relationships in the Indian village,
hierarchy was its ideology.
An individual in caste society lived in a hierarchical world. Not only were the
people divided into higher or lower groups, their food, their dresses,
ornaments, customs and manners were all ranked in an order of hierarchy.
Anthropologist invariably invoked the varna system of hierarchy which divided
the Hindu society into five major categories. The first three, viz., Brahmins
(the priests or men of learning), Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors) and Vaishyas
(traders) were regarded as dvijas or the twice born. The fourth category was
that of Shudras, composed of numerous occupational castes that were
regarded as relatively clean and were not classed as untouchables. In the
fifth major category were placed all the untouchable castes. Hindus all
over India, according to Dube, accepted this classification.
The legitimate occupations to be followed by people in these major categories
(varnas) were defined by tradition. Within each category there were several
sub-groups (jati or castes), which could be arranged in a hierarchical order
within them. In this general framework of the varna system, with considerable
variations in different regions there were several socially autonomous castes,
each fitting into one of the five major divisions but otherwise being practically
independent in their socio-religious sphere of life (Dube 1955: 35-36). Though
the essence of caste lay in the arrangement of hereditary groups in a
hierarchy, the popular impression derived from the idea of varna that
arranged groups in an order with Brahmins at the top and Harijans at the
bottom was right only partly. The empirical studies pointed out that in fact
only the two opposite ends of the hierarchy were relatively fixed; in between,
and especially in the middle region, there was considerable room for debate
regarding mutual position (Srinivas, 1994:5).


Caste divisions determined and decided all social relations. Most scholars
saw caste as a closed system where entry into a social status was a function
of heredity and individual achievement, personal quality or wealth had,

according to the strict traditional prescription, no say in determining the

social status (Majumdar, 1958:19). However, there were some who admitted
that the way caste operated at the local level was radically different from
that expressed in the varna scheme. Mutual rank was uncertain and this
stemmed from the fact that mobility was possible in caste (Srinivas, 1976:175).

Village Studies in India

Dube identified six factors that contributed towards the status differentiation
in the village community of Shamirpet: religion and caste; landownership;
wealth; position in government service and village organisation; age; and
distinctive personality traits (Dube, 1955:161). Attempts to claim a higher
ritual status through, what Srinivas called sanskritisation, was not a simple
process. It could not be achieved only through rituals and life-style imitation.
The group had to also negotiate it at the local power structure. Similarly,
stressing secular factors, Dube pointed to the manner in which the caste
panchayat of the lower or the menial castes worked as unions to secure
their employment and strengthen their bargaining power vis--vis the land
owning dominant castes.
However, a large majority of them viewed caste system as working within
the framework of jajmani system and bound together different castes living
in the village or a cluster of villages in enduring and pervasive relationships.
Reflection and Action 3.02
You just read about the sociologists opinion about caste in India based on
their own studies/field-work. As a person you may have come across caste
as a social reality. Think about your own experiences and write a report on
Caste in India in about two pages.
Discuss your report with other students of sociology at your Study Centre,
as well as, your Academic Counsellor.

ii) Land and Class

As is evident from the above discussion, the social anthropologists studying
India during the fifties and sixties generally worked in the framework of
caste. The manner in which social science disciplines developed in India,
class and land came to be seen as the concerns of economists. However,
since anthropologists advocated a perspective that studied small
communities in holistic terms, agriculture and the social relations of
production on land also found a place in the village monographs.
While some of them directly focused on economic life as one of the central
research questions, most saw it as an aspect of the caste and occupational
structure of the village. Land relations to them reflected the same patterns
of hierarchy as those present in the caste system. There was a certain
amount of overlap between the twin hierarchies of caste and land. The
richer landowners generally came from such high castes as Brahmins, and
Lingayats while the Harijans contributed a substantial number of landless
labourers. In contrast to the wealthier household, the poor one was almost
invisible (Srinivas, 1976:169).
Some others underlined the primacy of land over all other factors in
determining social hierarchy in the village. Comparing a Brahmin dominated
village with a Jat dominated village, Lewis argued that While the landowners
are generally of higher caste in Indian villages, it is their position as landowners,


Emergence of Sociology
in India

rather than caste membership per se, which gives them status and power
(Lewis, 1958:81). However, despite such references to the crucial significance
of land ownership in village social life, village studies did not explore the
details of agrarian social structures in different regions of the country. Caste,
family, kinship and religion remained their primary focus.

iii) Gender Differences

It is rather interesting to note that although gender as a conceptual
category had not yet been introduced in the social sciences when the social
anthropologists were doing their field studies during 1950s and 1960s, village
studies were not completely gender blind. Since the concept of gender
and the accompanying theoretical issues had yet to be articulated, the
social anthropologists did not look at man-woman relations in the manner in
which it was to be conceptualised and studied later. Still, many of the village
monographs provide detailed accounts of the patterns of social relations
between men and women in the rural society of India. Some of these
monographs even have separate chapters devoted to the subject.
In the absence of a critical theoretical perspective, the village studies
constructed gender and patriarchy as a natural social order. Further, accounts
of man-woman relations provided in these studies were largely based on the
data collected from male informants. Most of the anthropologists themselves
being males, it would have been difficult for them to be able to meet and
participate in the private life of the village people. Some of them were
quite aware of this lacuna in their fieldwork and have written about it in
their reflections on their fieldwork experience.
Most village studies looked at gender relations within the framework of the
household, and participation of women in work. These studies highlighted
the division of labour within the family and the overall dominance that men
enjoyed in the public sphere. Women, particularly among the upper castes,
were confined within the four walls of the house. The social world of the
woman was synonymous with the household and kinship group while the
men inhabited a more heterogeneous world (Srinivas, 1976:137). Compared
to men in the Central Indian village studied by Mayer women had less
chance to meet people from other parts of the village. The village well
provided a meeting place for all women of non-Harijan castes, and the
opportunity for gossip. But there was a limit to the time that busy women
could stand and talk while they drew their water and afterwards they must
return home, where the occasions for talking to people outside their own
household were limited to meeting with other women of the street (Mayer,
1960:136). In the Telangana village also, Dube observed that women were
secluded from the activities of the public space. It was considered a mark
of respectability in women if they walked with their eyes downcast (Dube,


The rules of patriarchy were clearly laid out. After caste, gender was the
most important factor that governed the division of labour in the village.
Masculine and feminine pursuits were clearly distinguished (Dube, 1955:169).
Writing on similar lines about his village in the same region, Srinivas pointed
out that the two sets of occupations were not only separated but also seen
as unequal. It was the man who exercised control over the domestic economy.
He made the annual grain-payments at harvest to the members of the artisan
and servicing castes who had worked for him during the year. The dominant

male view thought of women as being incapable of understanding what

went on outside the domestic wall (Srinivas, 1976:140-1).

Village Studies in India

Men also had a near complete control over womens sexuality. In the
monogamous family, popular among most groups in India, a man could play
around but not so a woman. A mans sense of private property in his wifes
genital organs was as profound as in his ancestral land. And just as, traditionally,
a wife lacked any right to land she lacked an exclusive right to her husbands
sexual prowess. Polygyny and concubinage were both evidence of her lack
of such rights. Men and women were separate and unequal (ibid, 155).
Patriarchy and male dominance were legitimate norms. According to the
traditional norms of the society a husband is expected to be an authoritative
figure whose will should always dominate the domestic scene. As the head
of the household he should demand respect and obedience from his wife
and children. The wife should regard him as her master and should serve
him faithfully (Dube, 1955:141).
Box 3.03: Village under Duress
Not every thinker, sociologist or anthropologist agrees with the general
opinion of village India as an idyllic social reality. Infact, sociologist like
Dipankar Gupta begs to differ. He says that The village is shrinking as
a sociological reality, though it still exists as space. Nowhere else does one
find the level of hopeless disenchantment as one does in the rural regions
of India. In urban slums there is squalour, there is filth and crime, but there
is hope and the excitement that tomorrow might be quite different from
Rarely would a villager today want to be a farmer if given an opportunity
elsewhere. Indeed, there are few rural institutions that have not been mauled
severely from within. The joint family is disappearing, the rural caste hierarchy
is losing its tenacity, and the much romanticised harmony of village life is
now exposed for the sham it perhaps always was. If anything, it is perhaps
B.R. Ambedkars analysis of the Indian village that strikes the truest of
all. It was Ambedkar who said that the village was a cesspool of
degradation, corruption and worse. That village India was able to carry on
in spite of all this in the past was because there was little option for most
people, rich or poor outside the confines of the rural space. (Gupta, Dipankar,
Whither the Indian Village, Culture and Agriculture in Rural India, EPW Vol.
XL No.8, Feb. 19-25, 2005, pp. 751-758)

3.8 Field-View and the Fieldwork

More than anything else, it was the method of participant observation that
distinguished the social anthropological village studies from the rural surveys
that were conducted by economists and demographers. And it was this
method of qualitative fieldwork that helped social anthropology gain a measure
of respectability in the Indian academy.
The field-view was a superior way of understanding contemporary Indian
society as it provided a corrective to the partial book-view of India
constructed by Indologists from the classical Hindu texts. The book-view
was partial not only because it was based on texts written in ancient
times, it was partial also because, the texts used by the Indologists were
all written by the elite upper caste Hindus.


Emergence of Sociology
in India

In contrast, the anthropological perspective which used a scientific method

of inquiry and provided a holistic picture of the way social life was organised
in the Indian society at the level of its grassroots. Even though some of
the scholars were themselves from India and therefore had pre-conceived
notions about rural society, a proper scientific training could take care of
such biases.
However, despite this self-image of a scientist and a repeated emphasis on
value-neutrality towards the subjects being studied, a close reading of
what these students of Indian village have written about their experiences
of fieldwork provides a completely different picture. Apart from pointing to
the kinds of problems they faced in getting information about the village
social life from different sections of rural society, they give vivid descriptions
of how their own location and social background influenced and conditioned
their observations of the village society and their access to different sections
of people in the rural society. The place they chose to live in the village
during the field work, the friends they made for regular information, the
social class they themselves came from, their gender, the caste status
bestowed upon them by the village, all played important roles in the kind of
data they could access.
The manner in which an individual anthropologist negotiated his/her
relationship with the village determined who was going to be his/her
informant. One of the first questions asked of a visitor was regarding his/
her caste. Accordingly the village placed the visitor in its own structure and
allocated him/her a place and status. The anthropologist was not only
expected to respect this allocation of status bestowed on him/her by the
village, but he was also asked to conform to the normative patterns of the
caste society. The anthropologist could not avoid negotiating with the village
social structure mainly because the method of participant observation
required that he/she went and stayed in the village personally for a fairly
long period of time. The routine way of developing contact with the village
was through the village leaders or the head of the panchayat who invariably
came from the dominant upper caste. Most of the anthropologists themselves
being from upper caste and middle class background, it was easier for them
to approach and develop rapport with these leaders. This also helped them
execute their studies with lesser difficulties. Majumdar is explicit about this:
The ex-zamindar family provided accommodation and occasionally
acted as the host, and this contact helped ... to work with
understanding and confidence; little effort was needed to establish
rapport (Majumdar, 1958:5).


However, finding a place to live was not merely a matter of convenience. It

identified the investigator with certain groups in the village and this
identification had its advantages as well as disadvantages. While it gave
them access to the life ways of the upper castes, it also made them suspect
in the eyes of the lower castes. Betelle, for example, was permitted to
live in a Brahmin house in the agraharam (the Brahmin locality), a privilege,
he was told, never extended to an outsider and a non-Brahmin before. His
acceptance in the agraharam as a co-resident was not without any conditions.
I could live in the agraharam only on certain terms, by accepting some of
the duties and obligations of a member of the community.... The villagers of
Sripuram had also assigned me a role, and they would consider it most
unnatural if I decided suddenly to act in ways that were quite contrary to
what was expected (Beteille, 1975:104).

Living in the agraharam also gave him an identity of a Brahmin in the village.
I was identified with Brahmins by my dress, my appearance, and the fact
that I lived in one of their houses(ibid:9). For the Non-Brahmins and AdiDravidas, he was just another Brahmin from North India. This meant that his
access to these groups was therefore, far more limited than to the
Brahmins(ibid:9). His visits to the Harijan locality received loud disapproval
from his Brahmin hosts and he was also suspected by the Harijans, who
regard a visit to their homes by a Brahmin as unnatural, and some believe
that it brings then ill luck(ibid:278).

Village Studies in India

The village was not only caste conscious, it was also class and gender conscious.
As Beteille writes:
If I asked the tenant questions about tenancy in the presence of the
landlord, he did not always feel free to speak frankly. If I arranged to
meet the tenant separately to ask these questions, the landlord felt
suspicious and displeased (ibid:284).
Underlining the role gender played in fieldwork, Leela Dube, one of the
few Indian women anthropologists who worked in a village writes, I was
a Brahmin and a woman, and this the village people could never forget
(Dube, 1975:165).
Srinivas tells us a similar story about his experiences in the field. Since his
family originally came from the region where he did his field study, it was
easier for his villagers to place him. For the villagers he was primarily a
Brahmin whose joint family owned land in a neighbouring village (Srinivas,
1976:33). The older villagers gave him the role of a Brahmin and a landowner.
By so doing they were able to make him behave towards them in certain
predictable ways, and they in turn were able to regulate their behaviour
towards him.
More significant here perhaps is the fact that he very consciously conformed
to the normative patterns and the local values as he came to understand
It did not even occur to me to do anything which might get me into trouble
with the village establishment. I accepted the limitations and tried to work
within them (ibid:47 emphasis added).
A similar kind of anxiety is expressed by Leela Dube when she writes:
if I had to gain a measure of acceptance in the community, I must
follow the norms of behaviour which the people associated with my
sex, age, and caste (Dube,1975:165).
This conformist attitude towards the village social structure and its normative
patterns as received through the dominant sections had such an important
effect on their fieldwork that some of them quite consciously chose not to
spend much time with the low caste groups. Srinivas, for example, admits
that while he was collecting genealogies and a household census, he
deliberately excluded the Harijan ward. He thought that he should approach
the Harijans only through the headman. The consequence was that his
account of the village was biased in favour of the upper caste Hindus. It was
not merely the insider Indian scholars who, while doing participant
observation, had to negotiate with the social structure of the village, even
the scholars from the West had to come to terms with the statuses that the


Emergence of Sociology
in India

village gave them and which caste groups they would get more closely
identified with. The British scholar, Adrian Mayer, who studied a Central
Indian village writes that it was impossible for him merely to observe the
caste system. He had to participate in it, merely by the fact of my living in
Ramkheri. He was accorded the status of an undesignated upper caste and
by the time he left the village he was most closely identified with Rajputs,
the locally dominant caste (Mayer 1975).
Though the village social structure invariably imposed itself upon the
participant observer, it was not completely impossible to work without
being identified with one of the dominant castes. There were some who
made concerted efforts to understand what the caste system meant to
those who were at its receiving end. It is not surprising that the image of
hierarchy as it appeared from the bottom up was very different from its
mainstream constructions. Mencher, who chose deliberately to spend more
time among the Harijans writes:
...most of the Harijans I got to know tended to describe their
relations with higher-caste people in terms of power, both economic
(in terms of who employed whom, or their dependence on the landed
for employment) and political (in terms of authority and the ability
to punish).
For Harijans both old and young, the exploitative aspect of hierarchy was
what seemed most relevant, not the to each his own aspect.To them it
was all quite clearly a system in which some people worked harder than
others, and in which those who were rich and powerful remained so, and
obviously had no intention of relinquishing their prerogative voluntarily
(Mencher, 1975:119 and 127).
However, apart from a few exceptions of those doing agrarian studies
(Mencher,1978; Djurfeldt and Lindberg,1975; Harriss;1982), it was only later
when the Dalit movement consolidated itself in different parts of the country,
that social anthropologists and sociologists began to examine the question
of power and politics of caste relations.

3.9 Conclusion
The studies of Indian villages carried-out by social anthropologists during the
1950s and 1960s were undoubtedly an important landmark in the history of
Indian social sciences. Even though the primary focus of these studies was
on the social and ritual life of the village people, there are enough references
that can be useful pointers towards an understanding of the political and
economic life in the rural society of India during the first two decades of
independent India.


More importantly, these studies helped in contesting the dominant stereotype

of the Indian village made popular by the colonial administrators. The detailed
descriptive accounts of village life constructed after prolonged field-works
carried out, in most cases, entirely by the anthropologists themselves
convincingly proved how Indian villages were not isolated communities.
Village studies showed that Indias villages had been well integrated into the
broader economy and society of the region even before the colonial rule
introduced new agrarian legislation. They also pointed to the regional
differences in the way social village life was organised in different parts of
the country.

Social anthropological studies also offered an alternative to the dominant

book-view of India constructed by Indologists and orientalists from the
Hindu scriptures. The field-view presented in the village monographs not
only contested the assumptions of Indology but also convincingly showed
with the help of empirical data as to how the idealised model of the varna
system as theorised in Hindu scriptures did not match with the concrete
realities of village life. While caste was an important institution in the Indian
village and most studies foregrounded caste differences over other
differences, empirical studies showed that it was not a completely closed
and rigidly defined system. Caste statuses were also not exclusively
determined by ones position in the ritual hierarchy and that there were
many grey and contestable areas within the system. It was from the village
studies that the concepts like sanskritisation, dominant caste, segmental
structures, harmonic and disharmonic systems emerged.

Village Studies in India

However, village studies were also constrained by a number of factors. The

method of participant observation that was the main strength of these
studies also imposed certain limitations on the fieldworkers, which eventually
proved critical in shaping the image they produced of the Indian village.
Doing participant observation required a measure of acceptability of the
field worker in the village that he/she chose to study. In a differentiated
social context, it was obviously easy to approach the village through the
dominant sections. However, this choice proved to be of more than just a
strategic value. The anxiety of the anthropologist to get accepted in the
village as a member of the community made their accounts of the village
life conservative in orientation.
It also limited their access to the dominant groups in the local society. They
chose to avoid asking all those questions or approaching those subordinate
groups, which they thought, could offend the dominant interests in the
village. The choices made by individual anthropologists as regard to how
they were going to negotiate their own relationship with the village
significantly influenced the kind of data they could gather about village life.
Unlike the tribal communities, the conventional subject matter of social
anthropology, Indian villages were not only internally differentiated much
more than the tribes, they also had well articulated world views. Different
sections of the village society had different perspectives on what the village
was. Though most of the anthropologists were aware of this, they did not
do much to resolve this problem. On the contrary, most of them consciously
chose to identify themselves with the dominant caste groups in the village,
which apart from making their stay in the village relatively easy, limited their
access to the world-view of the upper castes and made them suspect among
the lower castes.
Apart from the method of participant observation and the anxiety about
being accepted in rural society that made the anthropologists produce a
conservative account of the rural social relations, the received theoretical
perspectives and the professional traditions dominant within the disciplines
of sociology and social anthropology during the time of village studies also
had their influences on these scholars. Anthropologist during the decades of
fifties and sixties generally focussed on the structures rather than changes.
This preoccupation made them look for the sources that reproduced social
order in the village and to ignore conflict and the possible sources of social


Emergence of Sociology
in India

3.10 Further Reading

Beteille, A. 1980 The Indian Village: Past and Present in E.J. Hobsbawm et.
al. eds. Peasants in History: Essays in Honour of Daniel Thorner, OUP, Calcutta
Beteille, A. 1975 The Tribulations of Fieldwork in A. Beteille and T. N. Madan
ed. Encounters and Experience: Personal Accounts of Fieldwork. Vikas, Delhi
Cohn, B.S. 1987, An Anthropologist among Historian and other Essays. OUP,




Towards an Understanding of Democracy
Democracy and Development
Democracy and Development in the Post-colonial Societies
Political Democracy and Economic Development in India: 1947-1967
Political Democracy and Economic Development in India: 1967- 1990
Political Democracy and Economic Development in India: 1991 Onwards


As most of the old certitudes of Indian politics gradually crumble in a transforming India, it
is the idea of democracy that has survived and endured thus providing one powerful continuity
in it. It is remarkable given the fact that very few post-colonial states of Asia and Africa
including those who shared the same colonial legacy i.e. Pakistan have been able to remain
actually existing democracies despite emphasis on the processes of democratisation and
localisation in the present era of globalisation.

The above may be considered not a mean achievement if we reflect about India- the largest
and the most diverse democracy in the world- as it was at the time of decolonisation. India
almost lacked all the ingredients that make a liberal democracy a success. India had low levels
of literacy, industrialisation and democratic consciousness. Another obstacle in the pathway to
democracy building was in the form of centuries old hierarchical social order that was almost
deliberately designed to resist the idea of political equality. The partition legacy in the form
of the flared up cultural and religious distinctions was another hurdle.

How can we explain the survival and remarkable endurance of Indian democracy? Is it due
to the limited exposure to the democratic institutional politics provided to the nationalist
leadership by the Britishers in the twentieth century? Or is it due to the translation of our
traditional cultural values like pluralism, consensus, tolerance, inclusion and accommodation
into modern political culture as an independent India experienced its first years?

The democracy in India in a significant way was prefigured in the form of the colonial legacy
as the British introduced the representative legislative bodies albeit with limited power vide the
1 limited in nature,
Acts of 1909, 1919 and 1935. Even though the grant of the voting rights was
the sheer number of the voters i.e. 40 million was the second largest in the non-communist
world at that time. The groups who were accorded political representation were identified as
religious communities with immutable interests and collective rights.

creation of a nation out of the countrys diverse social order. The political leadership of an
independent India inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru emphasised over the
responsibility of the nation-state to recognise and accommodate the enormous diversity of
India. Values of tolerance, pluralism and inclusion were actively promoted and these became
the foundational principle of the nation formation and state formation projects that were set
in motion simultaneously. The pluralist form of Indian democracy in its procedural form has
been evident in the form of federalism, three language policy, reorganisation of the states on
linguistic basis, affirmative action in favour of the marginal groups and the decision to desist
from imposing a uniform civil code, secular citizenship defined by civic and universalistic
criteria - all have been among the significant constitutional measures, legislative enactment and
government policies indicating the constitutional/ legal recognition to four specific categoriesreligion, language, region and caste.
Whether it is the above two or more reasons that explain the resilience of democracy in India,
it remains an irrevocable fact that democracy remains deep-rooted in India. India continues
to have parliaments and courts of law, rights and a free press. In the words of Sunil Khilnani:
as an idea as well as a seductive and puzzling promise to bring history under the command
of the will of a community of equals, democracy has irreversibly entered the Indian political
The greatest signifier of the success of Indian democracy, however, has been in providing
space for political contestation and creating an opportunity for the assertion of a variety of
claims articulated by the different groups. In the process democratic politics has even begun
to corrode the authority of the traditional social order in India.


What do we understand by democracy in political theory? Democracy has increasingly been
viewed as a form of good governance that paves the way for arriving at decisions among a
group of individuals organised as a polity. The essential value of democracy lies in its moral
superiority over any other way of arriving at decisions which take every citizens interests into
account, and are equally binding on everyone. The core principles that underpin and justify
democracy in this sense are twofold. First, the individuals are autonomous rational beings who
are capable of deciding what is good for them. Second, all individuals should have equal say
in the determination of collective decisions, which affects them all equally.
It has been argued that unanimity is generally impossible to achieve when collectivity makes
an attempt to arrive at a commonly agreed upon decision. Thus the most plausible procedure
for arriving at a commonly agreed upon decision is the principle of majority rule which is most
practical and morally acceptable. Due to the large and complex societies it is not possible to
gather together to make decisions on every issue [say like in the city-state of Athens], even
in the advanced capitalist democracies as C B Macpherson visualised in his enunciation of the
participatory model of democracy [Life and Times of Liberal democracy]. Modern democracy
therefore works with a set of procedure and the representative institutions by which people
can elect their representatives and hold them periodically accountable.
If we see the democracy purely as a set of institutions- encompassing free and fair elections,

legislative assemblies, general legal framework and constitutional governments, then we are
essentially privileging the procedural form of democracy. However if we have an idea of a
democracy being peopled by the truly equal citizens, who are politically engaged, tolerant of
different opinions and ways of life and have an equal voice in choosing their rulers and holding
them accountable, then we are privileging the substantive notion of democracy. In liberal
political theory, these two contrasting models of democracy are referred to as procedural [or
formal] and substantive [or informal] democracy respectively.
It follows that in the limited proceduralist view of democracy the level of the electoral
participation, the frequency of elections and the peaceful change in political power are taken
as indicators of the health of democracy. However such a view is endangered by the fallacy
of electoralism, as the social and economic inequalities involving the ethno-cultural communities
(including the minorities and women) make it difficult for them to participate effectively are
largely ignored in such a perspective.
The proponents of the substantive form of democracy, on the other hand, argue that the
democratic project is incomplete until the meaningful exercises of the equal rights of citizenship
have been guaranteed to all. On this account, free and fair elections, freedom of speech and
expression, and the rule of law and its protection to all are necessary, but by no means
sufficient conditions for a democracy to be meaningful. The project of democracy is not
accomplished by merely securing legal and political equality; it may be severely restricted by
inequalities, which deny many from having a truly equal opportunity to influence government
decisions (Social agenda of democratisation). In the contemporary post-industrial / information
societies the concentration of expert knowledge, symbolised by the increasing influence of
public policy specialists over government policy and public opinion is another limitation. The
experts have made the economic policy making insulated from the democratic pressures.


The present era of globalisation is characterised by an upsurge of market economy and
political democracy. These are both considered as virtue and necessity: whether it is the East
European post-Communist societies or the post-colonial Asian, African and Latin American
societies. This can be explained in terms of the collapse of communism / socialism that inspired
economies based on development planning in the form of excessive or inappropriate state
intervention in market economies.
In social sciences a great degree of literature, rich - both in terms of range and depth - is
available on the themes of economic development and political democracy. Unfortunately they
remain divided into two different worlds of politics and economics with little interaction. What
is needed is to theorise the nature of democracy in such a manner that the evolving processes
of economic development can be understood in the wider context of political democracy.

The theorists of political economy like Deepak Nayyar have drawn attention to the fact that
there has always been an inherent tension between the economics of markets and politics of
democracy. It is explained in terms of the exclusionary nature of markets as against the

That the notion of majoritarian democracy is preferable to monarchies or the oligarchies has
been questioned on the basis that it leads to the tyranny of majority. At the same time the
argument that the markets protect the interests of individuals and minorities is limited. It has
been argued that the markets are indeed the tyranny of minorities. Now in the market people
vote with their money whereas in political democracy every one has equal vote. Thus there
is always an inherent tension between the two institutions.
Then can we say that the combination of democracy and markets is sufficient or say necessary
to bring economic development of the masses? What about the egalitarian development in
planned economies without political democracy in the erstwhile communist states of East
Europe and also in the South East Asian countries that had market economies without political
democracy? And then in the post-communist countries where we have both market economy
and political democracy we have so far witnessed prosperity for very few and misery for the
We must understand that the markets tend to exclude people as consumers if they do not have
any income or sufficient income [entitlement for Amartya Sen]. Markets also exclude the
people as producers or sellers if they have neither assets nor capabilities [natural talents, skills
acquired through teaching, learning from experience, education] commanding a price and also
demand in the market. And then market excludes both the consumers and producers if they
do not accept, or conform to, the values of the market system i.e. tribal communities or the
forest people. Economic exclusion further accentuates the social and political exclusion. So the
lower classes would suffer if the marketisation of economies take place, as the roll back of
the state from the social and economic sectors would mean dilution of social security for the
disadvantaged. Moreover the people devoid of entitlement, assets, or capabilities would not
have the resources to claim or the power to assert their rights. Thus to conclude this part of
argument we may concur with Niraja Gopal Jayal that in this cruelly Schumpeterian political
world, there is an almost complete disengagement between the lives and aspirations of ordinary
men and women, on the one hand, and the world of important national issues often revolving
around the interests of the advantaged ones on the other.
It follows that economic stratification is inevitable in the market economies and societies,
which systematically integrate some and marginalise others to distribute the benefits of economic
growth in ways that include a few and exclude others. In such a situation the institutional
arrangements that mediate between the economic development on the one hand and social
development on the other become critical. Otherwise the economic growth would lead to
regional unevenness and class inequality.


Democracies in the postcolonial societies have been distinct from their western counterparts
due to their historical specificities. Colonialism, as Ralph Miliband argued in Marxism and
Politics, distorted the social, economic and political structures, thus making them unique. It
follows that the theoretical tools developed for the advanced capitalist societies cannot be
transposed simply to these very different societies. That explains the ongoing debates in

democratic theory concerning the new democracies. Most significant among these are the
debates on democracy and development; democracy and diversity; and democracy, state and
civil society. Thus there has been a debate as to whether democracy and development are
compatible in the post-colonial states. The economic miracle experienced in the East Asian
states have thus been attributed to their soft authoritarian regimes. Given the fact that the
postcolonial societies are multicultural and are riven by racial and ethnic conflicts, serious
apprehension has been expressed towards the need to recognise the diversity and the inequality
arising out of the embedded discriminatory practices that undermine the post-colonial
democracies. As for the relationship between the democracy, state and civil society, it has
been debated whether there can be a democracy or a market (read effective exercise of
citizenship rights as well as the social aspect of democracy) without an effective state in the
postcolonial societies.


In the first years of independence the strategy of economic development was shaped by a
political consensus. There was a long-term perspective in Nehruvian India. Congress
accommodated the poor peoples under the rubric of socialism articulated effectively in the
form of the Bombay Plan of 1944 and the new industrial policy resolution in 1948. Under this
Nehru- Mahalanobis strategy, Indian state was to take responsibility for the provision of
infrastructure as well as large and heavy industrial investment.
Democracy came to India neither as a response to an absolutist state nor as the realisation
of an individualist conception of society. It also did not follow capitalist industrialisation and
development. Hence there was a contrast with the experience in the advanced capitalist liberal
societies of the West. The anti-colonial struggle was based more on the demand for an
autonomous space for the nation than about individual freedom. Gandhian notion of a just state
was premised on the idea that the collective interest must take precedence over individual
interests. The nationalist leadership visualised a democratic republic with pledges to secure
justice, liberty, equality and fraternity for all its citizens. Universal franchise was thus granted
in one go in a predominantly agrarian society lacking in terms of democratic consciousness.
In the above situation the state had an important role to play that was of a mediator between
political democracy and economic democracy. Thus if the logic of the market meant exclusion
of a significant proportion of people, particularly the poor, it was necessary for the state to
ensure the inclusion of such people in the economic sphere.
As the colonial past and the nationalist present shaped the above strategy of economic
development, conscious efforts were made to limit the degree of openness and of integration
with the world economy, in pursuit of a more autonomous, if not self-reliant, development. It
was a departure from the colonial era marked with open market and unregulated market that
favoured metropolitan capital.
What were the objectives? They were to catch up with the industrialised world and to
improve the living conditions of the people. It was believed that primacy of the market
mechanism would lead to excess consumption by the rich and under-investment in sectors
critical for development. At the same time, it was assumed that agriculture was subject to

diminishing returns so industrialisation should be preferred, as it was supposed to bring increasing

returns and greater employment opportunities.
So the main inputs were: the lead role of public investment, industrialisation based on import
substitution, the emphasis on the capital goods sector, industrial licensing to guide the investment
in the private sector, relative neglect of agriculture, more emphasis on heavy industries than
the traditionally small or cottage ones.
Large doses of public investment created a physical infrastructure and helped in setting up of
intermediate goods industries, that reduced the cost of inputs used by the private sector and
increased the demand for goods produced by the private sector. Import substitution was
implemented through the market protectionism guaranteeing market for the domestic capitalists
not for the present but for the future also as demand exceeded the supply as a result of import
Due to its legacy of leading an anti-colonial struggle based on the core principles of nationalism
and development, the Congress, became the ruling dominant party. There was a political
consensus that industrialisation meant development and national interest was to be equated
with peoples interest. Redistribution as a policy was not encouraged, as redistribution could
be only of poverty that would have harmed savings. The foreign capitalists and the Zamindars
were excluded from the political economy of development. Land reforms could not be
implemented as the lower level bureaucracy in alliance with the local landed politician lobby
obstructed it. The glaring loopholes in the legislation did not help as also the position of the
upper caste landlords. The net result was that the owners turned into cultivators. Community
development programmes, Panchayati system, social legislation including reservations in the
educational institutions and employment were subsequently introduced.
Let us make an appraisal of the development-planning model as it was implemented during
this phase. What were the major gains? First, we can mention massive step up in terms of
both industrial and agricultural growth. There was acceleration in the manufacturing industry
in the 1950-1964 followed by deceleration until 1970s and again a renewed spurt led by an
expansion of state expenditure. Second, there was a considerable diversification of industrial
production as the capital goods sectors and other infant industries came up and achieved some
level of production. Earlier only cotton, sugar and jute textiles existed. Third, domestic selfsufficiency in food production was achieved though food consumption remained low. It was
a major achievement considering the fact that as late as in 1964-6, 12 percent of food grains
required was imported.
As for the major criticism of the development-planning model, it was in terms of the failure
of land reforms and the rise of a high cost industrial economy. The strategy of import substitution
based on export pessimism also came under question. What emerged was a complex and
wasteful system involving corruption in an institutionalised manner. Despite its phenomenal
success the green revolution came to be criticised for being energy intensive and not labour
intensive. Then dry land farming neglected. Urbanrural [India vs. Bharat] divide in economic
terms got accentuated despite massive government expenditure.
In class terms a dominant coalition comprising the proprietary classes namely the industrial

capitalist class, the land owning class and the bureaucracy, as Pranab Bardhan and Sudipta
Kaviraj among others have argued, have benefited most from the developmental policies
under socialism like the grant of subsidies both to the rich farmers as well as the industrial
capitalist classes. The governments became the hospital for the sick industrial units as
nationalisation took place in the name of helping out the working class. The professionals in
the public sectors holding the intellectual capital benefited from the institutionalised corruption
as the state played the regulatory role in the economic arena.
In all fairness, however, there was always a conscious effort on the part of the Indian State
to reconcile economic policies with the compulsions of the political process so that the
conflicts in the interaction of economics and politics could be minimised. Politics of
accommodation was followed. Welfarist policies were very much in place. That the sharing
of the spoils was on agenda was evidenced in the form of the aim to have a socialistic pattern
of society based on the twin objectives of eradication of poverty and equitable distribution of
resources. Call for Industrial capitalism always combined with the radical rhetoric of a political
In sociological terms it was thought, very much under the influence of the post-war western
liberal modernisation/ political development theory, that modernisation would reduce the linguistic
diversities. Secularism would do away with the religious identities and affirmative actions
would make caste wither away. Overall, welfarist policies were also to contribute in the
homogenising agenda of nation building. Thus, in India, the ideal of social democracy and a
welfare state along the non-capitalist path to development seemed achievable.


The above consensus about the nature of democracy and development was broken as qualitative
change took place in the interaction between the politics of democracy and economics of
welfarism. The social groups who were on the margin of the society and were lying dormant
became empowered with political voice. They now started making economic claims on a state
that has successfully mediated between the politics and economics of Indian democracy. The
ensuing process of mediation and reconciliation on the part of the Indian State had long-term
economic and political consequences.
The discordant voices were due to the non-fulfillment of the promises and expectations as
there was a rise in the level of poverty. (34 percent in 1957 to 57 per cent in 1970-71) Crisis
in the economy in the mid-1960s was evident in the form of food crisis, as India became a
basket case having a ship to mouth existence. The devaluation of rupee followed and
planning was to be suspended for three years as industrial sector as well as savings and
investments suffered.
The consensus was also broken because the second generation of political leadership that
emerged in the aftermath of the Kamraj plan was devoid of the legitimacy, acceptance and
charisma of the nationalist leadership. Regionalisation and ruralisation of the Indian politics
took place, as the Congress no longer remained the dominant party having declined in both
organisational and ideological sense. In the words of Yogendra Yadav, a second democratic

upsurge took place in the form of a fundamental transformation in the terrain of politics which
in turn is anchored in the process of social change. This transformation was a product of the
change in the size, the composition and the self-definition of the voters as more and more
citizens from the lower rungs of society participated in the electoral politics articulating and
asserting their democratic rights.
There was also the rise of the dominant caste rich peasantry like Jats, Kammas, Kapus,
Yadavas and Reddis in the face of the decline of semi-feudal landlords. These castes deserted
the Congress to join or to create opposition parties. The newly entrant class of the rich
peasantry asked for its due share of the benefits derived from the economic policies and
sought an upward mobility in the political process. The response of the state was in the form
of a strong, new, emphasis on agriculture in the form of green revolution. Thus for achieving
food security betting on the strong policy was adopted. Under the policy the better-endowed
peasants and regions received extensive support. Though land reforms measures that had
received partial success with the notable exception of the states like Kerala, West Bengal,
Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir were now not pursued, the Poverty alleviation
programmes like DPAP, DWARKA were launched.
In the absence of serious programmatic efforts, the Congress under the leadership of Indira
Gandhi, increasingly resorted to the Populist rhetoric in the form of the sloganeering,
nationalisation of banks, abolition of privy purses. Dissent and regionalism in the Congress was
met by a strategy of divide and rule by the high command of the ruling Congress. The rich
peasantry was co-opted into the dominant coalition as the majoritarianism under a representative
democracy during the first phase gave way to authoritarianism. It all culminated into emergency
that marked the overall failure of democracy in its procedural and substantive forms. In class
terms the imposition of emergency can be also explained in the form of the lack of cohesion
in the dominant coalition as the landed rich peasantry emerged in a big way being economically
strong and numerically powerful. Political democracy had provided the institutional mechanisms
to sustain the ruling coalition; lack of institutional mechanisms set in the crisis eventually.
Nevertheless the victory of the Janata Party not only reflected the sagacity of the Indian
electorate but also proved conclusively that the democratic spirit had embedded in the political
imagination of the Indian people.
The failure of Janata party government reflected the limitation of the coalition politics devoid
of ideological unity and purpose. The return of a much chastened and insecure Indira Gandhi
also saw the return of the politics of populism and patronage. Proliferation of subsidies
resulted in massive state expenditure and loss of revenue, soft loans, loan waivers, sick firms
being nationalised, cheap inputs being provided for the industrial capitalist class. In short, it
was same regime under Indira Gandhi and later under Rajiv Gandhi in terms of its policies.
The centralisation of political power, politics of nomination, marketisation of polity-all continued
to remain the features of the period between 1980 to 1990. Massive allocation of funds was
made under employment generating programmes like RLEGP, NREP, and IRDP. As Deepak
Nayyar observes succinctly, there was hardly much interaction between the economics and
democratic politics now unlike the Nehruvian India. The money and muscle factor entered into
electoral arena now dominated by what Rajni Kothari called the vote contractor. Those with
money gained in the battle of ballot, as suitcase politics became the order of the day. Caste,
ethnicity and religion now played far more significant role as the identity politics asserted in

continuation with the colonial legacy as it was first the colonial state that recognised different
castes and communities and introduced separate electorate.


The post 1991 India has been witness to an absence of consensus regarding its strategy of
economic development as well as the evolving nature of its democracy. The long-term vision
of political leadership of Nehru has been replaced by short-term strategies, as the adoption
of the new economic policies of liberalisation and the emergent politics of empowerment seem
to be moving the economy and polity in the opposite directions. What is of most significance
is the unwillingness of the Indian State to mediate in order to effect the conflict resolution.
At this juncture it would be pertinent to address to the cause of a radical shift from the
development-planning model to the model of economic liberalisation just after a minor economic
crisis, when, despite decades of poverty, the mixed economy model continued unabated. And
then, how come a minority government of Narasimha Rao could take such far-reaching policy
change when the predecessor governments with the overwhelming majority like the Congress
regime under Rajiv Gandhi were unable to do so despite apparent willingness?
The possible answer can be in the form of the immediate economic compulsion of crisis
management. The political economists like Jayati Ghosh, Pranab Bardhan, Amit Bhaduri and
Deepak Nayyar have referred to a combination of the national and international factors that
explain that the shift was a crisis-driven and not a strategy-driven change in the economic
These factors included the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union and the Communist regimes
in the East European countries that were the biggest trading partners of India. The external
debt crisis resulted as the short-term loans taken by Rajiv Gandhi administration could not be
returned due to failure of the capital goods sector to export. Remittances from migrants in the
gulf tapered off even as the oil prices increased in the aftermath of Gulf War. There was a
flight of capital from the exchange market by the NRIs as they lost confidence in the social
and political viability of the Indian State in the aftermath of the Mandal and Mandir controversy.
Rise in consumerism indulged by the rising middle class, increased defence imports, inadequate
resource mobilisation, competitive politics of populism were some of the immediate factors.
And then the direct taxes were progressively reduced under the liberalising policies of Rajiv
Gandhi regime while indirect taxes could not be raised.
The international factors included the conditionalities imposed from above by the international
monetary institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. The Latin American and Sub
Saharan Africa examples along with the success stories of the South Asian countries were also
put forward under the influence of rise of the neo-liberalism as the only viable model of good
governance. It was argued that economic growth and economic efficiency could be achieved
with the reduction in the role of the state. Fiscal discipline, access to foreign capital and foreign
technology were other factors that led to a shift from the state led capitalism to market driven

Do we have a future of the economic reforms in India? What are its implications for the
democracy and development in India? It is very clear that the political instability in the present
coalition era with frequent elections explains the prevalence of the short- term interests driven
politics. Instead of taking hard measures to stabilise the economy and risking the adverse
electoral verdict winning popular support in the elections, the continuation of populist measures
have become the dominant factors in the policy making especially at the state level as a chief
minister has an average of less than 3 years of tenure. Thus, the long-term perspective of the
earlier phase is absent. In terms of democratic politics also, the consensus is gone. The corrupt
and inefficient state level bureaucracy remains incompetent to carry out the reforms. Patronage,
corruption and nepotism continue unabated. The nature of investment, whether foreign or
domestic, remain suspect as most of the investments are in the consumer sector and not in
the primary or capital goods sectors. Most of the investment, as Prabhat Patnaik argues, is
in the form of Hot money seeking quick returns. The rich state- poor state syndrome is also
posing a challenge to the Indian federal democracy as the rich states, with their developed
economic infrastructures, are acting as magnets where as the poorer states are being asked
to fend for themselves without central assistance. Regionalism- an offshoot of colonialism and
nationalism has been on rise as the regional imbalance increases. Initially it was the ethniccultural identity that was the basis for the reorganisation of the states but now the need for
greater development and democratisation that is becoming the basis of the demand for separate
statehood as was the case with the movements for the creation of Uttaranchal, Chhattisgarh
and Jharkhand. Dialect communities are also joining the chorus as in the case of the demand
for Bundelkhand and Ruhelkhand in UP. In the new economic regime, such demands are likely
to receive impetus.
The withdrawal of the state from the social sector has been hitting the poor people as the
whole notion of welfarism has come under question. In the name of fiscal discipline the state
investment in the primary sectors of employment, health and education has been dwindling.
New economic policies driven by the market laws of demand, supply and maximisation of
profit are hardly concerned with the labour especially those employed in the informal sector.
The competing federal states also tend to overlook the labour rights as they look for private
There are other challenges to the success of the politics of economic reforms. The Gandhian
values that still command influence among the masses are opposed to market economy as they
emphasise on groups than individual interests. Profit making was not appreciated. The opposition
to the economic reforms by the new political elite, failure to insulate the policy making from
the populist politics, the contentious centre- state relations, competitiveness among the states
are the other obstacles.
Thus the ongoing neo-liberal project of development based on the processes of liberalisation,
privatisation and globalisation has come to be questioned by the advocates of sustainable
development strategies as well as by new social movements questioning the rationale of the
prosperity of some social groups at the cost of others constituting majority.



The above projects of social transformation arose out of deliberative legislation rather than the

participative democratic process. However they were products of a consensus negotiated and
evolved in the course of the anti-colonial movement. They were to be realised within the
framework of a democratic polity. The idea of democracy is expected to inform, inspire and
cohere with the states initiatives in the areas of welfare, secularism and development.
As discussed above, the traditional cultural values of pluralism and tolerance provided substance
to the task of democracy building in India. The recognition of the diversities and accommodation
of their concerns was the hallmark of the constitutional project of nation building involving the
overarching goal of achieving development.
However the challenges before the Indian Democracy as of today remain formidable. The
identities of caste and religion have bent the democratic idea to their own purpose. This is
despite the fact that the social reforms and constitutional law have led to the dissolution of the
oppressive bonds of caste and the social order and is no longer able to make the state
redundant as in ancient past. As the social agenda of Indian democracy weakens due to the
policies of economic liberalisation the challenge to the pluralist character of the Indian democracy
from the ultra- rightist communal forces is coming up in the form of the demand to redefine
democracy in emphatically majoritarian terms. Notwithstanding the upsurge of the new social
movements taking up the issues relating to human rights, gender rights, backward classes and
minority rights, environment, the civil Society in India is increasingly becoming the site of
intense struggle involving the social groups. Ironically commitment to cultural rights for minority
communities has been coming in the way of the principle of gender justice and also the
Constitutionally guaranteed rights of equal citizenship as the simmering debate over the uniform
civil code reveals.[refer Shah Bano case, 1986 and Supreme Court decisions most recent in
2003]. Identities have indeed been created through electoral politics leading to their
empowerment but then the process has led to more conflict than competition. So new political
entrants consider themselves as members of groups and communities, rather than liberal
As for the interface between the ideas of democracy and development is concerned, the
challenge to create a more equal society remains formidable as the economic disparities
continue to mount in the era of globalisation [refer the external pressure from the WTO
regime; Need to legislate global regimes in the matters such as trade, environmental regulation
and intellectual property and setting the global standard for good governance].
To conclude, the economics of liberalisation and the politics of empowerment are going in
opposite directions in the contemporary India. Willingness and ability of the Indian state as in
the past to play the mediating role is simply not there. In such a situation there is a critical
need to emphasise the role of the civil society and its citizens. For the politics of common
goods and rights, it is imperative that the Indian State should adopt a strategy of selective
globalisation that can enrich the pluralist character of the Indian democracy.



1) Explain briefly the evolution of political democracy and economic development in India
during the phase 1947-67.


2) Analyse the process of transformation in the terrain of politics in the post 1967 era.
3) The economics of liberalisation and the politics of empowerment are going in opposite
directions in the contemporary India, comment.
4) Write short notes on (1) Democracy and Development in the post colonial societies (2)
Democracy as a form of good governance.








Size and Growth of Population of India





Age Structure
Sex Structure

Family Planning and Family Welfare



Measurement of Mortality
Levels and Trends of Mortality in India
Determinants of Declining Mortality
Implications of Declining Mortality
Levels and Trends of Infant Mortality in India
Determinants of Infant and Child Mortality
Implications of High Infant and Child Mortality

Age and Sex Structure



Measurement of Fertility
Levels and Trends of Fertility in India
Determinants of High Fertility
Implications of High Fertility



Size and Growth of Population

Determinants of Population Change
Implications of the Size and Growth of Population

Concept of Family Planning and Family Welfare

Barriers to Family Planning

Population Policy of India


Components of the Current Population Policy

Achievements of the Family Welfare Programme
The Changing Trends


Let Us Sum Up


Key Words

4.10 Further Readings

4.11 Answers to Check Your Progress



In this Unit, we have discussed various aspects of social demography in India

as a social problem. After going through this Unit, you should be able to:
describe various aspects of the demographic situation in India, like the
size and growth of the population, the fertility, mortality, age and sex
structure of the population;

Structure in Tranistion I



explain the determinants and implications of these aspects of the

demographic situation in India;
examine the concept of family planning and family welfare and the barriers
to the acceptance of family planning;
state and describe the current status of the population policy of India; and
describe the future prospects of family welfare programme in the light of
the current achievements.


The term demography is derived from the Latin word demos meaning people.
Hence, demography is the science of population. On the one hand, demography
is concerned with a quantitative study of the size, structure, characteristics and
territorial distribution of human populations and the changes occurring in them.
On the other hand, demography is also concerned with the study of the underlying
causes or determinants of the population phenomena. It attempts to explain
population phenomena and situations as well as the changes in them in the
context of the biological, social, economic and political settings. Social
demography looks at the population phenomena mainly at the social level.
Keeping these perspectives in mind, Section 4.2 of this unit describes the size
and growth of the population of India and their implications. Section 4.3 is
devoted to fertility in India, its determinants and implications of high fertility. A
detailed discussion of mortality in India, its determinants and implications of
declining mortality and high infant and child mortality is undertaken in Section
4.4. The age and sex structure of the Indian population is described in Section
4.5, which also examines the determinants and implications of the age structure
and the determinants of the sex structure. Section 4.6 is on family planning and
family welfare and the barriers to family planning. Finally, section 4.7 is focused
on the Population Policy of India, its evolution and components, achievements,
achievements of the family welfare programme and its future prospects.




The size and growth of population are two important components of the
demographic phenomena in a developing country like India. These have severe
implications on the social and economic spheres of our life. Hence, let us begin
with a discussion on the size and growth of the population and its socio-economic

4.2.1 Size and Growth of Population

India is the second most populous country in the world, ranking only after
China. In the last Census, taken in 2001, the population of India is found to be
103 crores; 18 crores of people were added to the population since the last
Census taken in 1991. This means that more than around 1.8 crores of persons
are added to India every year. This is more than the population of Australia.

Indias population has more than doubled since Independence. In the first postIndependence Census, taken in 1951, the population stood at 36 crores, with
an average annual growth rate of 1.25 per cent for the decade 1941-51. However,
the average annual growth rate for 1991-2001 was 2.1 per cent and the decadal
growth rate was 21.32 per cent.

4.2.2 Determinants of Population Change

Social Demography

Three factors determine the change in the size of the population of any country:
how many persons are born, how many persons die, and how many persons are
added to the population after considering the number of persons leaving the
country and the number of persons coming into the country. The last of these
factors, that is, migration does not play a large role in determining population
growth in the Indian context. It, therefore, becomes necessary to consider in
greater detail the other two factors, that is, fertility and mortality.

4.2.3 Implications of the Size and Growth of Population

The size of the population of India is itself staggering, and it is growing at a
high rate. Despite intensive efforts through development programmes, the
achievements have not been able to keep pace with the needs of the growing
The per capita production of food grains has increased over the years, but the
per capita increase has been only marginal because of the high growth rate of
the populations. The housing shortage has also been increasing over the years.
The norms for the health and medical services have not been met. The upward
trend in the gross and net national products is not reflected in the per capita
income to the same extent. The situation related to unemployment and
underemployment reflects the inability of the employment market to absorb the
pressures of increasingly large labour force.
The growth rate of the population may not appear to be too high. Yet when
applied to a large base population, the addition to the population is quite
Check Your Progress 1

Mark the correct answer.

According to the 2001 Census, Indias population was:


65 crores
85 crores
103 crores
113 crores

What are the implications of the large size and high growth rate of Indias
population? Answer in about seven lines.



As you know, fertility is an important determinant of population growth. In this

section, we shall discuss the measurement, levels and trends and implications
of high fertility.

Structure in Tranistion I

4.3.1 Measurement of Fertility

At the outset, it is necessary to differentiate between fecundity and fertility.
Fecundity refers to the physiological capacity to reproduce. Fertility, on the
other hand, refers to the actual reproductive performance of an individual or a
While there is no direct measurement of fecundity, fertility can be studied from
the statistics of births. The crude birth rate is an important measure of fertility
for which only live births, that is, children born alive are taken into account.
The crude birth rate is calculated by dividing the number of live births occuring
during a calender year in a specified areas by the midyear population of that
year. The crude birth rate is generally expressed per thousand of population. It
is computed in the following manner:
Total number of live births during a year
Total population in the middle of that year
The crude birth rate directly points to the contribution of fertility to the growth
rate of the population. It suffers from certain limitations mainly because it has
in the denominator the total population which includes males as well as very
young and very old women who are biologically not capable of having babies.
There are other more refined fertility measures like the general fertility rate, the
age-specific fertility rates, etc., that overcome these limitations, but these do
not concern us here.

4.3.2 Levels and Trends of Fertility in India

As in other developing countries, the crude birth rate has been quite high in
India. In the first decade of the twentieth century, the estimated birth rate for
India was as high as 49.2 per thousand population. In the decade 1951-61, that
is, the decade immediately following Independence, the birth rate declined by
only four points, and was around 45 per thousand population. Since 1961,
however, the birth rate has been progressively declining, though not at a very
fast pace. According to the estimates of the sample registration system, the
birth rate in India, in 1988, stood at 31.3 per thousand population. For the
same year, while it was 32.8 per thousand population for the rural areas, it was
26.0 per thousand population for the urban areas. According to the Sample
Registration System, the birth rate in India in 2002 was 25.8 per thousand
population. Significantly there have been much regional variations among the

4.3.3 Determinants of High Fertility

Several factors contribute to the high fertility of Indian women. Let us examine
some of these factors:


All the religions of the world, except Buddhism, contain injunctions to

their followers to breed and multiply. It is, therefore, not surprising that
belief in high fertility has been strongly supported by religions and social
institutions in India, leading to appropriate norms about family size.


Another factor contributing to high fertility is the universality of the

institution of marriage. Amongst the Hindus, a man is expected to go
through the various stages of his life (Ashramas), performing the duties
attached to each stage. Marriage is considered one such duty. For the

Hindu woman, marriage is considered essential, because it is the only

sacrament she is entitled to, though the Hindu man goes through several
sacraments throughout his life.

Social Demography

iii) Till recently, the custom in India required the Hindu girls to be married off
before they entered puberty. Even today, despite legislation forbidding the
marriage of girls before they are 18 years of age, many girls are married
off before they attain that age. In India, traditionally women start
childbearing at an early age, and continue to do so till they cross the age at
which they are no longer biologically capable of bearing children.
iv) As in all traditional societies, in India too, great emphasis is laid on bearing
children. A woman, who does not bear children, is looked down upon in
society. In fact, the new daughter-in-law attains her rightful status in the
family only after she produces a child, preferably a son.

The preference for sons is deeply ingrained in the Indian culture. Sons are
required for extending the family line and for looking after the parents in
their old age. Among the Hindus, a son is desired not only for the
continuation of the family line and for providing security in old age, but
also for ceremoniously kindling the funeral pyre and, thus, effecting the
salvation of his fathers soul. The preference for sons is so high in the
Indian society that a couple may continue to have several daughters and
still not stop childbearing in the hope of having at least one son.

vi) In Indian society, a fatalistic attitude is ingrained and fostered from

childhood. Such an attitude acts as a strong influence against any action
that calls for the exercise of the right of self-determination with reference
to reproduction. Children are considered to be gifts of God, and people
believe that it is not upto them to decide on the number of children. High
infant and child mortality rates also contribute to a large family size. A
couple may have a large number of children in the hope that at least a few
of them will survive upto adulthood. The low status of women is also a
contributing factor to high fertility. Women, unquestioningly, accept
excessive childbearing without any alternative avenues for self-expression.
vii) Children in the Indian society have a great economic, social, cultural as
well as religious value. Fertility of Indian women is, therefore, high. Often,
there is no economic motivation for restricting the number of children,
because the biological parents may not necessarily be called upon to provide
for the basic needs of their own children since the extended family is jointly
responsible for all the children born into it.
viii) Again in the absence of widespread adoption of methods of conception
control, the fertility of Indian women continues to remain high.
It is important that none of these factors is to be seen in isolation. Indeed, it is
the combination of several factors, that contribute towards the high fertility
rate in India. While considering the factors contributing to high fertility, it is
necessary also to consider traditional Indian norms which regulate the
reproductive behaviour of couples. Breast-feeding is universally practiced in
Indian sub-continent and this has an inhibiting influence on conception. Certain
taboos are also practiced during the postpartum period when the couple is
expected to abstain from sexual activity. The practice of going to the parental
home for delivery, specially the first one, common in some parts of the country

Structure in Tranistion I

also ensures abstinence after childbirth leading to postponement of the next

pregnancy. Cohabitation is also prohibited on certain specified days in the month.
It is also common knowledge that a woman would be ridiculed if she continued
to bear children after she had become a grandmother.

4.3.4 Implications of High Fertility

Apart from contributing in a big way to the population problem of the country,
high fertility affects the family and, in turn, society in many ways.
Women are tied down to child-bearing and child-rearing for the best years of
their productive lives. They are, therefore, denied the opportunity to explore
other avenues for self-expression and self-development. This could lead to
frustration. Excessive child-bearing affects their own health and that of their
children. Looking after a large number of children puts a further strain on the
slender physical and emotional resources of such women.
The burden of providing for a large family sits heavily on the bread-winner of
the family. The constant struggle to maintain a subsistence level is exhausting.
To escape from the problems of everyday life, he may take to drinking. This
would lead to further deterioration of the economic and emotional well-being
of the family.
The children, often unwanted, unloved and neglected, are left to their own
devices to make life bearable. Indulgence in delinquency is sometimes the result.
The children in large families often have to start working at a very early age to
supplement the slender financial resources of the family. They are, therefore,


Social Impacts of High Fertility

denied the opportunity to go to school and get educated. The girl child is the
worst sufferer. She is often not sent to school at all, or is withdrawn from
school at an early age to help her mother in carrying out domestic chores and
to look after her younger siblings when the mother is at work. Early marriage
pushes her into child-bearing, and the vicious cycle continues. The children,
both boys and girls, in a large family are thus often denied the joys of childhood,
and are pushed into adult roles at a very early age.

Social Demography

Happy and healthy families are the very foundation on which a healthy society
is built. Excessive fertility, as one of the factors leading to family unhappiness
and ill health, needs to be curbed in order to build up a healthy society.
Check Your Progress 2

Write down the formula for computing the crude birth rate. Use about two


List the determinants of high fertility in India. Use about five lines to answer.


What are the implications of high fertility for the family and society? Use
about ten lines to answer.



Mortality is an important determinant of population. Let us examine a few

important aspects of mortality.


Structure in Tranistion I

4.4.1 Measurement of Mortality

Various measures of mortality are employed in the analysis of mortality. For a
general understanding of the process of mortality, it is sufficient to describe
three basic measures of mortality: the crude death rate, the expectation of life
at birth, and the infant mortality rate.

Crude Death Rate

The Crude death rate is the ratio of the total registered deaths occurring in a
specified calendar year to the total mid-year population of that year, multiplied
by 1000. It is computed in the following manner:
No. of registered deaths during a year
Total population in the middle of that year
As in the case of the crude birth rate, the crude death rate also suffers from
several limitations, mainly because it considers the mortality experience of
different groups in the population together. The age and sex structure is not
taken into account. For instance, a country having a very large proportion of
elderly people may have the same crude death rate as that in another country
where this proportion is very low. The mortality conditions of these countries
cannot be considered to be similar. It is, therefore, customary to calculate age
specific death rates, and report them separately for the males and the females.

Expectation of Life at Birth

The average expectation of life at birth is a good measure of the level of mortality
because it is not affected by the age structure of the population. The term
average expectation of life or life expectancy represents the average number
of years of life which a cohort of new-born babies (that is, those born in the
same year) may be expected to live if they are subjected to the risks of death at
each year, according to the age-specific mortality rates prevailing in the country
at the time to which the measure refers. This measure is complicated to calculate
but easy to understand.
iii) Infant Mortality Rate
Infants are defined in demography as all those children in the first year of life
who have not yet reached age one, that is, those who have not celebrated their
first birthday. Infants are studied separately, as mortality during the first year of
life is invariably high. In countries like India, where health conditions are poor,
infant deaths account for a substantial number of all deaths. The infant mortality
rate is, therefore, often used as an indicator for determining the socio-economic
status of a country and the quality of life in it.
Box 1

Measurement of Infant Mortality

The infant mortality rate is generally computed as a ratio of infant deaths (that is,
deaths of children under one year of age) registered in a calendar year to the total
number of live births (children born alive) registered in the same year. It is computed
in the following manner:
Number of deaths below one year registered during the calendar year
Number of live births registered during the same year



It needs to be noted that this rate is only an approximate measure of infant mortality,
for no adjustment is made for the fact that some of the infants dying in the year
considered were born in the preceding year.

4.4.2 Levels and Trends of Mortality in India

Social Demography

Up to 1921, the crude death rate in India was quite high (between 40 and 50
per thousand population), the highest being for the decade 1911-21, mainly
because of the influenza epidemic in 1918, when more than 15 million persons
died. Since 1921, the death rate has been declining. From 1911-21 to 1971-81,
that is, in a period of 60 years, the average annual death rate declined from 48.6
per thousand population to 14.9 per thousand population a reduction of more
than 69 per cent. The estimates of the Sample Registration System indicate that
for the year 1988, the crude death rate was 11.0 per thousand population. In
2000 the crude death rate has declined to 8.5 per thousand population.
The average expectation of life at birth has also increased over the years. During
1911-21, it was 19.4 years for the males, 20.9 years for the females, and 20.1
years when both sexes were considered together. These figures may be
considered to be the lowest for the country, and one of the lowest anywhere in
the world. For the 1941-51 decade, these figures were 32.5 years for the males,
31.7 years for the females, and 32.1 years when both sexes were considered
together. During the period 1981-86, life expectancy was 55.6 years for the
males, 56.4 years for the females, and 56.0 years when both sexes were
considered together. The latest statistics indicates that the average life expectancy
in India is 63.3 years. While the female life expectancy is 63.8 years, for male it
is 62.8 years.

4.4.3 Determinants of Declining Mortality

The decline in mortality in India has been mainly due to public health and diseasecontrol measures, which were mostly imported from the developed countries.
These include DDT spraying, the use of antibiotics like penicillin and vaccines
against many communicable diseases like tuberculosis, polio, typhoid, cholera
and several childhood diseases. Dreaded killer diseases like plague and
smallpox have been completely eradicated. The extension of health and medical
services to different parts of the country and the application of advances in the
medical sciences have contributed in a big way to the decline in mortality in
India. The effect of severe famines have also been considerably reduced by
preventive and relief measures. Much still remains to be achieved for bringing
about further decline in mortality.

4.4.4 Implications of Declining Mortality

The decline in the death rate and high birth rate have been the main factor
responsible for the rapid growth of population, as the declining death rates
have not been accompanied by corresponding declines in the birth rates.
The increased average expectation of life at birth has resulted in a higher
proportion of persons in the older age group, that is, those above the age of 60.
At present, the percentage of the aged in India (6.49 in 1981) is not as high as
that in the developed countries (for example, 16.47 in the United States, in
1984). The absolute numbers are, however, quite high.
In our country aged persons, do not necessarily contribute to the national income
or the family income. They have to be looked after, and the expenditure on
their health and medical needs has to be met. When strong supports are not


Structure in Tranistion I

provided by the joint family, the burden falls on society. Old-age homes or
foster care homes for the aged have to be provided through the State funds,
when the aged are not in a position to incur the expenditure involved. Many of
the state governments have introduced the scheme of pensions for the aged in
a limited scale. However, for a poor country like India, all such success of such
measures needs a political commitment.

4.4.5 Levels and Trends of Infant Mortality in India

In India, the infant mortality rate was as high as 140 per thousand live births in
1969. In 1989, the infant mortality rate was less than 100 per thousand live
India has still a long way to go for achieving the goal of an infant mortality rate
of below 60 per thousand live births by the year 2000 A.D.one of the goals to
be reached for securing Health for All by 2000 A.D. However in 2002 the
infant mortality rate of India was 68 per thousand life births.
Box 2. Variation in the Estimated Death Rates of the Children Aged 0-4 years
by Sex and residence in India and in its Major States, 1998.




































Madhya Pradesh




















Tamil Nadu




Uttar Pradesh




West Bengal





Source : Registrar General of India, Sample Registration System


All India : Rural



Social Demography


All India : Urban




4.4.6 Determinants of Infant and Child Mortality

The determinants of mortality during the neonatal period (that is, the first four
weeks of the babys life) on the one hand, and the postneonatal period (that is,
the period between one and 11 months) together with the childhood period
(that is, the period between one and four years) on the other, are quite different.

Neonatal Mortality

Biological factors play a dominant role in determining the level of neonatal

mortality. These factors are also known as endogenous factors.

It is known that neonatal mortality rates are higher when the mother is
below the age of 18 or above 35, when the parity is above 4, and when the
interval between two births is less than one year. These conditions are
fairly common in our country, leading to high infant mortality.


While the standards laid down by the World Health Organisation specify
that babies with a birth weight of less than 2,500 grams should be considered
as high risk babies, needing special care, 24 to 37 per cent of Indian
babies have a birth weight below 2,500 grams without the possibility of
receiving any special care.


Ante-natal care, which is generally concerned with the pregnant womans

well-being is lacking in our country. It is, therefore, not possible to identify
high risk cases requiring special care, to administer tetanus toxoid injections
for immunising the unborn child against tetanus, and to provide iron and
folic acid tablets to prevent anaemia among pregnant women. An anemic
mother gives birth to a low-weight baby with slender chances of survival.


Proper hygienic conditions and medical care during delivery are not ensured,
specially in the rural areas. The delivery is generally conducted by an
untrained traditional birth attendant (dai) or an elderly relative. The scheme
of providing dais with training has not yet reached all parts of the country.


Fortunately, the practice of breast-feeding is widespread in our country.

This protects the baby from exposure to several infections. Breast-feeding
is, however, initiated only after 48 to 72 hours of birth, and is absolutely
prohibited during the first 24 hours. If the baby is put to the breast soon
after birth, it acquires several immunities which are passed on by the mother
through colostrum (the first flow of breast milk).

This opportunity to acquire immunity against several diseases is denied to the

baby, exposing it to the risk of neonatal mortality.

Structure in Tranistion I


Post-neonatal and Child Mortality

The factors contributing to the post-neonatal and child mortality are generally
not biological, but arise out of the environment and the behavioural response
to it. These factors are also known as exogenous factors.

Common childhood diseases, such as, diptheria, pertusis (whooping cough),

measles and polio as well as tuberculosis contribute substantially to the
post-neonatal and child mortality. Deaths due to these diseases can be
prevented, but immunisation services are either not available or easily
accessible in the rural areas, or may not be accepted by the rural population
either because of ignorance and superstition or sheer apathy.


Diarrhoea and its consequence, and dehydration, is another factor

contributing heavily to post-natal and child mortality. It has been estimated
that every year about 1.5 million children under the age of five years die
due to diarrhoea, of which 60 to 70 per cent die of dehydration.
The oral rehydration therapy introduced in recent years does not involve
heavy expenditure or undue efforts on the part of those who look after the
affected child. The oral rehydration solution can be prepared at home with
a tablespoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and a glass of boiled water. The
material for preparing the solution can also be obtained from the government
health workers or the local Health Guide. The obstacle, however, is in the
form of the age-old traditional belief that a child should not be given milk
or any kind of food during an attack of diarrhoea. The dehydration that
sets in due to diarrhoea can be so severe that the slightest delay in treatment
can cost the child its life. On the other hand, the oral rehydration solution,
which can be considered a household remedy, not only prevents
dehydration, but also controls diarrhoea.


Nutritional deficiency is another factor contributing to child mortality. The

National Institute of Nutrition found in a study conducted in 1981 that
around 85 per cent of the children under four years were malnourished, of
whom almost 6 per cent were severely malnourished.
These malnourished children are also more prone to contact diarrhoea and
other debilitating diseases, exposing them to the risk of dying during
childhood. Malnourishment itself could also be a result of attacks of
childhood diseases. This vicious circle, unless broken effectively through
an educational and service programme, will continue to result in high infant
and child mortality rates.

4.4.7 Implications of High Infant and Child Mortality


It has been observed that wherever infant and child mortality is high, fertility is
also high and vice-versa. A couple is interested in the number of surviving
children and not in the number of children born. Because of the high levels of
infant and child mortality, a couple may go in for a large number of children in
the hope that at least a few would survive to adulthood. Also, when a child
dies, the parents are keen to replace it as soon as possible by another. It is also
known that when a child dies in infancy, the mother is denied the natural
protection from pregnancy provided through breast-feeding. She is then likely
to conceive early, leading to high fertility.

Thus, apart from the emotional trauma caused to parents, high infant and child
mortality rates result in high fertility rates leading to a population problem.
Looking after these children, who die before they can start contributing to the
countrys well being, also places a heavy burden on the countrys meager
resources. It needs to be reiterated that the level of the infant mortality rate of
a country is considered as an important indicator of the socio-economic status
of that country and the quality of life in it.

Social Demography

Check Your Progress 3


Define average expectation of life or life expectancy. Use five lines

to answer.


What is meant by neo mortality? Use three lines to answer.



What are the factors contributing to high neo natal mortality in India?
Mention at least seven factors. Use three lines to answer.


List three factors contributing to high infant and child mortality in India.
Use two lines to answer.



Age and sex are the basic characteristics or the biological attributes of any
population. These characteristics or attributes affect not only the demographic
structure, but also the social, economic and political structure of the population.
Age and sex are also important factors, because they are indicators of social
status. Each individual is ascribed a certain status in society on the basis of sex
and age. Status and roles are culturally determined, and vary from one culture
to another. Even within the same culture, status and roles may undergo changes
over a period of time. While in traditional societies, age demands respect,
modern societies may be more youth-oriented. While the age structure of a


Structure in Tranistion I

population may have implications for the status and roles of older persons, the
sex structure may be a reflection of the social reality.
The age-sex structure of a population is both the determinant and consequence
of birth and death rates, internal and international migration, marital status
composition, manpower, and the gross national product. Planning regarding
educational and health services, housing, etc., is done on the basis of the age
structure of the population.

4.5.1 Age Structure


Measurement of the Age Structure

It is customary to classify age data in five year age groups, such as 0-4, 5-9,
10-14, 15-19, and so on.
The simplest measure to study the age structure of any population is the
percentage distribution of the population based on the absolute numbers in
various five-year age groups. This percentage distribution indicates the number
of persons in an age group, if the total number of persons considered is 100.
This measure is useful for understanding and describing the age structure of
any population. It can also be used to compare the age structure of two or more
populations at a point of time, or to compare the age structure of the same
population at different points of time. Age-sex pyramids can also be constructed
with the help of age-sex histograms.
Box 3. Dependency Ratio
An important measure to study the structure of the population is the dependency
ratio. This measure indicates the number of dependents per 100 workers. Three
age groups are considered for this purpose. The population in the age group 15-50
or 15-64 is considered to be the working population, the population below 15 is
considered as young dependents and the population above either 60 or 65 is
considered to be old dependents. The dependency ratio is computed by using the
following formula.
Dependency Ratio =

Population in the age group 0-14 + Population in the age

group 60 + or 65 + Population in the age group 15-59 or

The dependency ratio gives us only a broad idea of economic dependency in any
population, and it is not a full measure for assessing the dependency burden. It
needs to be noted that not all persons in the working age group (15-59 or 15-64)
are employed and not all those in the dependent age groups (0-14 and 60+ or 65 +)
are economic dependents. In a country like India, children start working at a very
early age as helping hands to the parents among craftsmen, poor agriculturalists or
newspaper hawkers or as hotel boys. In rural areas, old people continue to engage
themselves in some kind of economic activity, as there is no retirement age in an
agricultural economy. Then there are activities like those of doctors, lawyers, traders
and other self-employed persons for whom the age factor does not lead to retirement
from economic activity.


Age Structure in India

Determinants and Implications


India is an old country with a large young population belonging to the age
group of 0-14 years and a growing number of aged population in the age group
of above 50 years.

According to the 1991 Census, the young dependency ratio in India was 67.2,
meaning that 100 persons in the working age group (15-59) had to support
67.2 children in the age group of 0-14 years. Simiarly old dependences in
India is to the extent of 12.2.

Social Demography

The age structure of any population is determined by the levels of fertility,

mortality and migration. Of these three factors, migration can affect the age
structure of any population only when the migrants are concentrated in any
one age group and the volume of migration is large.
India has a large young population because the birth rates are high and the
number of children born is large. The sustained high level of birth rates has
resulted in a large proportion of children and a small proportion of old
population. On the other hand, in economically developed countries, the birth
rates are low and less children are born. The low birth rats result in a higher
proportion of old people. Compared to the role of fertility, the role of mortality
in determining the age structure of a population is limited, specially when
mortality is high. Rapid reductions in mortality and lengthening of the lifespan result in a younger population. This is mainly because the improvement
is first experienced by the infants and children. More infants and children
survive, leading to an increase in the proportion of the young persons in the
population as in the case of India. On the other hand, when the mortality level
is very low, there is no further scope for any large increases in survivorship
during infancy and early childhood, and any improvement in mortality
conditions would affect the older age group and lead to a further aging of the
population, that is, increase in the proportion of older persons in the population.
Such a situation prevails in developed countries like Sweden, the United States,
the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, France and Australia.
A young population implies a heavy burden on the economy of the country as
they have to be educated, clothed and provided shelter, while they themselves
are not expected to contribute immediately to the family or national economy.
One other implication of the young age structure of the Indian population is
that it also has the potential of the high growth rates of the population in further
years. Within a few years, these children will grow up, get married and start
reproducing. When the number of couples in the reproductive age group (wife
in the age group 15-44) is high, the birth rate can also be expected to be high,
even with moderate fertility. This, in turn, leads to a high population growth

4.5.2 Sex Structure

In this section we shall discuss the measurement of sex structure, sex ratio and
its determinants in India.
i) Measurement of Sex Structure
Two measures are generally used for studying the age structure of any
population(1) the percentage of males in the population or the masculinity
proportion, and (2) the sex ratio. Of these two measures, the sex ratio is more
frequently used in the study of the population.
The sex ratio of a population may be expressed either as the number of males
per 100 females or the number of females per 100 males. The Indian Census


Structure in Tranistion I

has preferred to define the sex ratio as the number of females per 1000 males,
though the definition of the sex ratio followed the world over is the number of
the males per 100 females.
ii) Sex Ratio in India and its Determinants
Generally, in most countries, the overall sex ratio of the population is favourable
to the females, that is, there are more females than males in the population.
When the situation is different, that is, when there are more males than females
in the population, this is considered unusual. The population statistics available
through the Census indicate that the sex ratio in India has always been adverse
to the females, that is, the number of the females per 1,000 males has always
been less than 1,000. In fact, the sex ratio has been declining from 972 in 1901
to 930 in 1971. A slight improvement was registered in the 1951 Census, and
again during the 1981 Census, but the 1991 Census registered a fall by five
points-from 934 in 1981 to 929 in 1991. In 2001, female sex ratio was 933,
which was an improvement over the 1991 figure.
The following three factors are responsible for determining the sex ratio of
any population: (1) the sex ratio at birth, (2) the sex ratio of the deceased
persons and (3) the sex ratio of the net migrants. In a developing country like
India, another factor could be added to this list. There is always a possibility
that women are under-enumerated because they are not reported as members
of the household by the head of the household, when the Census enumerator
collects the information.
Of all these factors, high mortality of the females appears to be the most
plausible explanation for the sex ratio in India, which is adverse to the females.
Though biologically stronger than the male, the female in India is in a socially
and culturally disadvantaged position, and has been accorded an inferior status
over the centuries. The death rates for the females in most age groups are
higher than those for the males. Of the other factors, the sex ratio of new born
babies is not much different from that in other countries. Hence, a sex ratio
that is adverse to the females, a peculiarity of the Indian demographic picture,
need not be attributed to this factor. As for international migration of men, it is
quite insignificant and is, therefore, not found to affect the sex ratio in India.
Under-enumeration of the females cannot explain more than a very small part
of the numerical imbalance between the males and the females in India.
Check Your Progress 4

Why is India known as an old country with a large young population?

Use four lines to answer.


Why is the sex ratio not favourable to women in India? Use three lines to






Social Demography

In India, the concepts of family planning and family welfare are very important.
Let us know the meanings of the concepts.

4.6.1 Concept of Family Planning and Family Welfare

At the level of the family, family planning implies having only the desired
number of children. Thus family planning implies both limitation of the family
to a number considered appropriate to the resources of the family as well as
proper spacing between the children. The adoption of family planning,
obviously, requires conscious efforts made by the couple to control conception.
As a social movement, family planning implies an organised effort by a group
of people to initiate change in the child-bearing practices of the people by
creating a favourable atmosphere. The birth control movement, as it was initially
called, aimed at relieving women of excessive child-bearing, and was seen as
a way of achieving the emancipation of women through the right of selfdetermination.
A family planning programme involves a co-ordinated group of activities,
maintained over a period of time, and aimed at fostering a change in the childbearing behaviour of the females. The aim of the family planning programme
may either be to improve the health status of women and their children and/or
of reducing the birth rate, and thus reducing the population growth rate of the
country. Most countries with a population control policy also emphasise the
health aspects of family planning. The various components of the family
planning programme are : (1) Information, Education and Communication
Activities, (2) Contraceptives: Supplies and Services, (3) Training of Personnel,
(4) Research, and (5) Administrative Infrastructure.
When the government concerns itself with promoting the total welfare of the
family and the community, through family planning, the programme consists
of a wide range of activities, covering education, health, maternity and child
care, family planning and nutrition. Since 1977, the Indian family planning
programme is known as the family welfare programme with greater emphasis
on the welfare approach to the problem.

4.6.2 Barriers to Family Planning

Most of the reasons mentioned in Sub-section 4.3.3, under Determinants of
High Fertility, act as barriers to the acceptance of family planning, which implies
controlling fertility. These barriers include fatalism, and emphasis placed on
having children in the Indian culture and religious beliefs.
In addition, the use of various methods of family planning also pose certain
difficulties. The methods are not always acceptable because of the possible
side-effects, perceived unaesthetic attributes or the discipline their use demands.
All methods are not equally effective. While sterilisation, male and female,
can be considered one hundred per cent effective, a method like the IUD is
considered to be 95 per cent effective, and the conventional contraceptive like
the condom is considered to be only 50 per cent effective. Oral pills are almost


Structure in Tranistion I

one hundred per cent effective, but their effectiveness depends on taking them
regularly and on following a certain regime. The easy availability of supplies
and services is a necessary condition for the practice or adoption of family
planning. When supplies and services are not easily available, it becomes
difficult for people to practise or adopt family planning, even when they are
inclined to do so.
Activity 1
Read Sub-section 4.3.3 (Determinants of High Fertility) and Sub-Section 4.6.2.
(Barriers to Family Planning) very carefully. Then write an essay comparing the
factors mentioned in these sections with the situation prevailing in your society.
Exchange your note, if possible, with your co-learners at the Study Centre.



India has the distinction of being the first country in the world to have a fully
government-supported family planning programme. This is not an overnight
development. The foundations were laid in the early part of the twentieth
Even during the pre-independence period, the intellectual elite among the
Indians showed some concern about the population issue, and supported the
cause of birth control. Their British rulers, however, kept aloof from this
controversial issue.
Support for birth control was evident when the Health Survey and Development
Committee set up by the Government of India, in 1945, under chairmanship of
Sir Joseph Bhore, recommended that birth control services should be provided
for the promotion of the health of mothers and children. The pressure from the
intellectuals that the government formulate a policy for disseminating
information on birth control and for encouraging its practice was mounting
during the pre-independence period.

4.7.1 Components of the Current Population Policy

With the advent of Independence, family planning as a measure of population
control has been given top priority in the development plans of the country,
starting with the First Five Year Plan (1951-56). The increasing financial
allocations for the family planning programme in each sucessive plan are also
indicative of the growing emphasis accorded to the family planning programme.

National Population Policy 1976 and 1977

Though implied in the family planning programme undertaken by the

government, the population policy of the country was not explicitly stated,
and it remained unarticulated in the formal sense. It was on April 16, 1976 that
the National Population Policy was declared. It underwent some modifications
in June, 1977.


Till the National Population Policy was first declared in April, 1976, the
Population Policy of India was generally equated with the family planning
policy. One of the grounds on which India was criticised in international circles
was that other solutions to the population policy were ignored. The statement
of the population policy took into account some of the complex relationships

between the social, economic and political aspects of the population problem.
It included appropriate measures to tackle the population problem, many of
which went beyond family planning. The policy statement also contained
several approaches to the improvement of the family planning programme.

Social Demography

The statement of policy regarding the Family Welfare Programme issued on

June 29, 1977, eliminates all measures which have the slightest element of
compulsion or coersion, and emphasis on the welfare approach to the problem.
The name of the family planning programme, has also been changed to the
family welfare programme to reflect the governments anxiety to promote
through the programme the total welfare of the family and the community.
Many of the measures outlined in the National Population Policy, declared in
1976, have been retained. These include the following: (1) raising the minimum
legal age at marriage for girls to 18 and for boys to 21, (2) taking the population
figure of 1971 till the year 2001, in all cases where population is a factor in the
sharing of the Central resources with the States, as in allocation of the Central
assistance to the State Plans, devolution of taxes and duties and grants-in-aid,
(3) accepting the principle of linking 8 per cent of the central assistance to the
State Plans with their performance and success in the family welfare
programme, (4) including population education in the formal school education
system, (5) plans to popularise the family welfare programme and use of all
media for this purpose, (6) participation of voluntary organisations in the
implementation of the programme, (7) improvement of womens educational
level, both through formal and non-formal channels. The Policy Statement
also declared that the government would give special attention to the necessary
research inputs in the field of reproductive biology and contraception.

National Population Policy 2000

India has framed a new National Population Policy in 2000. It enumerates

certain socio-demographic goods to be achieved by 2010 which will lead to
achieving population stabilisation by 2045. The policy has identified the
immediate objectives as meeting the unmet needs for contraception, health
care infrastructure and trained health personnel and to provide integrated service
delivery with the following interventions:

Strengthen community health centres, primary health centres and subcentres,


Augment skills of health personnel and health care providers

iii) Bring about convergence in the implementation of related social sector

programme to make Family Welfare Programme people centered.
iv) Integrate package of essential services at village and household levels by
extending basic reproductive and child health care through mobile health
clinics and counselling services; and explore the possibility of accrediting
private medical practitioners and assigning them to defined beneficiary
groups to provide these services (Govt. of India 2003)

4.7.2 Achievements of the Family Welfare Programme

As of March, 1989, the number of couples protected through some method of
family planning was estimated to be 64.79 million, forming 46.7 per cent of
the estimated 138.9 million eligible couples (with wife in the reproductive age


Structure in Tranistion I

group 15-44) in the country. Taking into account the use-effectiveness of various
methods, which is assumed to be 100 per cent for sterilisation and oral pills,
95 per cent for IUD and 50 per cent for conventional contraceptives like the
condom, the number of couples effectively protected as of March, 1989, was
58.14 million, forming 41.9 per cent of the total eligible couples.
Sterilisation is the most widely accepted method, effectively protecting 29.8
per cent of the eligible couples. Of the total eligible couples, 5.9 per cent are
effectively protected by IUD, 4.5 per cent by conventional contraceptives, 1.7
per cent by oral pills.
While terminal methods, like the male and female sterilisation, continue to be
the major share, it is worth noting that the female sterilisation is more highly
favoured than the male sterilisation; 86.8 per cent of the total sterilisations
done in 1988-89 were female sterilisations.
The statistics for 1987-88 indicate that, on an average, the age of the wife for
vasectomy acceptors is 32.4 years, for tubectomy acceptors it is 30.2 years
and for IUD it is 27.4 years. These couples have, on an average, 3.6, 3.3. and
2.3 living children at the time of the acceptance of vasectomy, tubectomy and
IUD respectively.
During 2001-2002, 47.27 lakh sterilisations were performed in the country.
The number of Intra-Ulterine Device (IUD) insertions during the same period
was 62.02 lakhs. Besides, there were 145.69 lakhs of candom users and 74.75
lakhs of Oral Pill (OP) users. The use of contraceptives has been increased
from 40.06% in 1992-93 to 48.2% in 1998-1999. (Govt. of India 2003)
It can be observed that family planning is accepted generally after the most
fertile period in a womans life (up to 29 years) is over, and when the couple
has exceeded the norm of two children advocated by the government.
Inter-State variations in family planning performance are also observed. States
like Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra,
Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Union Territories like Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Delhi
and Pondicherry have a higher percentage of effectively protected couples
than the all-India average. All the other States have recorded a lower percentage
of effectively protected couples than the all-India average, except for Andhra
Pradesh, where this percentage is identical to the all-India average.

4.7.3 The Changing Trends

It is obvious that the family welfare programme slowly recovering from the
setback it received after the Emergency, during which some coercive methods
were used for achieving spectacular results.


The long-term goal to be achieved for the country is to reach a replacement

level of unity (net reproduction rate of one, when each woman will be replaced
by only one daughter). The demographic goals laid down as part of the National
Health Policy are to achieve by 2000 A.D., a birth rate of 21 per thousand
population and an effective protection rate of 60 per cent. The corresponding
mid-term goals to be reached by the end of the Seventh Plan (1990) are: crude
birth rate of 29.1 and effective couple protection rate of 42 per cent.
The Changing Trend in the population in India is shown in the table below.

Social Demography

Growth of Population in India

Census Year

Decadal Growth
(per cent)

Average Exponential
Growth (per cent)

















Current Level

Crude Birth Rate

(per 1,000 population




(SRS 2000)

Crude Death Rate

(per 10,000 population)




(SRS 2000)

Total Fertility Rate

(per woman on average) (SRS)




Maternal Mortality Rate 437

(per 1,00,000 live birth) (1992-93)




Infant Mortality Rate

(per 1,000 live births)



(SRS 2000)

Couple Protection Rate10.4 (1971)

(per cent)



48.2 (NFHS-II)

Life Expectancy at
birth years (M)




63.87# (2001-02)

Life Expectancy at
birth years (F)






*Excludes Jammu and Kashmir # Projected

SRS = Sample Registration System of Office of Registrar General India.
Check Your Progress 5

What are the major Beyond Family Planning measures included in the
National Population Policy of India? Use seven lines to answer.


Structure in Tranistion I


On what factors does the future of Indias family welfare programme

depend? Use six lines to answer.



This unit begins with defining demography and examines its scope: mortality,
fertility, composition of population and migration. Techniques of measurement
are mentioned and the need for highlighting their social and cultural aspects
stressed. Then we described the size and growth of the population of India and
examined their implications. The determinants and consequences of fertility
and mortality in India are explained. The age and sex structure of the Indian
population, their determinants and implications are classified. The concept of
family planning and family welfare and the barriers to family planning are
discussed. The Population Policy of India, its evolution and components,
achievements of the family welfare programme and its future prospects enable
us to see how social problems at the demographic level could be solved.




Life Expectancy/Average
Expectation of Life at Birth

Neonatal and Post-neo

natal Mortality

Population Growth Rate


: Fertility refers to the actual reproductive

performance, whether applied to an
individual or to a group, measured in terms
of the number of children born alive.
: The average number of years of life which
a cohort of new born babies (that is, those
born in the same year) may be expected to
live if they are subjected to the risks of
death at each year according to the age
specific mortality rates prevailing in the
country at the time to which the measures
: When a baby dies within the first four
weeks of life, it is known as neo natal
mortality. When a baby dies after it has
survived beyond four weeks, but before the
first year is completed, it is known as postneonatal mortality.
: One way of measuring population growth
is to calculate the rate at which population
grows. This is done by first finding out the
difference in the population size of a

specified area at two points of time, and

then by dividing the absolute change by
the population at the earlier point of the
Sex Ratio

Social Demography

: The sex ratio of a population may either

be expressed as the number of males per
100 females or the number of females per
100 males. The Indian Census has
preferred to define the sex ratio as the
number of females per 1000 males.


Bhende, Asha A. and Kanitkar, Tara, 1992. Principles of Population Studies.
Himalaya Publishing House: Bombay (Fifth Edition), (Chapters 7,8, 9 and
Misra, Bhaskar D., 1981. An Introduction to the Study of Population. South
Asian Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi: (Chapters 3 and 11).


Check Your Progress 1

b) 844 million


The development programmes are not able to keep pace with the needs of
the growing population. The country is facing shortages in housing, health
and medical services and employment opportunities. The increase in the
per capita production of food grain is only marginal, and the per capita
income is low. These problems have arisen because of the large size of
the population and the high rate of the population growth.

Check Your Progress 2

Total No. of live births during a year

Total population in the middle of the year



i) Most religions encourage high fertility, ii) Universality of marriage,

iii) Low age at marriage, iv) Emphasis on bearing children, v) Preference
for sons, vi) Fatalistic attitude, vii) High infant and child mortality, viii)
Low status of women, ix) Joint family.


Women are tied down to childbearing and childbearing for the best years
of their productive lives. Excessive childbearing affects their health. The
bread-winner is unable to provide for a large family and becomes frustrated.
The children are often neglected. They may indulge in delinquent
behaviour. They are often required to drop out of school, and to start
working at an early age. The girl child is denied education and pushed
into early marriage and early child-bearing.

Check Your Progress 3


The term average expectation of life or life expectancy represents the

average number of years of life which babies born in the same year (cohort)
may be expected to live according to the mortality conditions prevailing
at that time.


Structure in Tranistion I


Neonatal mortality refers to deaths occurring in the first four weeks of the
babies life.

iii) a) Mother below 18. b) Parity above 4. c) Interval between births less
than one year. d) Low birth weight. e) Lack of ante-natal care. f) Home
deliveries conducted in unhygienic conditions g) Colostrum (first flow of
breast milk) not given to the baby.
iv) a) Common childhood diseases not prevented through immunisation.
b) Diarrhoea and dehydration c) Nutritional deficiency.
Check Your Progress 4

India is an old country because its history goes back to several centuries.
It has a young population in the sense that about 40 per cent of the
population is below the age of 15. In a developed country like the United
States of America this percentage is only about 22.


The sex ratio in India is not favourable to women mainly because of the
low status of women leading to their neglect. The death rates are higher
for women than for men in most age groups.

Check Your Progress 5


a) Raising the minimum age at marriage. b) Population education in schools.

c) Improving the status of women, specially through education. d) Freezing
the population figure of 1971 till 2001 in all cases where population is a
factor in the sharing of the Central resources with the States. e) Linking
Central assistance to the State Plans with the performance of the family
welfare programme.


a) Widespread acceptance of family planning. b) Improved performance

of the family welfare programme in low performing States, such as, Bihar,
Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh etc.

iii) Acceptance of family planning at a lower age and limitation of the family
size to two children, whatever the sex composition.









Migration : Significance, Concept, Forms and Characteristics



Reasons for Migration



Sociological Significance

Economic Factors
Socio-Cultural and Political Factors

Consequences of Migration

Social and Psychological


Problems of Refugees and Displaced Persons


Migration Policy


Let Us Sum Up


Key Words


Further Readings

5.10 Answers to Check Your Progress



In this unit our emphasis is on migration as a demographic process and as an

agent of social change in society. After going through this unit, you should be
able to:

describe what migration is;

examine the importance of migration as an agent of social change;

explain the various reasons of migration;

discuss the consequences of such migration in the national and international

situation; and

analyse the migration policy.



Migration is usually defined as a geographical movement of people involving a

change from their usual place of residence. But it is distinguished from temporary
and very short distance moves. Migration can be internal (within the national
boundaries) or international (across the international borders). After discussing
the sociological significance and the definition and concepts of migration in
Section 5.4, we discuss the major determinants of migration in terms of social,


Structure in Tranistion I

economic, psychological, political and religious factors. Types of migration,

like rural and urban, as well as voluntary or involuntary migration are explained
in Section 5.5. What consequences follow when people move to different places
whithin the national boundaries or across the national boundaries are discussed
in Section 5.6. Section 5.7 highlights the problems of the refugees and displaced
persons in national and international situations. Section 5.8 of the unit deals
with national and international policy on migration and future trends in




In this section, we shall be introducing to you the various aspects of sociological

significance and characteristics of migration. Let us begin with its significance.

5.2.1 Sociological Significance

Migration is the third component of population change, the other two being
mortality and fertility, studied in Unit 4 of this block. However, migration is
different from the other two processes, namely, mortality and fertility in the
sense that it is not a biological factor like the other two, which operate in a
biological framework, though influenced by social, cultural and economic
factors. Migration is influenced by the wishes of persons involved. Usually
each migratory movement is deliberately made, though in exceptional cases
this may not hold true. Thus migration is a response of human organisms to
economic, social and demographic forces in the environment.
The study of migration occupies an important place in population studies,
because, along with fertility and mortality, it determines the size and rate of
population growth as well as its structure and characteristics. Migration also
plays an important role in the distribution of the population of any country,
and determines the growth of labour force in any area. Migration is thus an
important symptom of social change in society.

5.2.2 Concepts


In a laymans language, the world migration refers to the movements of the

people from one place to another. According to Demographic Dictionary,
migration is a form of geographical mobility or spatial mobility between one
geographical unit and another, generally involving a change in residence from
the place of origin or place of departure to the place of destination or place of
arrival. Such migration is called permanent migration, and should be
distinguished from other forms of movement, which do not involve a permanent
change of residence. Everett Lee, a well known demographer, defines migration
broadly as a permanent or semi-permanent change of residence. No restriction
is placed upon the distance of the move or upon the voluntary and involuntary
nature of the act. Migration, according to Eisenstadt, refers to the physical
transition of an individual or a group from one society to another. This transition
usually involves abandoning one social-setting and entering another and
different one. Mangalam also stresses the permanent shifting of people in his
definition and considers migration as a relatively permanent moving away of
a collectivity, called the migrants, from one geographical location to another.

It is preceded by decision-making on the part of the migrants. They weigh and

consider sets of values in two comparative situations, resulting in changes in
the interactional system of the migrants. Holiday trips or sailors occupations
are not included in it. Mehta, in his study of Rajasthan, treats migration as an
act of movement or spatial mobility.


A perusal of all these definitions indicates that almost all scholars emphasise
time and space, and define migration as a movement from one place to another,
permanently or semi-permanently. In brief, when a person leaves his native
place or village, comes to an urban area, takes up a job, and starts living there,
he is known as a migrant and his move is referred to as migration.

5.2.3 Forms
People may move within a country between different states or between different
districts of the same state or they may move between different countries.
Therefore, different terms are used for internal and external migration. Internal
migration refers to migration from one place to another with a country, while
external migration or international migration refers to migration from one
country to another.

Immigration and Emigration : Immigration refers to migration into a

country from another country and emigration refers to migration out of
the country. These terms are used only in connection with international
migration. For example migrants leaving India to settle down in the United
States or Canada are immigrants to the United States or Canada and
emigrants from India.


Inmigration and Outmigration : These are used only in connection with

internal migration. Inmigration refers to migration into a particular area
while outmigration refers to movements out of a particular area. Thus,
migrants who come from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh to Punjab are considered
to be immigrants for Punjab and outmigrants for Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The term inmigration is used with reference to the area of destination of
the migrants and the term outmigration is used with reference to the
area of origin or place of departure of the migrant.

The main forms of migration can be summarised in a chart.

Chart 1




There are three important sources of information on internal migration in a

country. These are national census, population registers and sample surveys.
In India, the most important sources of data on internal migration are national
census and sample surveys.

Forms of Internal Migration in India : Information on migration for

India, as a whole, and its different parts is obtained through the use of the
Census. Better and more detailed questions have been asked in recent
census counts. They show improvements in the studies on migration.


Structure in Tranistion I

Indian census gives information regarding migration streams made from birth
place statistics from 1872 onwards. However, in 1961, the birth place was
classified as rural or urban, and put into four categories of space migration (i)
within the district of enumeration, (ii) outside the district but within the state
of enumeration, (iii) outside the state of enumeration, i.e., inter-state, and (iv)
outside India. The 1971 Census defined these statistics by including a question
on place of last residence, and 1981 Census included a question on reasons for
In India, the migrants are classified into four migration streams, namely, rural
to rural, rural to urban, urban to urban and urban to rural. Rural to rural
migration has formed the dominant migration stream since 1961. There have
been substantial increases in the proportion of rural to urban, and urban to
urban migration with the passage of time. Another important point is that the
proportion of the females is much higher in rural to rural migration, while in
the other three streams the proportion of the males is comparatively much
higher. This is simply because the females change their residence on getting
married, and new places could be in the neighbouring districts.
Researchers have, from time to time, suggested various types of migration
while taking into account space, time, volume and direction. On the basis of
space, there are four important streams of internal migration. These are:

Rural to rural


Rural to urban

iii) Urban to urban

iv) Urban to rural
Indian census gives this fourfold typology. However, in some developed and
highly urbanised countries there have also been migrations from cities to the


The relative size and importance of these migration streams may vary from
country to country. In some countries, rural to rural migration is the dominant
type of migration, while in others it is rural to urban and yet in many others the
highest proportion of migrants are found in urban to urban migration. In India,
as stated earlier, rural to rural migration formed the dominant migration stream
in the 1961, 1971, 1991 and 2001Census. However, there have been substantial
increases in the proportion of rural to urban and urban to urban migration with
the passage of time, the increase being much more during the decades of 1970s,
1980s and 1990s than of the 1960s. However the dominant form of internal
migration in the country is rural to rural. In all other streams (rural to urban,
urban to urban and urban to rural) there is dominance of rural to urban migration
among the males could be due to better developed agriculture in certain states
and districts, which may attract migrants from other parts of the country.
Development of industries in certain states or cities may be another important
factor in rural to urban migration. Rural to rural migration is mostly dominated
by the females. The female migration is largely sequential to marriage, because
it is a Hindu custom to take brides from another village (village exogamy).
According to the National Sample Survey, more than 46 per cent migration to
urban areas is also caused by marriage. The custom of women returning to
urban areas is also caused by marriage. The custom of women returning to her

parents to deliver her first child also accounts for significant internal migration.


Typology based on time classified migration into long range migration and
short range or seasonal migration. When a move is made for a longer period, it
is called long range migration. However, when there is permanent shift of
population from one region to another, it is known as permanent migration.
But when people shift to the sites of temporary work and residence for some
or several months, it is known as periodic or seasonal migration. For example,
during peak agricultural season excess labour is required, and people from the
neighbouring areas is also caused by marriage. The custom of women returning
to her parents to deliver her first child also accounts for significant internal
Typology based on time classifies migration into long range migration and
short range or seasonal migration. When a move is made for a longer period, it
is called long range migration. However, when there is permanent shift of
population from one region to another, it is known as permanent migration.
But when people shift to the sites of temporary work and residence for some
or several months, it is known as periodic or seasonal migration. For example,
during peak agricultural season excess labour is required, and people from the
neighbouring areas go to these places for seasonal work.
Apart from these two important types, migration could be voluntary or
involuntary or forced, brain drain (migration of young skilled persons) and
migration of refugees and displaced persons.

5.2.4 Characteristics
There are some important characteristics of the migrants and migration. An
important characteristic is the age selectivity of the migrants. Generally, young
people are more mobile. Most migration studies, especially in developing
countries, have found that rural-urban migrants are predominantly young adults
and relatively better educated than those who remain at the place of origin. It
is obvious that migration for employment takes place mostly at the young
adult ages. Also a major part of the female migration consequential to marriage
occurs at the young adult ages. Thus people have a tendency to move when
they are between their teens and their mid-thirties (15-35 years) than at other
Another important characteristic is that the migrants have a tendency to move
to those places where they have contracts and where the previous migrants
sere as links for the new migrants, and this chain is thus formed in the process,
and is usually called chain migration. Various studies show that people do not
blindly go to a new place. They usually have kinship chains and networks of
relatives and friends who help them in different ways. In some cases, the
migrants not only tend to have the same destination but also tend to have the
same occupation. For example, research reveals that in certain hotels in Jaipur
almost all the workers belong to one particular sub-region of Kumaon. The
agricultural labourers in Punjab and Haryana are mainly from Bihar and Eastern
Uttar Pradesh.
Check Your Progress 1

What is the sociological significance of migration? Use six lines to answer.



Structure in Tranistion I


What are the important variables taken into consideration in defining

migration? Use four lines to answer.

iii) Classify the following types of migration:



From Kerala to the Gulf-countries.


From Kerala to Delhi.


From Bihar to the West Indies.


Arrival of people from Bangaldesh to India


Arrival of people to Rajasthan from Karnataka.


It is important to know why some migrate while others do not. The important
factors, therefore, which cause migration or which motivate people to move
may broadly be classified into four categories: economic factors, demographic
factors, socio-cultural factors, and political factors.

5.3.1 Economic Factors

The major reason of voluntary migration is economic. In most of the developing
countries, low agricultural income, agricultural unemployment and
underemployment are the major factors pushing the migrants towards areas
with greater job opportunities. Even the pressure of population resulting in a
high man-land ratio has been widely recognised as one of the important causes
of poverty and rural outmigration. Thus, almost all studies indicate that most
of the migrants have moved in search of better economic opportunities. This is
true of both internal as well as international migration.
The most important economic factors that motivate migration may be termed
as Push Factors and Pull Factors. In other words it is to see whether people
migrate because of the compelling circumstances at the place of origin which
pushed them out, or whether they are lured by the attractive conditions in the
new place. Now we shall discuss these factors.


Push Factors


The push factors are those that compel or force a person, due to various reasons,
to leave that place and go to some other place. For example, adverse economic
conditions caused by poverty, low productivity, unemployment, exhaustion
of natural resources and natural calamities may compel people to leave their
native place in search of better economic opportunities. An ILO study reveals
that the main push factor causing the worker to leave agriculture is the lower
levels of income, as income in agriculture is generally lower than the other
sectors of the economy. According to the estimates of the Planning Commission
over one-third of the rural population is below the poverty line. Due to rapid
increase in population, the per capita availability of cultivable land has declined,
and the numbers of the unemployed and the underemployed in the rural areas
have significantly increased with the result that the rural people are being pushed
to the urban areas. The non-availability of alternative sources of income in the
rural area is also another factor for migration. In addition to this, the existence
of the joint family system and laws of inheritance, which do not permit the
division of property, may also cause many young men to migrate to cities in
search of jobs. Even sub division of holdings leads to migration, as the holdings
become too small to support a family.

Pull Factors

Pull factors refer to those factors which attract the migrants to an area, such as,
opportunities for better employment, higher wages, better working conditions
and better amenities of life, etc. There is generally cityward migration, when
rapid expansion of industry, commerce and business takes place. In recent years,
the high rate of movement of people from India as well as from other developing
countries to the USA, Canada and now to the Middle-East is due to the better
employment opportunities, higher wages and better amenities of life, variety of
occupations to choose from and the possibility of attaining higher standard of
living. Sometimes the migrants are also attracted to cities in search of better
cultural and entertainment activities or bright city lights. However, pull factors
operate not only in the rural-urban migration, but also in other types of internal
as well as international migration.
Sometimes a question is asked which factors are more important, push or pull?
Some argue that the push factor is stronger than the pull factor as they feel that
it is the rural problems rather than the urban attractions that play a crucial role
in the shift of the population. On the other hand, those who consider the pull
factors as more important emphasise high rates of investment in urban areas
leading to more employment and business opportunities and greater attraction
for the city way of life.
This classification of motives for migration into push and pull factors is very
useful in analysing determinants of migration, but all migratory movements
cannot be explained by these factors alone. Moreover, sometimes migration
may occur not by push or pull factors alone but as a result of the combined
effect of both.


Structure in Tranistion I

iv) Push Back Factors

In India, and in some other developing countries also, another important factor
which plays crucial role in migration is push back factor. In India, according
to Asish Bose, the urban labour force is sizeable, and the urban unemployment
rates are high, and there also exist pools of underemployed persons. All these
factors acts in combination as deterrents to the fresh flow of migration from the
rural to urban areas. He calls this as a push back factor. He further adds that
if new employment opportunities are created in the urban areas, the first persons
to offer themselves for employment are the marginally employed already residing
in those areas, unless of course special skills are required.

5.3.2 Socio-Cultural and Political Factors


Besides these push and pull factors, social and cultural factors also play an
important role in migration. Sometimes family conflicts also cause migration.
Improved communication facilities, such as, transportation, impact of the radio
and the television, the cinema, the urban-oriented education and resultant change
in attitudes and values also promote migration.
Sometimes even political factors encourage or discourage migration. For
instance, in our country, the adoption of the jobs for sons of the soil policy by
the State governments will certainly affect the migration from other states. The
rise of Shiv Sena in Bombay, with its hatred for the migrants and the occasional
eruption of violence in the name of local parochial patriotism, is a significant
phenomena. Even in Calcutta, the Bengali-Marwari conflict will have farreaching implications. And now Assam and Tamil Nadu are other such examples.
Thus the political attitudes and outlook of the people also influence migration

to a great extent. There have also been migrations from Kashmir and Punjab
because of the terrorist activities.


Box 1. Reasons of Migration

An Analysis of Census Data
In the Indian Census, data on reasons for migration were collected for the first time
in the 1981 Census.These reasons are given in the following table.
Table 1 : Per cent distribution of life-time migrants of each sex by reasons for
migration, India 1981

Reasons for



Female Employment


Rural to Rural to Rural to Rural to






















It is clear from the data that among the male migrants from rural to urban and urban to
urban, employment was the most important reason. Education accounted only for about
3 to 8 per cent of migration according to these migration streams. Among women, as
expected, marriage was the most important reason for migration, followed by
associational migration. Employment and education accounted for a very small
proportion of th females.
Besides economic factors, sometimes lack of educational opportunities, medical facilities
and many other facilities including the desire to break away from the traditional
constraints of rural social structure may push people out of the rural areas. However,
all migration caused by push factors are not confined to the rural areas only as there
are also migration flows between rural areas and urban areas, indicating movement of
people out of comparatively poor areas to areas with relatively better opportunities.
Activity 1
Find out if any of the members in two neighbouring families were born outside your
city, when they come, and what reasons they had in mind for coming there? Then try to
illustrate the types of migration and causes of migration from these cases. Compare
your note if possible with other students of the study centre.

Check Your Progress 2

Tick mark the correct answer :

One of the important reasons for the out migration of the rural people is:

growing pressure of population,

rural poverty


Structure in Tranistion I


rural unemployment
all of the above.

Factors which attract the migrants for migration are known as:

Push factors,
Pull factors,
Push back factors,
All of the above.

iii) Which one of the following is not a type of migration:



Rural to Rural.
Rural to Urban
Urban to urban
None of the above.


The consequences of migration are diverse. However, some of the important

consequences discussed in this unit are economic, demographic, social and
psychological. These consequences are both positive as well as negative. Some
of these affect the place of departure while others influence the place of

5.4.1 Economic
Migration from a region characterised by labour surplus helps to increase the
average productivity of labour in that region, as this encourages labour-saving
devices and/or greater work participation by the remaining family workers.
On the other hand, there is a view that migration negatively affects the
emigrating region and favours the immigrating region, and that migration would
widen the development disparity between the regions, because of the drain of
the resourceful persons from the relatively underdeveloped region to the more
developed region. But the exodus of the more enterprising members of a
community cannot be considered a loss, if there is lack of alternative
opportunities in the rural areas. As long as migration draws upon the surplus
labour, it would help the emigrating region. It will have adverse effects only if
human resources are drained away at the cost of the development of the region.
Another important point is that when migration draws away the unemployed
or underemployed, it would enable the remaining population of the region to
improve their living conditions as this would enable the remaining population
to increase the per capita consumption, since the total number of mouths to be
fed into is reduced as a result of emigration.


However, the labour-sending regions may gain economically by the money

brought in by the emigrants. In India, the influx of the rural migrants to cities
and towns has resulted in a steady outflow of cash from the urban to rural
areas. Most migrants are single males, who after securing urban employment
generally send a portion of their income to their village homes to supplement
the meagre incomes of their families. At the same time, it also affects the
savings of the family as sometimes the migrants take money (family savings)
with them, which is necessary for their travel and stay in a new place. In recent

times, a sudden increase in migration to the Middle East has resulted in steep
rise in the remittances of foreign money in our country. In 1979, it was found
that the annual remittances to the tiny state of Kerala were estimated to Rs.4000


The rising inflow of money from the Gulf countries has resulted in the building
of houses and buying of agricultural land, and even investments in business
and industry. This has also resulted in the rise in the levels of consumption in
the family. Money is also being spent on childrens education. On the other
hand, the outflow of men has caused labour shortages and has pushed wages

5.4.2 Demographic
Migration has a direct impact on age, sex and occupational composition of the
sending and receiving regions. Migration of the unmarried males of young
working age results in imbalances in sex ratio. The absence of many young
men from the villages increases the proportion of other groups, such as, women,
children and old people. This tends to reduce the birth rate in the rural areas.
Further the separation of the rural male migrants from their wives for long
durations also tends to reduce the birth rate.

5.4.3 Social and Psychological

Urban life usually brings about certain social changes in the migrants. Those
migrants who return occasionally or remain in direct or indirect contact with
the households of their origin are also likely to transmit some new ideas back
to the areas of origin. Several studies attribute technological change to the
dynamism of the return migrants, who bring money as well as knowledge and
experience of different production techniques, and this may lead to
mechanisation and commercialisation of agricultural activity. A number of
ex-servicemen, on retirement go back to their native areas and promote such
practices in the villages. Contact with the urban and different cultures also
brings attitudinal change in the migrants, and helps them to develop more
modern orientation, including even the consumerist culture in their own areas.
On the other hand, migration which results in the absence of the adult males
for long periods of time may cause dislocation of the family, and, under such
circumstances, women and children often have to take over more and different
types of work and other more important roles in household decision-making.
Studies have revealed very disturbing effects of the male migration from Kerala.
Neurosis, hysteria and depression are said to be on the increase among the
emigrant workers wives in Kerala. The gulf boom has also taken a toll of
mental health of the families.
Check Your Progress 3

How is the labour-sending region benefited by the process of migration?

Answer in about seven lines.


Structure in Tranistion I


Write in about seven lines the socio-psychological consequences of


iii) Tick mark the correct answer.

Large exodus of refugees may_______.



create no problem for the countries of destination,


create only economic problems for the countries of destination,


create only health and ecological problems for the countries of



create social, economic and political problems depending on the

dimensions of the exodus of refugees.



Sometimes forced movements of people take place due to political and religious
disturbances or wars. Such movements shift people to the neighbouring countries
as refugees. The United Nations defines a refugee as every person, who owing
to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality,
membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the
country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to
avail himself of the protection of that country. (U.N. 1984)
Thus many international movements of population involving very large numbers
have occurred due to compelling reasons of political, religious or racial character.
Perhaps the largest movement of people in this century has occurred in the
Indian sub-continent. The partition of the country in 1947 into the Indian Union
and Pakistan led to large exodus of the refugees into each nation from the
other. Estimates indicate that not less than 7 million persons went to Pakistan
from India and more than 8 million people came to India from Pakistan. IndoPakistan war in 1971 also caused a large number of people from East Pakistan
(now Bangladesh) to move into the north-eastern states of India as refugees,
and this became a permanent problem for the region, as much as Bihari
Muslims continue to be problematic for Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Some of the largest forced international migrations in history have occurred in

recent times in Asia. For example, in the 12 years following 1975 more than
1.7 million refugees have left Vietnam, Kampuchea and Laos. Soviet
intervention in Afghanistan, in 1979, produced a flow of refugees which has
led to some 2.7 million being temporarily settled in Pakistan and 1.5 million
in Iran. Most of these refugees are still in the camps in the neighbouring
countries. Recently, due to political disturbances in Sri Lanka, large numbers
of Tamilians have entered India, and are staying in Tamil Nadu.


It is found that on humanitarian grounds the refugees are often given shelter
by the governments of various countries. However, the sudden influx of the
refugees creates enormous pressure on the native society. It leads to short
supply of essential commodities, ecological imbalances and health hazards in
the countries of asylum. The large magnitude and the various economic, political
and social dimensions of the exodus of the refugees create many problems,
particularly for the countries of destination. Sometimes they cause political
complications in the receiving countries. They organise themselves by forming
groups, and pressurise the governments for some concessions. For example
the United Kingdom, Canada and Sri Lanka are facing political and racial
crises due to migration. Sometimes this causes clashes between the natives
and migrants. Sri Lanka is a recent example of this.
But, in some instances, the refugees do make a positive contribution to the
development of the host country, when settled in sparsely populated areas, by
clearing and cultivating land.



In India, little attention has been paid at the policy level to control the pattern
of either international or internal migration. At the international level, the
country does not have even up to date statistics of the immigrants and the
emigrants although most of the international migration is controlled by passports
and visa permits, etc. Questions have been raised about the brain drain from
India in various forums, but nothing has been done to stop it as there are
considerable numbers of educated unemployment in the country. It is only
recently that the ministry of labour established a cell to protect the interests of
the Indian emigrants, who are working as skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled
workers in other countries, especially in the Middle East.
At the national level, the government has not shown any concern for the
problems relating to internal migration, and has, therefore, not formulated any
policy. Although rural to rural migration, as indicated earlier, constituted the
dominant migration stream among both the males and the females, very little
is known about the factors that govern this migration except through the 1981
Census. Since major part of rural to rural migration is associational or for
unspecified reasons, it is necessary to understand it more clearly.
There has been significant seasonal migration of agricultural labourers in
different parts of the country, especially those parts which are experiencing
the green revolution. Not much information is available about the volume of
this stream of the migrants or their duration of stay.
As rural to urban migration is next only to rural to rural migration, and is quite
sizeable, it is influenced by the urbanisation policies and programmes. In the
Fourth and Fifth Five Year Plans, the need for a balanced spatial distribution


Structure in Tranistion I

of economic activities was emphasised, and stress was laid on the need to
prevent the unrestricted growth of big cities.
Recognising the problems associated with the rapid growth of big cities (million
plus), the government is now trying to adopt policies which would help in
controlling migration to big cities and metropolises. During the 1980s, emphasis
was on the provision of adequate infrastructural and other facilities in the small,
medium and intermediate towns so that they could serve as growth and service
centers for the rural region. The Planning Commission emphasised the needs
for positive inducements to establish new industries and other commercial and
professional establishments in small and medium towns. In the next unit (Unit
6) of this block, we shall take note of these problems in a detailed manner.
Thus, in the absence of any specific migration policy, it is difficult to predict the
major directions of future migration flows. However, considering governments
emphasis on developing small, medium and intermediate cities, it is expected
that intermediate cities and medium towns will attract more migrants in the
future. Although industrial cities, with expanding industries, will continue to
attract new migrants, the young educated males and females may have a greater
tendency to seek white collar employment in small towns and cities.
Check Your Progress 4
Tick mark the correct answer.




In recent years, the Ministry of Labour, Government of India, has established

a cell to protect the interest of the Indian emigrants who are working

only as skilled workers in other countries,


only as unskilled workers in other countries,


only as semi-skilled workers in other countries,


All of the above are correct.

Considering the governments emphasis on developing small, medium and

intermediate cities, it is expected that

intermediate cities will attract more migrants in future and big cities
will reduce their importance.


Although big cities will continue to attract the migrants, the young
educated migrants may have greater tendency to seek white collar
employment in small towns and cities.


Rural to urban migration will stop in future.


All are correct.


In this unit, we have explained that migration, which refers to the movements
of people from one place to another, is an important demographic process,
which affects the spatial distribution of the population in a country. Then we
have highlighted the factors which motivate people to move from one area to
another. Related to this are the types of moves which people make in terms of

direction and duration of move, and whether the move are voluntary or
involuntary. Then we came to the consequences of migration. In other words,
what happens to the place from where the migrants move and to the place
where they arrive. We have discussed the problems created by the refugees
and displaced persons. Lastly, we have highlighted the Migration Policy.





: Biological potentiality of reproduction.


: A process of movement of the population

from one place to another for a
considerable period of time.


: It is the proportion of death to the total

population of the country in a particular
period of time.



Sinha and Ataullah, 1987. Migration: An Interdisciplinary Approach, Seema

Publishers, Delhi.
Premi, M.K. 1980. Urban Out-Migration : A Study of its Nature, Causes and
Consequences, Sterling Publishers, New Delhi.


Check Your Progress 1

Migration is a response of the human beings to the economic, social and

political and demographic forces operating in the environment. It
determines the size and rate of population growth of the labour force in
that area. It is an important symptom of social change.


Scholars emphasise time and space as the important variables, and define
migration as a movement from one place to another permanently or semipermanently.

iii) a)


Check Your Progress 2

i) d)
ii) b)
iii) d)
Check Your Progress 3

It helps increase the average productivity of the labour in that region,

since migration encourages the labour-saving devices and greater work
participation by the remaining labourers. This region also gains


Structure in Tranistion I

economically by the money brought in by the emigrants. It results in the

level of rise in the levels of consumption, education, technology of
production as well.

Many times migration results in the absence of the adult males for long
periods of time. This causes dislocation of the family. Under these
circumstances, women and children often have to undertake more
responsibility. They may have to work harder than before. Studies show
that neurosis, hysteria and depression have increased among the migrant
workers wives in Kerala.

iii) d)
Check Your Progress 4



Unit 5

Brahminical Perspective



Varna-Jati Theory


The Ideology of Purity-Impurity


Jajmani System


Emergent Concerns




Further Reading

Learning Objectives
After going through this unit, you will be able to

explain the position of Brahmins in society

explain the Brahminical interpretation of the caste system

discuss the pattern of interaction between Brahmins and people of

other castes.

5.1 Introduction
In the previous unit you learnt about the colonial Perspective on Caste. This
unit seeks to explain the viewpoint of Brahmins on the caste system. The
Brahmins being experts in conducting and interpreting rituals laid out in the
sacred texts emphasised the scriptural and ritual aspects of caste. They
quoted chapters and verses from the scriptures and in doing so justified the
caste system and their own position in it to a large extent. Interestingly,
Brahmins were conversant with Sanskrit language, which is regarded as Deva
bhasha, or the language of the gods. It is also the language in which
incantations in rituals are made. Agreeably, Brahmins who are fluent in the
language of the gods treat themselves as superior to the rest of the people.
This consolidates their position in society a great deal.
Since the lifestyle and the world-view of the Brahmins including their ideas
about the caste system are derived from the scriptures, the Brahminical
perspective on caste is, in essence, based on the scriptural dictates and
their articulation in the lives of Brahmins1. We begin the unit with the
traditional theory of the origin of Brahmins and their essential attributes in
the larger framework of varna and the jati. Subsequently, we discuss the
principle of purity-pollution, which forms the basis of interaction between
Brahmins and non-Brahmins, and then go on to exploring the inter-dependence
of Brahmins and members of other castes in society, which is guided by their
occupational specialisation.

5.2 Varna-Jati Theory


The term varna means colour. In the religious texts, the concept of varna
is used for grading people. Rigveda bears reference to the Arya varna
comprising the Aryan people (who were of light complexion) which has been
contrasted with the Dasa varna comprising the non-Aryan people (who were
of dark complexion).What the Rigveda does mention, however, are four

orders in society, Brahma enfolding the priests, Kshatra enfolding the warriors,
and Visha enfolding the common people. Ghurye (1950:46) writes, These
classes or orders are regularly referred to in later literature as varnas, so
much so that popularly Hindu religion has come to be defined as Varnashrama
Dharma. Yet in the Rigveda the word varna is never applied to any of these
classes. It is only the Arya varna, or the Aryan People, that is contrasted with
the Dasa varna. The Shatapatha Brahmana, on the other hand, describes the
four classes as the four varnas. Varna means colour, and it was in this sense
that the word seems to have been employed in contrasting the Arya and the
Dasa, referring to their fair and dark colours respectively. The colourconnotation of the word was so strong that later on when the classes came
to be regularly described as varnas, four different colours were assigned to
the four classes, by which their members were supposed to be distinguished.
In later literature, these orders are referred to as varnas.

Brahminical Perspective

One of the later hymns better known as the Purushasukta, established that
there are four orders in society and that each order has emerged from
particular body part of the Purusha the primeval man as described in the
previous unit also. These varnas are, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra.
It is said that they have emerged from mouth, arms, thighs, and feet of the
Purusha. Following the varna scheme, there are only four orders into which
people are divided. In addition to the varnas, the vedic literature mentions
groups such as Ayogava, Chandala, Nishada, and Paulkasa who lay outside the
varna scheme. They were required to perform unclean tasks such as
scavenging, were despised and treated as untouchables.
In the Mahabharata2, each varna is associated with a particular colour, Brahmin
with white, Kshatriya with red, Vaishya with yellow, and Shudra with black.
It was believed that each varna could maintain its purity and its colour by
avoiding marriages between people belonging to different varnas. Interestingly,
the people of the varna, which was able to retain its purity and colour,
gained precedence on the social scale. Largely Brahmins refrained from
marrying outside their varna so they were able to maintain their colour and
purity. While it may be accepted that normatively the Brahmins did avoid
marrying outside their varna, there is no denying that such marriages and/
or associations did take place, though infrequently. The considerations of
purity of blood and colour were set-aside on some occasions. The case of
Satyakam Jabala (son of a maid servant who could not tell the name of the
man from whom she conceived him), Visvamitra (of unknown parentage)
loom large in the sacred texts. Furthermore, Ghuryes analysis of anthropometric
data (1961) suggests that Brahmins of Uttar Pradesh bear close physical affinity
with Churas of the Shudra varna and the Khatris of the Vaishya varna in
The division into varnas applies, in addition to people, to planets, even soil.
This means that planets, soil are distinguished into four varnas. In the words
of Bose (1932:11) Soils can be recognised by means of certain indications.
The Brahman [Brahmin] soil is white in colour. It smells like clarified butter
and is astringent to the taste. The Kshatriya soil is blood red in colour, smells
like blood and is bitter to taste. The Vichy soil is yellow in colour, smells like
alkaline earth and is sour to the taste. The Shudra soil is black in colour,.and
has the taste like that of wine. Equally important to note is the classification
of people in Indian astrology according to which every person, apart from
the varna into which he/she is born, has a varna which is determined by the
rashi or the sign of the zodiac at the time of birth. It is possible that a


Perspectives on Caste

person born into a Brahmin varna has a Vaishya or Shudra varna according to
the sign of the zodiac at the time of birth. The varna ascribed by virtue of
birth under a particular sign of the zodiac is important in identifying his/her
gunas (elements or features of quality). In common parlance and in mundane
social contexts, the varna of a person refers to the one he/she acquires
because of birth and not the sign of the zodiac (See Saraswati, 1977).
Basically there are three gunas, sattva guna (associated with brightness,
intelligence), rajo guna (associated with energy, rigorous activity), and tamo
guna (associated with darkness and inactivity). It is believed that these
gunas combine different proportions, which brings about variation in behaviour
of people. It is stated in the Gita that the four varnas were created on the
basis of the gunas in the sense that sattva guna enjoining serenity of mind,
self control, forbearance, wisdom, and aptitude for acquiring spiritual
knowledge are the attributes of the Brahmins; rajo guna enjoining bravery,
fury, steadiness, and inclination for acquiring kingship are the attributes of
the Kshatriyas; skill to till the land, maintain herds of cattle and other
animals for sustenance, trade and commerce are the attributes of the Vaishyas;
and tamo guna enjoining aptitude for serving others, performing manual
work are the attributes of the Shudras (Kane,1962). These also define the
duties ascribed to the people of the four varnas in the scriptures. More
clearly stated, the Brahmins are ordained to master the sacred texts.
According to the Vishnusmriti (2-1.17), A Brahmin teaches the Veda.A
Brahmin sacrifices for others, and receives alms. The Kshatriyas are ordained
to fight in wars and battles and to protect the people of other varnas from
enemies. They could also perform administrative and military services. The
Vaishyas are ordained to make a living by engaging in trade and merchandise,
cultivation of land and breeding of cattle. The Shudras are ordained to serve
the people of other castes with modesty and humility. . It is commonly held
that dharma or righteous action is one, which is in line with the caste rules.
Apart from these norms, Manu prescribed activities that people of different
varnas could take up in times of crisis. He laid out the following, work for
wages, service, rearing cattle, seeking alms, receiving interest on money,
among others, as activities that could be undertaken by people of all varnas
for subsistence in difficult times. The laws of Manu enshrined in the
Manusmriti mention that failure of the observance of caste rules leads to
dire consequences. Those who digress from the sacred code were relegated
a lower position in the social order. The injunctions were more impinging on
Brahmins who set standards for others to follow and who sat in judgment
over others performance in society. Notwithstanding the prescriptions in
the sacred texts, the laws for adopting an occupation were not always
adhered to strictly even by the Brahmins. Instances of departure from the
code laid down by Manu are found in the early Buddhist literature. Following
the Brahmnopattimartanda, there are at least six kinds of degraded Brahmins
on the basis of undertaking occupations other than those laid out by Manu,
rendering service to the king as personal servants, engaging in trade and
selling, making sacrifices for others because of greed for money, acting as
priests of the entire village, serving as cooks, and refraining from their daily
sacrifice. These Brahmins are like Shudras (see Saraswati,1977).


A Brahmin has the ritual power to ensure the safety of the king through his
prayers, offerings and rituals that appease the deities. It is believed that
the deities do not accept the offerings from a king till a Brahmin priest
mediates the rituals that accompany them. An enraged Brahmin can curse
kings and their subjects. There is widespread fear that a Brahmins curse will
come true.

Box 5.1: Position of the Brahmin and the King

Brahminical Perspective

At times the king is above the Brahman, as for example in the royal
consecration ceremony. At other times the Brahman appears to be superior
to the king, as for example in the Manavadharmasastra, and in passages
from the Mahabharata. This conundrum is often addressed in terms of the
postulation of two levels of truth, a higher level at which the Brahman is
clearly pre-eminent, the source of everything else, and a lower level at which
kings must protect and sponsor Brahmans in order for them to exist, as
gods, on earth (cited from Dirks, 1990 :59).

The position of the Brahmin stood out in sharp contrast to that of an

untouchable. Now, while the Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas like the Brahmins
could read the Vedas or hear readings from them, these were required to be
taught and explained to them by a spiritual preceptor. The untouchables, on
the other hand, were not allowed to hear the Vedas. The Vedas mention
that molten lead should be poured into the ears of the untouchables who
listen to readings or chanting from them. While the Brahmin was revered,
the untouchable was looked down upon and treated with disgust. The
untouchables remained marginalized in society to the extent that access to
temples, water sources, and other places of social interface with the twice
born were denied to them. They were forced to maintain physical and social
distance from the rest of the people. They would not be allowed to enter
the premises of the twice born. The Brahmins in Tamil Nadu lived in distinct
areas called the agraharams. They confined most of their activities within
the agraharam. Surely the non Brahmins, particularly untouchables were not
allowed to enter it except for scavenging for which they were instructed to
use the back lanes and in a way that they were not seen, neither did their
shadow fall on a Brahmin. Untouchables could not wear footwear or keep
moustache. If they did grow moustache, they could not twirl them up. The
women were not allowed to wear the upper garment. In addition,
untouchables were not heard on important matters that concerned everybody
in the village including them. They had no say in decisions taken neither
about their own affairs nor on issues that were of pertinence to them
Dumont (1988:67) explains, The set of four varnas divides into two: the last
category of Shudras, is opposed to the block of the first three, whose
members are twice- born in the sense that they participate in initiation,
second birth, and in the religious life in general. These twice-born, in turn
divide into two: the Vaishyas are opposed to the block formed by the
Kshatriyas and the Brahmanas, which in turn divides into two. Here, the
second birth (first birth being that from the mothers womb) implied in the
expression twice-born refers to the initiation ceremony in which men wear
the sacred thread for the first time over the left shoulder and across the
body. This symbolises the second, and spiritual birth of a person and qualifies
him to perform certain rituals, recite certain mantras (sacred incantations).
The Tamil Brahmin boys, for instance, are encouraged to recite the gayatri
mantra (verse invoking the sun god) only after they have undergone the
sacred thread ceremony.
In the Pali texts the word, jati is used for caste. It may be noted that the
word does not appear in vedic literature. In the Katyayana Srautasutra it is
used for family. It occurs in the Nirukta (X11.13) and in Panini (V.4.9) who
explains brahmanjati as meaning one who is a Brahmin by caste (see


Perspectives on Caste

Kane,1962:1633). Saraswati writes (1977:18), Though some authorities (for

instance, Yajnavalkya) have clearly pointed out the difference between jati
and varna, many others have used these words synonymously. Manu (X.31)
used the word varna for mixed castes, and, often conversely, jati for varna
(V11.177, IX.85-6). Manu propounded that children inherit character types
from their parents and that a person adopts the occupation for which he is
temperamentally equipped by heredity. Jatis are, in essence, groups sharing
an occupation (see Bose 1962). Manu has laid down detailed rules of
hypergamous (anuloma) marriages and hypogamous (pratiloma) marriages.
The laws of Manu prescribe that children born out of parents belonging to
the same varna are savarna meaning same varna while those born out of
parents belonging to different varnas are golaka. When people belonging to
a varna marry those belonging to a higher one repeatedly over five or seven
generations only then their varna gets upgraded which means that they are
treated as belonging to the higher one. Further, Manu states that jatis
originate because of mixed marriages i.e. between people belonging to
different varnas. Saraswati (1977:21) states, The following law operates
consistently in the case of jatis : the children begotten from wedded wives
equal in jati belong to the jati of their fathers, but if the mothers are bijati
(not of the same jati) then children born of such union are called apasad
(base born) and placed under a jati which is neither of their fathers nor of
their mothers. This is how the various jatis have sprung up. It may be
mentioned, however, that children born out of niyoga (union for the sake
of begetting children) inherit the varna of their mothers and not the biological
fathers. Several Brahmin jatis are believed to have been the descendants of
sons born out of the mind or the intellectual prowess of the gods. These are
the manasputrasmanas means mind and putra means son. There are others
that have descended from sons born from the body fluids of the gods. There
are yet others that have descended from sons born from wedlock and by
natural birth. Such births are, however, mediated by divine intervention
(see the Brahmnopattimartanda for details).
Brahmins are believed to have descended from a sage or seer after whom
their gotra (an exogamous division the members of which are believed to
have agnatically descended from a common ancestor) is named. It is commonly
believed that the Brahmins of an earlier generation, like the sages who were
their ancestors, were often endowed with brahmatejas, a quality which
gave to their appearance of a particular glow and serenity (see Beteille,

5.3 The Ideology of Purity-Impurity

The ideology of purity pollution regulates relationship between different
castes significantly. It also provides a basis of hierarchy of castes. Thus,
more pure a caste is, the higher is its place in the social hierarchy. The
Sanskrit word for purity is sodhana It is derived from the root, sudh meaning
pure. The cognate of sudh is saucha meaning cleanliness. The Hindu
scriptures lay down several means for attaining purity. Spiritual purity comes
from studying the Vedas and other sacred texts; meditating on a deity;
undertaking pilgrimages; repeating the name of god; practicing continence
(brahmacharya), asceticism (tapas), non-violence (ahimsa); and avoiding food
(such as onion, garlic, nonvegetarian food) that raise anger, lust, and passions.
(see Walker, 1983).


When purity is lost or contaminated (because of, for example, infringement

of some critical caste rules as of a Brahmin who touches an untouchable by

accident, or because of birth or death in the family, or any other reason),
purification through performance of specific rituals is necessitated. Dumont
(1970) situates the contrast between Brahmins and untouchables in the
opposition between purity and impurity. For him, the opposition of pure and
impure lies at the very root of hierarchy to an extent that it merges with
the opposition of superior and inferior. He suggests that specialisation in
impure tasks in practice or in theory leads to the attribution of permanent
impurity to certain categories of people such as the untouchables. The
untouchables regularly perform unclean tasks (such as scavenging, washing
dirty linen, disposing dead animals and human bodies, making shoes). One
example is that of the washermen who, in most parts of the country, clean
the soiled linen at the time of birth and menstruation. The other example
is that of cobblers who have to use leather (which is an impure material) for
making or repairing footwear. Since these are the traditional tasks of the
untouchables, they remain perpetually impure. This is permanent impurity.
The impurity is contagious in the sense that it gets transmitted to those
who touch or are touched by them. The defilement is corrected after
performing a prescribed set of rituals. On the other hand, Manu has identified
bodily secretions such as excrements, semen, saliva as impure and their
presence on the body makes a person impure. In addition, some events as
those of birth and death, menstruation, are considered to harbour a danger
which lends to the temporary seclusion of the affected persons, to prohibitions
against contact etc. A persons closest kin often becomes impure, therefore,
untouchable for a specific period of time. Touching a menstruating woman
or one who is observing taboos after child-birth or a man who has returned
from the cremation ground after lighting a funeral pyre all impart temporary
impurity. This is temporary impurity. Water is a purificatory agent; bath in
running water, better still in sacred water as of the Ganges is particularly
efficacious in cleansing impurity.
In order that the Brahmin retain their purity, the untouchables and people
of lower castes are believed to absorb the temporary impurity of the Brahmins
by cleaning their premises, and their soiled clothes, and performing the
tasks that are treated as unclean and impure by them and in the process,
become impure themselves. In doing so they ensure that the Brahmins remain
in a state to perform rituals and act as intermediaries between gods and
people (see Basham, 1954, Hocart, 1950, Gould, 1958). In the broad sense,
one of the factors identifying the purity of a caste is whether or not a
Brahmin accepts drinking water from the hands of its members. Surely, there
are local variations. Hutton (1983) cites the example of Brahmins in north
India who take water poured into their own drinking vessels by men of
Shudra who are regarded as relatively clean e.g. Barhai (carpenter), Nai
(barber), Barbhuja (grain-parcher), Kahar (fisherman, well sinker, and grower
of water-nut). Brahmins in south India are extremely particular in this regard.
Like water, exchange of food and dining between castes is fraught with
several regulations. The glance or the shadow of an untouchable on the
cooking pot of a Brahmin is enough to throw away its contents. Interestingly,
food cooked in water as by boiling known as Kachha khana is subject to more
restrictions than pakka khana or food cooked in ghee or clarified butter. Just
as the restrictions on water and food, those on smoking are observed too.
At this juncture it may be mentioned that the material of which the cooking
utensil is made is of much importance. Hutton (1983) records that the higher
caste people does not use earthenware because it cannot be completely
clean. Furthermore, pollution can be contracted through bodily contact too.

Brahminical Perspective


Perspectives on Caste

Orenstein (1965 ) explains that basically there are two types of pollution an
individual may be subjected to, intransitive pollution, and transitive pollution.
The intransitive pollution is one which is incurred when a birth or death
occurs in the kin group of an individual. On such occasions, defilement is
said to spread throughout the kin group. Importantly, kinship assumes
importance here. Near relatives stay impure for a longer time than distant
ones. What is interesting to note is the belief that the extent of intransitive
pollution is proportionate to the level at which the varna is located. This
means that higher the rank, lesser is the pollution. Thus a Brahmin gets less
intensely polluted than the Kshatriya, Vaishya, or Shudra. Similarly, a Kshatriya
gets more polluted than a Brahmin but less polluted than the Vaishya or
Shudra. Transitive pollution, on the other hand, is incurred by way of coming
in contact with polluted material. It is of two kinds: external pollution and
internal pollution. External pollution is that which is acquired by touch or
contact with polluted material. It can be removed by cleansing of the polluted
person or polluted object. A spoon touched by an untouchable for example,
becomes polluted. This pollution can be removed by washing it thoroughly.
Similarly, a person who becomes polluted when an untouchable touches him/
her has to take a bath in order to remove the pollution and re-gain his/her
purity. Internal pollution is that which is acquired when a person consumes
polluted foodstuff, polluted water, or any other substance, which gets
absorbed in the body.
The criterion of touch or contact as a means of contracting pollution is not
as simple as it seems to be. The pertinent question here is, why a washerman
is treated as impure and polluted when he goes to the house of a high caste
man on the occasion of a marriage but not treated so when he comes to
collect dirty cloth or to deliver clean ones. One of the plausible explanations
is that he does not pollute the house when he comes to collect dirty clothes
or deliver clean clothes because at that time he is an agent of purification
(Dumont,1970). On other occasions as that of marriage he is not an agent of
purification but a man belonging to an untouchable caste. So he is treated
as impure.
If an untouchable pollutes an earthen pot of a person belonging to a higher
caste, it has to be replaced. If the same person pollutes a bronze pot, it may
be washed scrupulously and need not be replaced. Stevenson (1954) suggests
that since the earthen pot is porous it is difficult to purify it by washing.
Moreover, it comes cheap so may be replaced easily. The bronze pot, on the
other hand, can be washed rigorously; is more expensive so cannot be
replaced easily. The people of impure caste are said to pollute the premises
of temples by their sheer presence. It is for this reason that they were
forbidden to enter the temples and the residential areas of the upper caste
Radhakamal Mukerjee proposes the following degrees of social avoidance in
ascending order: (1) against sitting on a common floor; (2) against interdining;
(3) against admission in the kitchen; (4) against touching metal pots; (5)
against touching earthen pots; (6) against mixing in social festivals; (7) against
admittance in the interior of the house; (8) against any kind of physical
contact (cited from Murphy, 1953: 63-64). Hindu conception about purity
pollution governing how people interact with and behave towards each
other may be consolidated in the following ideas that have been widely
drawn from Kolenda(1997).



Dietary and Marital Customs

Brahminical Perspective

According to Kolenda, one of the basic means of determining the place

of a caste group in the ritual rank in its diet and marital customs. It has
been found that vegetarianism characterises purer caste. A Brahmin is
pure because he/she is a strict vegetarian. This does not, in any way,
mean that there are pure castes comprising of those that are vegetarian
and impure castes comprising of those that are non-vegetarian. It may
be noted that Kolendas ascription of vegetarianism to Brahmins does
not apply universally, for there are fish and meat eating Brahmins in
Bengal, Kashmir and in other parts of the country.
Stevenson (1954) identifies the dietary and marital customs an indicative
of the ritual status of castes. There are degrees of impurity based on
the kind of non-vegetarian food consumed by the people of different
castes. It is especially defiling to eat pork and/or beef. He mentions
that it is worst to eat beef followed by pork, mutton, chicken and eggs
(in this sequence). So castes that eat pork are lower than those who eat
mutton, and castes that eat mutton are lower than those who eat
chicken. Vegetarian castes are more pure. The next in hierarchy are the
castes that eat mutton, chicken and eggs followed by untouchables who
eat all these in addition to pork sometimes beef.
So far as martial customs are concerned, high castes are associated with
the practice of monogamy. This is particularly stringent for women. Divorce
and remarriage, particularly widow re-marriage is not allowed. Men may,
however, marry more than once, middle and lower castes are permissive
of widow re-marriage. This is, however, not preferred because it lowers
the rank of a caste.

Inheritance of pollution
Lower castes are said to suffer from permanent impurity. All the members
of a caste inherit the defilement. Stevenson (1954) explains that any
waste product from the body is treated as impure; death makes the
entire body waste and those who deal with these incur impurity. The
barber who deals with hair and nail chippings both waste products of
the body is impure. What makes him impure to further extent is his duty
to wash the male corpse of his clients while his wife washes the female
corpse before cremation. Similarly, the washerman washes dirty clothes,
those soiled by bodily excretions; the sweeper removes feaces and filth;
he eats from pots and other utensils that have been polluted because
of birth or death in the family, he wears the clothes in which a man dies.
In effect the barber, washerman, sweeper and other castes are treated
as polluted because of the kind of material they handle. Pollution spreads
through touch, which means that one who is polluted passes on the
pollution to other persons when he/she touches them. This is most
explicit when water and/or food are exchanged. A Brahmin, as mentioned
earlier does not accept food or water from anyone belonging to a lower
caste. He may accept food, which is coated with ghee or clarified butter
from castes belonging to middle ranks; he may take raw ingredients from
anyone because it is believed that fire would purify these in the process
of cooking.

iii) Dividual- Particle Theory

Marriot and Inden based their understanding on Hindu writings Vedas,
Brahamanas, Upanishads, classical books of moral and medical sciences,
and late medieval moral code books of certain castes in Bengal. It is


Perspectives on Caste

believed that these writings reflect the Hindu native models and bespeak
of the peoples own view of a person as individual which also implies
indivisibility into separable portions.
Marriott and Inden (1977) explain the theory of pollution in terms of
coded-substance, which is itself, made up of coded particles. These
particles (consisting of saliva, sweat, bits and pieces of hair) get
exchanged among people through food water etc., in the course of
interpersonal interactions. Each varna is believed to have received a
specific coded substance from the creator and it is only proper that the
people maintain or else improve the code and not indulge in anything
that would make it inferior. Each person gives off and also receives
these coded particles in social interaction. Now, better-coded particles
are received from gods and people of higher castes while worse coded
particles are received from those belonging to castes lower than ones
own. It is suggested that one may get better particles through right
eating, right marriage, and other right exchanges and actions. These
may get consolidated because the inferior particles are got rid off through
excretion etc. Further, they propose that the particles of different kinds
separate, combine, and re-combine in different permutations because
of the heat in the body which is generated in the process of digestion,
sexual intercourse etc. It is for this reason that hot bodily and nutritive
substances need to be carefully managed when one is associated with
serving or eating warm food. Marriot and Inden maintain that the coded
substance may break up into particles that may combine and recombine
with each other. This determines the degree of a persons pollution or
purity, which suggests that the Hindu view of a person is one, that is
dividual (meaning divisible into separable portions).
iv) Guna Theory


The Guna theory of pollution was proposed by Marvin Davis (1976) who
was a student of Marriott and Inden. This theory was derived after
interviewing the Hindus of West Bengal but it is also mentioned in the
sacred books such as Bhagavada Gita, Srimad Bhagavata Mahaprurana,
Purushasukta and the Manva Dharamasastra. According to this theory,
the feminine principle called prakriti joins with the male matter called
purusha. The union of prakriti and purusha forms three basic materials
called gunas. The three gunas are sattvaguna, rajoguna and tomoguna.
The sattvaguna is a white substance, generates goodness and joy and
inspires all noble virtues and action; rajoguna is red, produces egoism,
selfishness, violence, jealousy, and ambition; tamoguna is black,
engenders stupidity, laziness, fear, and all sorts of base behavior.
(Davis,1976:9). The sattvaguna may be treated as symbolic of purity
while the tamoguna may be treated as symbolic of impurity. It is believed
that all the gunas are present and well balanced in the body of the
Brahma while one or the other guna predominates among the four varnas.
The proportion of guna in each varna is maintained through the lifestyle,
diet, marriage pattern or the inter caste relation. Vegetarian food builds
up sattvaguna, non-vegetarian food builds up rajoguna, and beef, left
over food, spoiled food, and alcohol build up tamoguna. It is believed
that disproportionate admixture of the tamoguna with the sattvaguna
or the rajoguna creates, what Stevenson referred to as permanent
pollution. Brahmins involved in reciting sacred chants, performing
sacrifices, and preaching the scriptures largely have sattvaguna. Similarly,
untouchables involved in the work of scavenging, tanning, and that
which involves dealing with dirt and filth, animal hide, body excretions

largely have tamoguna, and Kshatriyas or Vaishyas who are involved in

warfare, and activities that sustain life such as cultivation, herding,
trading respectively, largely have rajoguna.

Brahminical Perspective

It may be understood that people of different varnas and jatis may

improve their guna through diet, work, and performance of religious
rituals, meditation and learning. Another way in which the guna may be
improved is through marriage. In the words of Davis (1976:16), Through
activities in accord with dharma and through mixing ones own physical
nature with that of sattvik substances, for example, the defining features
of a birth-group are transformed positively and its rank elevated; for in
this way individuals of the group and the birth- group as a whole become
more cognizant of Brahma and lead a more uplifting, spiritual life.

5.4 Jajmani System

The mundane relationships between castes are governed by what is known
as the jajmani system which may be viewed from the standpoint of the dayto-day interactions through which economic values are economically expressed
and economic behavior is invested with religious meaning (Gould,1987:8).
The Brahmin performs rituals on different occasions for people of other
castes. In return, the Brahmin receives grain or service from those he has
obliged. Now, while the rendition of ritual is from the Brahmins to the
Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, the grain is dispensed in the opposite
direction i.e. from the other varnas to the Brahmins.
Box 5.2: Alternative view-point on the Jajmani system
Fullers argument presumes, with Heesterman, Pocock, and Dumont, that
the prestations made by the dominant cultivators were primarily matters of
the rights of the recipients, and not of the ritual functions carried out,
through gift- giving, by these donors in their capacity as jajmans. More
recently, Good(1982) has accepted Pococks reasons for denying the existence
of a jajmani system, and goes on to argue that jajman and jajmani are
Hindi terms whose equivalents in the other Indian languages, or at least in
Tamil, are not much used and to speak therefore of a jajmani system
outside of the Hindi-speaking region is to impose an alien interpretation on
the data (cited from Raheja, 1990:93).

In the jajmani system, the patron is addressed as jajman while the render
of the service is addressed as kamin. It is essential that both the Brahmin
priest himself as also the place where he performs the service are pure or
are purified before the ritual. This can happen when pollution that would
otherwise defile a ritual is removed. The only way this is possible is by
engaging specialists who perform such tasks as barbering, washing cloths,
sweeping and mopping the floor. The pollution is removed or absorbed by
those who perform such tasks.
For the kamin, as mentioned earlier, there are payments in cash and kind
made daily, monthly, biyearly, per piece work, and on special occasions,
depending on the type of service rendered and in part on the good will of
the jajman (Wiser, 1936: XXIV). A kamin may serve several twice born patrons
within his village and/or those in neighbouring villages. Often his network
with the patrons is used for negotiating marital relationships between them.
In several villages, the marriage negotiations are conducted through the nai
or the barber. He is required to find out the economic standing and resources


Perspectives on Caste

of the brides family. Later, when the bride joins her husband after marriage,
the barbers wife helps her in adjusting in the husbands house and dealing
with his family members amicably.
Gould (1987) mentions that there are several reasons for expansion of jajmani
relations beyond the confines of a village. The first reason is that an average
village may not contain representatives of all the castes (specialising in
different occupations) that participate in the jajmani system. It is, therefore,
inevitable to draw the services of specialist(s) from adjoining village(s) when
other caste members have not adopted the occupation. The second reason
is the initiative of the specialists to expand their clientele with the purpose
of raising their income. There is no restriction on the number or the location
of clients a specialist may engage in. A specialist may engage with as many
patrons as he is able to serve. The third reason is the dissatisfaction of the
jajman. If a jajman is not satisfied with the service of the kamin, he may
seek another one often from an adjoining hamlet or village. This is because
the people of the caste to which the erring kamin belongs may not agree
to serve the dissatisfied jajman because of casteist loyalty.
Three attributes of the jajmani system need elaboration. The first attribute
of the jajmani system is functional interchangeability. Kolenda (1963) explains
that functional interchangeability refers to a situation in which the occupation
of a caste is adopted by another one when the specialist caste is absent.
This may be explained with the following example. People belonging to the
Chamar caste do sweeping. If there is nobody belonging to the Chamar caste
in the village, then sweeping is done by people belonging to another caste.
This may happen with other castes too. The second attribute of the jajmani
system is its temporal continuity. A jajmani relationship lasts over generations.
It is inherited from father to sons by both jajmans and kamins. When a joint
family divides into nuclear ones, the clients are divided in the same manner
as property. This implies that a kamin continues to serve the sons of an old
man (who had been his jajman for several decades) even after they have
separated and set up different households. Similarly, the sons of a kamin
continue to serve the patrons of their father when he is no longer in a
position to render service or after he dies. The third attribute of the jajmani
system is the interchangeability between the roles of jajman and kamin.
Some persons are both jajmans and kamins depending on the context. A
person serves one or many jajman(s). An ironsmith, for example, may serve
the Brahmin households as a kamin and himself may be a jajman to the
washerman and the barber.


The jajmani system defines the basis for the exchange of services between
different castes who specialise in different occupations3. In doing so it also
lays out the pattern of interaction between the different castes. Now, the
fundamental assumption here is that members of a particular caste specialise
in a specific occupation inherited from their ancestors and which is sanctified
in the sacred texts. Gupta (1984) explains that this does not always happen
in reality. The sacred texts, however, make mention of only a limited number
of jatis. The number of jatis that exists today far exceeds that mentioned
in the sacred texts. What has happened is that there has been much
diversification in the occupation of different castes. This means that people
of a particular caste who were earlier engaged in only one occupation now
specialise in more of them. Brahmins, for example, have taken to cultivation,
warfare and even business. In the present day, the jajmani system is not
operative in its full.

5.5 Emergent Concerns

Brahminical Perspective

What is important to note is the fact that the rigidity with which the upper
caste people maintained casteist restrictions is on the decline due to several
factors. Out of these, at least three seem to be particularly significant. One
factor is the increase in mobility of people more so in public transport as
trains, buses etc. in which people of several castes are compelled to travel
together. Since defilement is so common in such situations that its removal
is neither always possible nor convenient. The second factor is the spread
of education which dispels superstitions and beliefs in unfounded explanations
such as the one that the untouchables are impure by birth and therefore,
need to be kept away from. The third factor is the initiatives taken by the
government in overcoming untouchability. It is widely popularised that anybody
found guilty of practicing untouchability is liable to be punished. Moreover,
the government offers reservation in educational and vocational institutions
as also jobs in the public sector. In addition, several NGOs are engaged in the
endeavour of abolishing untouchability and all kinds of discrimination on the
basis of caste. The chief concern is with strengthening the economic and
social base of the lower caste people who have remained marginalised and
Peripherised in society.
Interestingly, overthrowing the place assigned to them and the sanctions
imposed on them in the sacred texts, the peopleparticularly those belonging
to the lower castes aspire to acquire a place in the upper rungs of the caste
hierarchy. In order to achieve this, they begin with adopting the customs
and lifestyle of the upper castes. M.N. Srinivas coined the term sanskritisation
to explain this phenomenon. In the words of Srinivas (1952:32), A low caste
was able, in a generation or two, to rise to a higher position in the hierarchy
by adopting vegetarianism and teetotalism and by sanskritising its ritual and
pantheon. In short it takes over, as far as possible, the customs, rites and
beliefs of Brahmin and the adoption of Brahmanic way of life by a low caste
seems to have been frequent, though, theoretically forbidden. This process
has been called sanskritisationA jati sanskritising itself may begin to
assert itself as a Brahmin, Kshatriya, or Vaishya over a span of one or two
generations. While the lower caste people adopt the lifestyle and code of
conduct of the upper caste people, the upper caste people themselves are
tremendously influenced by Western thought and Western way of life. This
is explained as the process of westernisation.
Joan Mencher (1974) brought out the viewpoint of the lower caste people
on the caste system and said that, (i) the caste system does not merely
provide every caste with special privileges, rather it leads to and strengthens
economic exploitation of the lower castes;(ii) it kept the people in the
lower wings of the caste hierarchy so isolated that they could not unite with
each other for bringing about change in the system, and improving social and
economic condition. On the other hand, the high caste people with greater
wealth and political power could readily unite and establish inter-regional
communication networks which the lower caste people could not even think
of. You will learn more about the view of caste from below i.e. from the
point of view of the lower castesim the next unit.
The supremacy of Brahmins in religious, social and political spheres was
collectively and systematically challenged by non-Brahmins in the form of a
movement. This entailed mass mobilisation of non-Brahmins against Brahmin
dominance. The earliest non-Brahmin movement was launched in the mid-


Perspectives on Caste

nineteenth century in Maharashtra. After that similar movements were

initiated in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu where laws relating to
government service and places in governmentrun universities have been
written to pointedly discriminate against Brahmans (Kolenda, 1997: 119).
Berreman (1991) has criticised the Brahmanical view of caste which is drawn
heavily from classical Sanskrit texts and focuses on ritual hierarchy leading
to strict regimentation of society on the following grounds:

The Brahminical view takes a position that the people conform to universal
values unquestioningly while the truth is that individuals have their own
will. They doubt and sometimes defy universal values.


The Brahminical view lays excessive emphasis on ritual hierarchy as the

basis of caste organisation undermining the importance of economic and
political factors, and power. In real life situations it is neither appropriate
nor possible to delineate singular basis (such as ritual hierarchy as done
by Dumont) for caste ranking.

iii) The Brahminical view dismisses any scope of cross-cultural comparison of

caste system in India. While it needs to be accepted that caste in India
is indeed unique, it is not correct to safeguard it from comparison with
similar forms of gradation in other cultures.
iv) The Brahminical view is based on sacred Sanskrit texts. These texts are,
in fact, biased and of limited scope. The perspective that emerges from
them, therefore, presents caste as rigid, stiff, stereotyped, and idealized
People at the grass-roots, however, maintain that this perspective is far
from reality. Dumont does not take note of the numerous social and political
movements in Indian history that sought to overthrow the burden of caste4.
He does, however, refer to Bhakti movements but notes that they are not
able to make any significant impact on caste hierarchy. Most people, especially
those belonging to lower castes concede that the Brahminical perspective
holds good for the high castes only and does not have a bearing with their
own lives. They maintain that it has provided legitimisation of the high
handedness and dominance of the Brahmins. More significantly, the subaltern
view, among others, the distinct dalit perspective (which is greatly influenced
by Ambedkar, Lohia and others) provides an alternative interpretation of the
sacred texts and their position on the caste system. Notwithstanding the
criticism, the Brahmanical perspective has been a significant component of
studies on caste system in academic circles. It has been hotly discussed and
debated upon by sociologists, social anthropologists and other social scientists

5.6 Conclusion


We have noted that Brahmins, in effect, draw legitimisation of their position

from Hindu religious texts. These texts bestow a degree of sacredness to all
that they say and do. Brahmins, in effect, draw legitimisation of their position
from Hindu religious texts. These texts bestow a degree of sacredness to all
that they say and do. Brahmins, in effect, draw legitimisation of their position
from Hindu religious texts. These texts bestow a degree of sacredness to all
that they say and do. It is equally true that the Brahmin is not a monolithic,
uniform category. The Brahmins are themselves grouped into hierarchical
groups based on the nature of their engagement. Those who, accept
pratigraha or offerings at centers of pilgrimages (better known as pandas in

north India and pandarams in south India) as the Maithil and Bengali Brahmins
of Deoghar, Chaubes of Mathura, Dikshattars of Tamil Nadu and others; accept
food and pratigraha in mortuary rites and/or at the time of sickness as the
Sawalakhi Brahmins of Varanasi, Bhattas of Punjab and others; keep genealogies
as the Hakaparas of Bihar and others; and practice agriculture or perform act
as cooks or the Tyagi of western Uttar Pradesh are treated as degraded
Brahmins (see Saraswati,1977).

Brahminical Perspective

Quintessentially the Brahminical perspective on caste as mentioned earlier,

is largely drawn from the sacred texts in that it focuses on the principles and
ideas that provide the basis on which, ideally, the rituals and conduct of the
Brahmins has to be organised. It is in the unceasing flux between the textual
constructs and their practice that the dynamism is contained. These principles
and ideas that are interpreted and articulated in myriad of ways that make
for local variations and yet make for the identity of the Brahmin as a social
Notes (comments of the editor)

There is an implicit assumption that the Brahminical view is the view

expressed by the Brahmins in the scriptural texts. Since this is the most
popular view, we accept it in this unit even as we find it necessary to
interrogate the issue.


There is a need to question the widespread view that Mahabharata is

a Brahminical text.


It ignores the relations of production in agriculture.


It is not appropriate to equate Dumont with Brahminical view.

5.7 Further Reading

Dumont,L.,1988 Homo Hierachicus: The Caste System and its Implications.
Oxford University Press: Delhi
Ghurye,G.S.,1950, Caste and Race in India, Popular Prakashan, Bombay
Kolenda,P.,1997, Caste in Contemporary India: Betond Organic Solidarity,
Rawat Publications. Jaipur
Saraswati,B.N.,1977, Brahmanic Ritual Traditions. Indian Institute of Advanced
Study: Simla





History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II






The Pioneers of Indian Sociology


Radhakamal Mukerjee (1889-1968)

5.3.1 Biographical Sketch
5.3.2 Central Ideas

Relationship between Economic and Social Behaviour

Social Ecology
Plea for Conservation of Forests
An Ameliorative Approach to Urban Social Problems
Theory of Values
Indian Culture and Civilisation Mukerjees concept of universal civilisation

5.3.3 Important Works


Dhurjati Prasad Mukerji (1894-1962)

5.4.1 Biographical Sketch
5.4.2 Central Ideas Role of Tradition in Indian Society Integrated Development of Personality D.P. Mukerjis Views on Unity in Diversity D.P. Mukerji as an Economist

5.4.3 Important Works


Govind Sadashiv Ghurye (1893-1984)

5.5.1 Biographical Sketch
5.5.2 Central Ideas
5. 5.2.1 Caste and Kinship in India

New Roles of Caste in India

Study of Tribes in India
Rural-urbanisation in India
Religious Beliefs and Practices in India
Role of the Sadhu in Indian Tradition
Indian Art and Architecture Hindu-Muslim Relationships

5.5.3 Important Works


Let us Sum Up


Key Words


Further Reading


Specimen Answers to Check Your Progress


Early Sociology



After going through this unit you will be able to


describe the contributions of the three pioneers of Indian sociology

outline the biographical details of Radhakamal Mukerjee, D.P. Mukerji

and G.S. Ghurye

explain some of their central ideas in sociology

list some of their important works.

In Unit 4 History and Development of Sociology India I of this block,
you learnt about the emergence of sociology in India. We gave you a broad
outline of how sociology came to be established as a discipline in Indian
universities. You learnt about the role played by several Indian and foreign
scholars in the development of sociology and its link with social
anthropology and Indology. You have thus obtained a broad idea of the
background in which sociology developed in India.
In this unit, we will deal with the contributions of three of the major
pioneers of Indian sociology, namely Radhakamal Mukerjee (1889-1968),
D.P. Mukerji (1894-1962), and G.S. Ghurye (1893-1984). We mentioned
their names in the previous unit also but here we are going to discuss their
central ideas. They worked during a time when the spirit of freedom was
alive in the soul of every Indian. The National Movement was part of the
background of these scholars and critically shaped their writings.
In this unit, section 5.2 gives a general picture of the three pioneers,
Radhakamal Mukerjee, D.P. Mukerji and G.S. Ghurye. Section 5.3
describes the biographical sketch, central ideas and important works of
Radhakamal Mukerjee. Section 5.4 provides the biographical sketch, central
ideas and important works of D.P. Mukerji and finally, section 5.5 gives
the biographical sketch, central ideas and important works of G.S. Ghurye.



In this unit, some detailed references will be made to the contributions of

Radhakamal Mukerje, D.P. Mukerji, and G.S. Ghurye to Indian sociology.
They were contemporary figures in the Indian academic works. Radhakamal
Mukerjee taught in Lucknow Unviersitys department of economics and
sociology along with D.P. Mukerji, while G.S. Ghurye taught in the
department of sociology, Bombay University. Their works as teachers,
research guides and writers left a deep imprint on Indian sociology,
especially in the first half of 20th century. They shared a common approach
to sociology. Their works covered a number of social sciences in addition
to sociology. Radhakamal Mukerjee criticised the compartmentalisation
in social sciences. In his writings he combined economics, sociology and

history. He was always in search of linkages or common grounds between

social sciences. D.P. Mukerji was a Marxist who wrote on Indian society
in terms of the dialectical relationship between tradition and modernity.
He was in search of an Indian personality whose modernity was based on
Indianness. In his views, an Indian uprooted from his or her cultural
heritage could not be called a balanced person. G.S. Ghurye was an
ethnographer of tribes and castes but he also wrote extensively on other
topics. In his writings, Ghurye emphasised integration. According to him,
the guiding force in Indian society was the Hindu ideology. Even the Indian
secularism was a product of the tolerant spirit of Hinduism. He used history
and statistical data to supplement his sociological writings. However, there
was a difference between D.P. Mukerji and Radhakamal Mukerjee.
Radhakamal Mukerjee remained an economist in a broad sense throughout
his career. Even D.P. Mukerji was an economist. He taught economics and
sociology at Lucknow University. But Ghurye did not discuss economic
topics in his works.

History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II

Neither Radhakamal Mukerjee nor Ghurye employed rigorous research

methods to conduct their studies. They did not also employ hypotheses to
test Indian social reality. They wrote articles and books partly in response
to personal preferences and partly in response to pressures of public life.
Hence, in their academic careers there was no consciously laid out plan.
They wrote on a variety of topical themes such as family system in India,
castes and classes, urban centres and agrarian or rural life. In their works,
there were many references to Indian scriptures, canonical works, epics
and Puranas. Radhakamal Mukerjee translated some important Sanskrit
works into English during the later phase of his career. Ghurye was a
Sanskritist by training before he entered the discipline of sociology. His
work on Vedic India, written in the later years, was an example of his
interest in Sanskrit works. Now, let us examine one by one the biographical
details, central ideas and important works of each of the three thinkers.



Radhakamal Mukerjee was pioneer in the areas such as social ecology,

interdisciplinary research and the social structure of values. We will first
describe the biographical sketch and then discuss his central ideas.

5.3.1 Biographical Sketch

Radhakamal Mukerjee was born in 1889 in a large Bengali Brahmin family,
in a small country town of West Bengal called Berhampur. He spent the
first sixteen years of his life in this town. His father was the leader of the
bar, that is a lawyer and was an accomplished scholar with a great interest
in history.
Mukerjee, while describing his early years, says that his home was full of
books on history. literature, law and Sanskrit (Singh 1956: 3). The general
atmosphere in which he grew up was scholarly. His elder brothers were
always reading books from which he, being a child, was kept at a distance.
His father used to have long meetings with clients throughout the day and
long intellectual and religious discussions during the evening. The interior


Early Sociology

of the house, where the ladies of the house presided, there were rituals,
ceremonies and devotional songs. Mukerjee remembered that his house
used to be full of pet animals, especially a golden-hued cow which yielded
milk throughout the year. He wrote that these early years were marked by
peaceful tenor of life with its play and schooling, piety and devotion
punctuated by the periodic celebration of fasts and feasts, rituals and
sacraments, story telling from the Epics and Puranas and visits of ascetics
and saints and guest of the household (Singh 1956: 3).
Mukerjees early memories, which left an imprint on his mind, consisted
of the picture of sorrow and misery of a large population devastated by
famine in Madras and Orissa during the early years of the twentieth century.
He was deeply moved by the pictures of human skeletons on the verge of
starvation and death published in the newspapers. This was further deepened
by the Bengal famine of 1942-43 which he had witnessed in Calcutta. He
also vividly recalled the childhood experiences of Muharram processions,
Durgapuja festivals, and so on.
It was during the same period of his life that Bengal saw its socio-cultural
and intellectual renaissance. In 1905 every city in Bengal was in a state
of intellectual and political fervent. The partition of Bengal into East and
West Bengal, introduced by Lord Curzon, led to a mass uprising against
this event. Political meetings, street processions and singing parties, boycott
of British goods and propagating swadeshi products introduced him to the
mass movement of time.
Mukerjee had his early education in Berhampur. He went to the Krishnath
College in Berhampur. He got an academic scholarship in the leading
educational institution in India, the Presidency College in Calcutta. He
took his honours course in English and History in this college. Here he
came in contact with such scholars as H.M. Percival, M.Ghosh , brother
of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh and the linguist Harinath De. He admired these
scholars very much. It was here that he read books by Comte, Herbert
Spencer, Lester Ward, Hobhouse and Giddings, besides many others, from
cover to cover. As you must be aware by now many of these scholars are
the leading men of sociology in Europe and America.
During this period of his life, Mukerjee launched himself into the area of
adult education which remained his interest till the end. The country was
going through a political and cultural upheaval during this period which,
according to Mukerjee, completely changed the scale of values. This change
was seen far more outside the Governmental institutions, taking the form
of a literary and artistic renaissance. This renaissance slowly took the form
of a mass movement. It was in order to help the process that Mukerjee
started an Adult Evening School in 1906 in the slums of Mechaubazar of
Calcutta. He wrote simple texts for adult education which sold in
thousands. This school became a Community Centre and even the local
physicians started taking interest in this movement of social education. They
treated without charging any fee the adults and children of the slums (Singh
1956: 5).


Mukerjee valued his early training in the discipline of History very much
but the face-to-face contact with misery, squalor and degradation in the

slums of Calcutta turned the focus of his interests towards the disciplines
of Sociology and Economics. He wrote that there was a definite call in the
country for the tasks and responsibilities of education of the masses, and
that call could be answered by an Indian student best through the knowledge
of the social sciences (Singh 1956: 5). Social sciences during Mukerjees
time in Calcutta University included the disciplines of Economics, Politics
and Sociology at M.A. level.

History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II

It was during this period that Mukerjee came in close association with
Benoy Kumar Sarkar (We have mentioned Benoy Kumar Sarkars
contributions to sociology in the previous unit.) Mukerjee and Sarkar shared
the same flat and B.K. Sarkar was at that time Professor at Bengal National
College, an institution which had given support to such leading thinkers
of Bengal as Tagore and Aurobindo Ghosh.
Mukerjee, like many other Indians of his time, was impressed by the fiery
political speeches of Bipin Chandra Pal, one of the Congress extremists.
But the main interest of Mukerjee was at that time educational rather than
political. He and his friends called themselves Ministers of the Poor and
dressed poorly, giving up western dresses like shirts, coats and shoes (Singh
1956: 6).
In 1910 Mukerjee went back to his old college in Berhampur as a teacher
in Economics. He says that this was the busiest period of his life and it
was during this period that he wrote his early works in Economics, such
as the Foundations of Indian Economics. His interest in social ecology
and the study of regions also originated during this period. The Principal
of his College, Rev. E.M. Wheeler, was deeply interested in the sciences,
especially Botany. Therefore, the teachers, including Mukerjee, spent a lot
of time collecting specimens of plants and insects of all kinds and studying
them. This experience developed Mukerjees interest in ecology and he
became aware of its link with human community.
At this time Mukerjee also became the editor of the renowned Bengali
monthly, Upasana. He wrote for this monthly regularly and kept in touch
with the literary development in Bengali literature. He was a voracious
reader and his interest in literature was very deep.
During 1915 when there were persecutions by the British Government,
Mukerjee was once arrested for a day and all his adult schools were
liquidated. The charges against him were that he was a terrorist or had
sympathy with terrorism under the disguise of adult education. Thanks to
his lawyer brother he was released very soon. He was offered a position
in Lahore College in Punjab and he went there thus, nipping in bud any
interest in politics.
He went back to the University of Calcutta where Asutosh Mookerji had
established in 1917 the Post-Graduate Council of Arts and Science. He
stayed here for five years and taught Economics, Sociology and Political
Philosophy. In 1921 he went to the University of Lucknow as Professor
and Head of the Department of Economics and Scoiology on the very day
when the university started functioning (Singh 1956: 10). He introduced
an integrated approach in Economics, Sociology and Anthropology in both
research and teaching in Lucknow university.


Early Sociology

According to Mukerjee, using comparative methods in the study of social

sciences in India, we must aim at the scientific study of the race and culture
origins. In his intellectual career he was deeply influenced by three social
thinkers. First was Professor Brajendra Nath Seal; second was Professor
Patrick Geddes; and the third one was an old, intimate colleague who died
early, Narendra Nath Sen Gupta. The first two, Prof. Seal and Prof. Geddes
contributed to the establishment and development of sociology as a
discipline in the Indian Universities. Mukerjee always consulted Seal in
all his works. His stress on comparative method in cultural sciences was
due to Seals influence on his work. Patrick Geddes too, influenced
Mukerjees work on study of regions, ecology and population while
Narendra Nath Sen Gupta helped generate Mukerjees interest in Social
Besides these Indian thinkers there were many Western social thinkers with
whom Mukerjee worked and who influenced his writings. Some of these
were sociologists like, Edward Allsworth Ross, Robert Ezra Park of
Chicago, Mckenzie and P. Sorokin. Most of these Americans sociologists
were interested in the study of region, urban disorganisation, human
ecology, social change and so on. The friendship and intellectual interaction
with these sociologists stimulated Mukerjees own efforts in social sciences
to which he gives due credit (Singh 1956: 3-20).
Mukerjee taught economics and sociology in Lucknow University for nearly
thirty years. He also became the Vice-Chancellor and Director of the J.K.
Institute of Sociology and Human Relation of the University. He wrote
erudite volumes on several issues. The basic nature of his writings is the
integration of the social sciences and he has been a path-finder in many
fields. Many of his students and associates reflect this approach in their
writings (Singh 1956: 3-20). He died in the year 1968 but his contributions
have left a deep imprint on the students of sociology.

5.3.2 Central Ideas

In the Indian universities, the compartmentalisation of disciplines has
dominated the scene. Disciplines such as sociology, psychology and
statistics have existed side by side in the same college or university but
there has been very little interaction between them. In his teachings and
writings, Mukerjee emphasised the need for mutual interaction between
social sciences on the one hand and between social sciences and physical
sciences on the other. For example, Indian economics, modeled on British
economics, mostly neglected the traditional caste networks in indigenous
business, handicrafts and banking. Economic development was mainly
viewed as an extension of monetary economics or market phenomenon.
The Western model in economics focused on the urban-industrial centres. Relationship between economic and social behaviour


In a country like India where many economic transactions take place within
the framework of caste or tribe, the market model has a limited relevance.
Mukerjee tried to show the relationship between traditional networks and
economic exchange. The guilds and castes of India were operating in a
non-competitive system. The rules of economic exchange were derived
from the normative Hinduism, in other words, according to the norms of

Hindu religion wherein interdependence between groups was emphasised.

Hence, to understand rural India, the economic values should be analysed
with reference to social norms. Religious and/ or ethical constraints have
always lent a direction to economic exchange. Values enter into the daily
life of people and compel them to act in collectively sanctioned ways. For
example, a hungry upper caste Hindu would not eat beef; likewise, an
orthodox Muslim or Jew would not eat pork, however urgent may be the
need for food. Therefore, it is wrong to always treat economic behaviour
as separate from social life or collectivity.

History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II Social Ecology

Social Ecology was another theme which preoccupied Mukerjee. He wrote
a number of books on the theme. For him social ecology was a complex
formulation in which a number of social sciences interacted. The
geological, geographical and biological factors worked together to produce
an ecological zone. In its turn, ecology is conditioned by social, economic
or political factors. For example, in the past many Indian ecological regions
were opened up for human settlement and agrarian development through
political conquests. As there is a definite link between ecology and society
the development of ecological zones must be seen in terms of a dynamic
process: that is, challenge of the environment and response of the people
who establish a settlement.
Ecological balance is not a mechanical carving out of a territory and settling
people thereon. Such an attempt weakens or destroys social fabric. For
example, in building irrigation dams in India, very often people of the
concerned locations are moved to new settlements. The lack of a proper
perspective on involuntary resettlement and rehabilitation has often caused
damage to social life of these people. In many parts of India, there is a
traditional system of interdependence known as jajmani in the north or by
its equivalents in other regions. If people are moved into other locations
such arrangements abruptly come to an end. Only by planning suitable
alternatives in advance, can this disruption be overcome. For example, the
cooperatives can help people, in the absence of old social patterns of
interdependence. Hence, social perspective is necessary for orderly and
systematic transformation of India into an urban-industrial economy.
In his works on social ecology, Mukerjee took a point of departure from
the Western social scientists. In the USA, the Chicago School of Sociology
gave importance to empirical studies of such social problems as social
disorganisation, urban deterioration, etc. To this school belonged
sociologists like Park and Burgess, Louis Wirth, Giddings and so on. This
school emphasised the study of human ecology. Here, the focus was on
social engineering involving transfer of slum dwellers to new settlements,
improvements in living conditions, better prospects of employment, etc.
But, according to Mukerjee, social ecology was the better alternative to
the havoc caused by rapid industrialisation. India, with its long history,
was a storehouse of values. Therefore, in building a new India the planning
must not be confined to immediate and concrete problems but must be
directed towards value-based developments.

Early Sociology

As part of his interest in social ecology, Mukerjee developed the regional

sociology. He argued for a better understanding of regional dimensions of
national development. If the regions in modern India were developed so
as to make them self-sufficient, then the nation as a whole would stand to
benefit. Otherwise, some regions would dominate the rest resulting in a
lopsided development. As India was a country of diverse regions, each
with a distinctive ethno-history i.e. the history of its various ethnic groups,
it was imperative to coordinate the developments schemes for maintaining
ecological balance. In sum, he stood for a balance between economic
growth and ecological fitness. In achieving this end, many skills, such as
weaving, engraving etc., were inherited by caste groups in India. These
crafts could be well incorporated into the modern cooperatives. In other
words, the modernisation of Indian society should not neglect its traditional
economic networks. Incidentally, in the post-Independent India, the
traditional crafts have been organised into handloom cooperatives, etc. in
Tamil Nadu and other states. Likewise, the Khadi Gramodyog has also
used the traditional skills for modern production. Plea for conservartion of forests
Mukerjee wrote extensively on the danger of deforestation. The cutting of
trees subjects the soil to the fury of floods and reduces the fertility of soil.
The topsoil which is washed away by floods or excess rainfall cannot be
replenished. Therefore, the forest and woods of India were an ecological
asset. His plea for conservation has been taken up at present by a number
of activists, voluntary organisations such as Chipko and Apko, which focus
on halting the destruction of trees. Mukerjee also referred to the danger of
mono-cultivation, that is, raising a single cash crop (such as cotton or
sugarcane) to the detriment of rotation of crops. Such practices as
deforestation and mono-cultivation disturbed the fragile ecosystem and
gave rise to severe environmental problems. Every year some parts of India
especially in the north suffer either from floods or from droughts. Of course,
cyclones of the coastal regions are beyond human control, but the manmade disasters, such as the depletion of natural resources through
deforestation can be slowed down or prevented.
Mukerjee advocated the integration of village, town and nation into a single,
broad-based developmental process. Urban development at the expense of
the village should be kept in check. Agriculture should be diversified and
industries decentralised. A more equitable distribution of wealth and
resources, not only between sections of people but also between regions,
would bring about a more balanced development. An Ameliorative Approach to Urban Social Problems


Mukerjee was also interested in the ameliorative approach to the problems

of working class. The industrialisation in India, which has been taking
place during the last several decades, succeeded in bringing together people
from diverse regions and languages. But the living conditions of workers
in the urban centres such as Mumbai, Kanpur, Kolkata and Chennai were
adversely affected by slum life. In the early days of industrialisation, urban
slums gave rise to vices such as prostitution, gambling and crime. It was,
therefore, necessary to bring about drastic changes in the lives of workers
to improve their economic and moral conditions.

Today, many private industries and the public section units have provided
facilities for the social welfare of a number of workers. Besides, the central
and state governments have promulgated legislative acts which are binding
on the employers. However, unorganised workers (i.e. who are
underemployed, or temporarily employed) continue to live in slums. The
rampant problems in the Indian slums at present are consumption of illicit
liquor and drugs, crimes, and worsening housing conditions and civic
facilities. Therefore, Mukerjees analysis of the working class is relevant
even for the present industrial organisation in India.

History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II Theory of Values

As noted previously, Radhakamal Mukerjee had a sustained interest in the
impact of values on human society. In the middle of the twentieth century,
the notion of a value- free social science became dominant in academic
circles both in the West and in India. Mukerjee held that a separation
between fact and value was arbitrary. The facts and values could not
be separated from each other in human interactions. Even a simple
transaction like taking food, wearing dress or greeting others was a valuebased or normatively conditioned behaviour. Each society has a distinctive
culture and its values and norms guide the behaviour. Therefore, the
positivistic tradition of the West which (on the analogy of sciences) wanted
to separate facts from values, was not tenable to R.K. Mukerjee, especially
in the study of a society like India. In the West, there was a compelling
need to free scientific enquiry from the hold of church theology. Hence, it
was perhaps necessary to hold that facts and values were separate.
Activity I
Note down at least five types of social behaviour that you perform in
your daily life and state the values related with them. Some examples
of social behaviour are wearing a sacred thread, going to the mosque,
temple or church, touching the feet of elders, and so on.
Do you agree or disagree with Radhakamal Mukerjees opinion that
we cannot separate facts of social behaviour from the values which are
associated with them? Write a note of one page about this and compare
your note, if possible with those of other students at your Study Centres.
Mukerjee underlined two basic points in relation to values. Firstly, values
are not limited only to religion or ethics. Economics, politics and law also
give rise to values. In other words, human needs are transformed into social
values and are internalised in the minds of members of society. Older
civilisations such as India and China were stable. Hence, values were
formed and organised into a hierarchy of higher and lower levels. Secondly,
values are not a product of subjective or individualistic aspirations. They
are objectively grounded in humankinds social aspirations and desires. In
other words, values are both general and objective i.e., measurable by
empirical methods. In general, the great civilisations of the world have
subordinated instrumental or materialistic goals to intrinsic or spiritual goals.
To sum up, there are three salient points in Mukerjees theory of values.
Firstly, values satisfy the basic impulses of men and women in an orderly


Early Sociology

fashion. This means that the selfish desires and interests are modified by
collective living, wherein people give and take from each other. Secondly,
values are generic in scope and include both individual and social responses
and attitudes. This means that the values are shared by all through their
symbolisation. The national flag, for example, is a common symbol for all
individuals and groups who constitute a nation. Thirdly, in spite of
diversities of human society, some universal values are discernible. The
major religions of humankind are repositories of these universal values
and norms. A dynamic approach to society will aim at an adaptation of
inherited values to the needs of contemporary times. Indian culture and civilisation
Mukerjee also wrote extensively on Indian art and architecture, history
and culture. Mukerjee (1964) believed that Asiatic art aimed at collective
developments and wrote, Art in Asia became the torch-bearer of social
and spiritual upheavals for millions ..Oriental art is most intensely charged
with community feeling and is thus chiefly responsible for the historical
continuity of Oriental Cultures. In contrast, such artistic endeavour in the
West had been dominated either by individualism or the feeling that art
was an end in itself. This was just not conducive to either social solidarity
or spiritual development.
Indian art was embedded in social or ethical sphere. R.K. Mukerjee wrote
The myriad temples, stupas and viharas of India bear witness to the link
between art and ethics, religious and social values. Art in India is an
enduring component of peoples interaction with each other which shows
in concrete forms the active relationship between peoples aspirations and
their artistic creativity.
Indian art was constantly associated with religion. In his historical study
of India Mukerjee was impressed by the non-aggressive nature of Indian
religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The remarkable quality
of Indian religions was their insistence on ultimate truth rather than on a
particular set of beliefs or rituals. The Indian influences spread to many
countries not through war or conquest but through friendship and goodwill.
Right from the time of Ashoka, the peaceful colonisation of Sri Lanka,
Cambodia. Tibet, and other countries of Outer India took place. Indian art
and religion enriched the local cultures and by doing so gave rise to a new
culture. For example, even today, different styles of Ramayana, the Hindu
religious epic, are performed in these countries and several others like
Indonesia, Sumatra, Trinidad. Thus, there was the harmony between foreign
and indigenous elements. In India itself, the Hindu legal texts such as
Dharmasastra are flexible codes to accommodate the ethnic diversities of
India. Correctly interpreted, these texts provide a framework of values and
norms for the orderly living of diverse groups. Thus, art and religion in
India have been tolerant of diverse forms and styles. Mukerjees concept of universal civilisation


Mukerjees general theory of society sought to explain the values of a

universal civilisation. He used the term civilisation in an inclusive sense;
culture was part of it. He proposed that human civilisation should be studied
on three inter-related levels. These are:


Biological evolution

History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II

The biological evolution of human beings has facilitated the rise and
development of civilisation. They have the capacity to change the
environment as an active agent. The animals can only adapt to an
environment; but human beings can mould it in different ways. The
human beings, as a biological species, are capable of overcoming
competition and conflict and attain cooperation (symbiosis).

Psycho-social dimension
There is a psycho-social dimension. In social psychology the people
are often depicted within the framework of race, ethnicity or
nationhood. Human beings are seen as prisoners of little selves or
egos, whose attitude is parochial or ethnocentric. On the contrary,
human beings have the potentiality to overcome the narrow feelings
and attain universalisation that is, to identify oneself with the larger
collectivity such as ones nation or even as a member of the universe
itself. In the process, common values help to subordinate the
particularistic values to universal values. According to Mukerjee,
ethical relativism which means that values vary from society to
society) is not helpful in the present times; there is need for ethical
universalism which affirms the unity of the humankind. In the new
perspective, men and women become free moral agents who are
capable of recognising the common strands binding the humanity. They
are no longer dictated by divisiveness or relativity.

iii) Spiritual dimension

In Mukerjees views, the civilisation has a spiritual dimension. Human
beings are gradually scaling transcendental heights. That is, they are
moving up to the ladder of spirituality by overcoming the constraints
of biogenic and existential levels i.e. the physical and material
limitations. In this endeavour, art, myth and religion provide the
impulsion or the force to move upward. As the social sciences have
hitherto ignored these cultural elements, they are incapable of providing
a spiritual perspective. Incidentally, a similar observation was made
by Karl Mannheim, a German sociologist, who wrote on sociology of
culture. Mannheim noted that the Western social sciences had neglected
cultural dimensions (arts, myths, symbols, etc.) under the rigid code
of positivism or structural functionalism. This resulted in a lopsided
view of social reality. According to Mukerjee, humankinds search for
unity, wholeness and transcendence highlight the spirituality of
civilisation. In this respect, he commended the Indian and Chinese
civilisations which had endured as stable entitles since sixth century
B.C. Their strength is derived from their universal myths and values
which foster spiritual quest.
Mukerjee noted with satisfaction that the search for university was
embodied in the Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations
Organisation (U.N.O.) in the twentieth century. These rights upheld liberty
and dignity of people, in whichever country they might be living.
Mukerjees emphasis on spirituality was not an escapist dream. He stated
that human progress (in the ultimate sense) was possible only if glaring


Early Sociology

disparities of wealth and power between countries were reduced. So long

as poverty persisted or political oppression continued, further integral
evolution of mankind was not a practical proposition. The persisting human
awareness of misery in the world had stimulated the search for universal
values and norms.

5.3.3 Important Works

Some of Radhakamal Mukerjees important works in sociology are

The Regional Balance of Man (1938)


Indian Working Class (1940)

iii) The Social Structure of Values (1955)

iv) Philosophy of Social Sciences (1960)

Flowering of Indian Art (1964)

Check Your Progress 1



Fill in the blanks in the following sentences:


Radhakamal Mukerjee was a pioneer in the areas such as social

.. interdisciplinary research and the social structure
of values.


He was against the . of social sciences.


In his writings he combined . sociology and history.

Describe in about two lines what is meant by an ecological zone.


iii) What is the regional sociology, according to Radhakamal Mukerjee?

Describe in about ten lines.

iv) Discuss in about five lines Radhakamal Mukerjees opinion about

facts and values.

History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II




D.P. Mukerji (1894-1962) was a Marxist who analysed Indian history in

terms of a dialectical process. Tradition and modernity, colonialism and
nationalism, individualism and collectivism could be seen as dialectically
interacting with each other. In the next sub-section (5.4.0) we will give
you a biographical sketch of D.P. Mukerji. This will help you to understand
his central ideas in their proper perspective.

5.4.1 Biographical Sketch

Dhurjati Prasad Mukerji was popularly known as D.P.. He was born in
1894 in a middle class Brahmin family of Bengal. It was during this period
that the literary influence of Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra and
Sarat Chandra Chatterjee was at its peak. There was renaissance of Bengali
literature at this time.
D.P. Mukerji did his graduation from Bangbasi College, Bengal. First he
was a student of history which included economics at that time, then he
took a degree in economics. He was a man of letters in Bengali and wrote
some fiction also but he did not pursue this line for long. He did not confine
to the boundaries of a particular discipline. It was perhaps for this reason
that he became a sociologist, as Sociology is the most comprehensive social
science. He attained not only national but international fame as a sociologist.
In 1922 he joined the Lucknow University as a lecturer in Economics and
Sociology. He was in his own words a Marxologist. His roots in middle
class Brahmin family led him instinctively to blend Marxism with Indian
tradition. D.P. Mukerji always thought that ideas of Karl Marx were relevant
in India when adapted to conditions of Indian history and tradition. He,
therefore, always emphasised the study of social processes and social
He was born in the golden age of criticism and reflected this age in true
senses in his own work. To every subject he brought critical criteria from
as many fields as possible. He had the faculty of looking at every problem
from a new angle. He was an art critic, music critic, a drama critic and a
critic of life. In him we find a blend of Anglo-Bengalee culture.
D.P. Mukerji was a man of aesthetic sensibilities. He was interested in
style, even in the style of his dress. He was a slim man who disliked gaining
even an extra pound of weight. In thinking also he hated padding or writing


Early Sociology

anything superfluous or irrelevant. His style of writing was sharp, spare

and incisive. He was a sophisticated man who rarely revealed his emotions.
For him, emotions should not be exhibited but should be fused with the
intellectual process.
He loved to be a teacher and was very popular amongst his students. He
encouraged dialogue and interchange of ideas with his students. Thus, he
was co-student, a co-enquirer who never stopped learning. He was such
an influence on his students that he lived in the minds of his students even
after his death.
For sometimes D.P. Mukerji became the Director of Information when the
Congress assumed office in U.P. His influence brought the spirit of an
intellectual approach to public relations. He was also part of the foundation
of the Bureau of Economics and Statistics. He returned in 1939 to the
Lucknow University when Congress relinquished office on the war issue
at the beginning of the Second World War. In 1947 he was appointed as a
member of U.P. Labour Inquiry Committee. It was in 1951 that he was
made a professor. This was a late recognition but D.P. never felt bitter
about it.
A year before his retirement at Lucknow, in 1953, he was invited to head
the Department of Economics at Aligarh. He stayed there for five years.
He went to the Hagure as a visiting professor of sociology at the
International Institute of Social Studies. He was a founder member of the
Indian Sociological Association and one of the members of its Managing
Committee and its Editorial Board. He also represented the association at
the International Sociological Association of which he became the Vice
He wrote several books and articles in diverse fields. After Independence
he watched political movements with great interest but was not a politician
in any sense. He was influenced by two national leaders, Rafi Ahmad
Kidwai and Jawaharlal Nehru. He used to correspond with Nehru. As an
intellectual he did not have a cloistered mind. He brought refinement to
his subject. He was influenced by many but till the end he remained a
scholar who influenced many others. He died of throat cancer in 1962.
But as stated earlier, he survives through his students.

5.4.2 Central Ideas

Marxism, according to D.P. Mukerji, helped one to understand the historical
developments well but it could not offer a satisfactory solution to human
problems. That solution was to be found in the regeneration and
reinterpretation of Indias national culture. He was opposed to the positivism
of modern social sciences which reduced individuals into biological or
psychological units. The industrial culture of the West had turned individuals
into self-seeking agents; the society in the West had become ethnocentric.
By emphasising individuation (i.e., recognition of the roles and rights of
the individual) positivism had uprooted the social anchors of humanity. Role of tradition in Indian society

Mukerji held that tradition was the mainspring of culture. The individuals
drew their nourishment from the tradition. They did not lose a sense of

purposes or direction. But tradition often became a deadweight, as in India.

Also, people made fetish of it, that is, they idealised it and worshipped it.
Cultural stagnation was bound to result on account of the peoples uncritical
attitude towards it. Therefore, individuation must also be encouraged. The
individuals can recreate culture by infusing it with new vigour. The
individual is to be neither totally free nor unfree. For the evolution of a
healthy personality, there must be a balance between individuation and
sociation. Sociation is the bond of the individual with society. Individuals
freedom must not be anarchy but a creative expression of the tradition.

History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II Integrated development of personality

Mukerji did not commend to Indians the positivistic construction of
personality. The Western personality made a fetish of achievement. Science
and technology had been harnessed to great improvements in the living
conditions of masses. The capacity of human beings to control nature and
use it to their advantage were the notable achievements of the modern age.
However, the Western approach could not lead to an integrated
development. For an integrated development of personality there was need
for a balance between technological development and human freedom. Even
a socialist society such as Soviet Russia had failed to evolve a balanced
personality. There, the individuals had been dominated by the state or the
political party.
D.P. Mukerjis dialecticism was rooted in humanism which cut across
narrow ethnic or national consideration. In the West, the individuals had
become either aggressive or docile. The Western progress was devoid of
humanism. The Renaissance and Industrial Revolution had freed individuals
from the grip of stagnant medieval tradition but at the same time reduced
the humanist content of progress. The modern nationalism is essentially
nurtured in the positivistic aspects of the West. It could not be an appropriate
model for India. Besides, Indias middle classes were a product of Western
impact on India. They were uprooted from their own indigenous tradition.
They had lost contact with the masses. India could become a modern nation
if the middle classes reestablished their links with the masses. Only then a
genuine development was possible. For D.P. Mukerji growth was a mere
quantitative achievement, development was a qualitative term denoting
value-based progress. D.P. Mukerjis views on Unity in Diversity
D.P. Mukerji was involved in depicting Hindu-Muslim relations. His search
for truth led him to discover humanistic and spiritual unity in the diversities
of Indian culture. He was examining many of the areas within the broad
framework of Hindu-Muslim interaction. There were three areas of
interaction which were worthy of note. i) Politically, the Islamic kings ruled
over the Hindu subjects from eleventh to seventeenth centuries A.D. in
North India. At the same time, there were established alliances between
Muslim rulers and Hindu rajas. Hence, there was a sense of partnership
between Muslim rulers and Hindu subjects; this was more evident during
the Mughal rule. ii) In economic relations, during the Islamic rule while
the jagirdars (military chiefs) were Muslims, most of the zamindars were
Hindus. These two groups shared many interests in common. Thus, together


Early Sociology

these two classes formed an alliance. iii) Culturally, in literature, music,

costumes, cultivation of fine arts, etc., there were reciprocal influences.
Both Sufism and Bhaktism in the north encouraged mutual interactions.
However, the Muslims and Hindus differed in their world view.
Mukerji noted that the Hindu mind thought in terms of cycles: the good
and the bad succeeded each other. The Hindus had a fatalistic view. Further,
the Hindu world view was the product of a distinctive territory, a
subcontinent. Islam by contrast was a multi-ethnic, multi-national religion.
Hindu approach to nationhood was idealistic, Islamic approach was
pragmatic. For the Hindu freedom was a birth right; for the Muslim it
was an opportunity. The Muslim view was non-cyclic and non-fatalistic.
Hence the Muslim view favoured direct action to make the best use of a
political crisis or opportunity. D.P. Mukerji as an economist
D.P. Mukerji was by training an economist. His approach to economics
was, however, distinct from that of other economists. He viewed the
economic development in India in terms of historical and cultural
specificities. The economic forces in India were influenced by social values.
During ancient times, the king and the members of royal court did not
own the lands. The powers conferred on the king were limited to fiscal
obligations; that is to say, the tillers of land had to give a portion of their
produce to the treasury as tax or revenue in return for the royal protection.
The ownership of the land was mainly vested in the village councils. During
the heyday of Buddhism, the Sangha (monastic organisation) often managed
extensive lands, which were granted to them by kings. Although the
individual monks (Bhikshus) could not possess or own property, the Sangha
owned properties. One-sixth of the agricultural produce called as tax by
the Sangha was utilised for the cultivation of learning and pursuit of ethical
and spiritual goals.
Just as village lands were controlled by kin and caste groups, which were
internally autonomous, even trade and banking in India were managed by
kinship and caste networks in pre-modern times. The guilds which carried
on regional trade were usually based on castes. Commercial banking was
also controlled by castes. There were important money-lending Hindu
families on the West coast whose influence was widespread especially
during Mughal rule. Mukerji did not treat the merchants as mere parasites;
on the contrary, he regarded them as those who established trade networks
between urban centres and rural hinterland. But during the colonial rule
they began exploiting as they shed their earlier cultural constraints. The
Indian merchant princes often travelled to foreign countries to display their
wares; thereby they linked India to the outside world not only through
trade but through the spread of culture.


The British rule in India brought about widespread changes in Indian

economy. The urban-industrial economy introduced by the British set aside
not only the older institutional networks but also the traditional classes.
This called for a new social adaptation. In the new set-up the educated
middle classes of Indias urban centres became the focal point of society.
However, these middle classes were dominated by Western life styles and

thinking. The future of India would be secure if the middle classes reached
out to the masses and established an active partnership with them in nationbuilding.

History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II

5.4.3 Important Works

Some of the important sociological works of D.P. Mukerji are:

Basic Concepts in Sociology (1932)


Personality and the Social Sciences (1924)

iii) Modern Indian Culture (1942)

iv) Problems of Indian Youths (1946)

Diversities (1958)

Out of these books, Modern Indian Culture (1942) and Diversities (1958)
are his best known works. His versatility can be seen from his other
contributions too, such as, his books,

Tagore: A Study (1943)


On Indian History (1943)

iii) Introduction to Indian Music (1943)

Check Your Progress 2

Describe D.P. Mukerjis sociology in about six lines.



Give the names of the two of D.P. Mukerjis major works in sociology.



G.S. Ghurye, as you know, taught in the Department of Sociology, Bombay

University. He was an ethnographer who studied tribes and castes of India
using historical, Indological and statistical data. Let us first learn the
biographical details about him. Then we will examine his central ideas
and important works in sociology.


Early Sociology

5.5.1 Biographical Sketch

In this sub-section we have described the biography of G.S. Ghurye based
on his own book (1973) I and Other Explorations. Govind Sadashiv
Ghurye was born on 12th Dec. 1893 in a small town called Malvan on the
west coast of India. Malvan is some two-hundred miles away from Mumbai.
He belonged to a fairly prosperous Brahmin family, which owned shops
and other property. He was named after his grandfather who died the same
year when he was born. His family was very religious and well known in
that region for piety.
Due to loss in business and the death of his grandfather G.S. Ghuryes
father had to take up a job. His job proved to be very lucky for the family.
Ghurye was one of four children of his parents. He had an elder brother
whom he admired very much, another brother and a sister.
He joined school in Malvan. In 1905 his thread ceremony was
performed. At this time he had completed his fifth standard examination
and joined an English school. His mother tongue was Marathi and his
early schooling was also in Marathi. But knowledge of Sanskrit was there
in the family. His grandfather knew Sanskrit. He too, started learning
Sanskrit. The religious atmosphere of the family and its reputation for piety
and learning had a deep influence on G.S. Ghurye. He grew up learning
English and received modern education but his roots in Hindu culture and
tradition were very deep.
He was sent by his mother to complete his matriculation from Junagad in
Gujarat. Here his eldest brother was already studying. He became a student
of the Bahauddin College in 1912. Here he became very proficient in
Sanskrit. He joined Bombay university which used to have an entrance
exam then. He cleared this examination with twenty other boys. There
were no girls at that time but later a Christian girl joined their class. He
had obtained first position in his college. In the university he secured fourth
position. His brother was teaching physics at the university when Sadashiva
joined it. G.S. Ghurye was a very hard working student and in spite of the
short phases of illness he managed to do very well in his studies.
In 1916 when G.S. Ghurye had completed his B.A. examination and stood
first in it, he was married to a girl of a fairly rich family of Vengurla
(Maharashtra), of his own sub-caste. His parents named his wife Rukmini
after the marriage as per the practice amongst the Maharashtrians. But
Ghurye reverted back to calling her Sajubai, which was her original name
when they established their own household in 1923. He was against the
practice of changing the personal name of a girl after marriage. He was
also against the traditional practice of tattooing the skin because he
considered it barbaric. For his B.A. result he received the Bhau Daji Prize,
named after the great Indologist Bhau Daji Lad who was one of the first
physicians of Mumbai, trained in the western system of medium. G.S.
Ghurye had secured seventy four per cent marks in Sanskrit in his college.


Sadashiv was appointed a Fellow of the college and completed his M.A.
degree. The languages he chose in his M.A. course were English, Sanskrit
and later he took Pali. He also did a course which was newly introduced
in the university on comparative philology. He got first class in M.A. also.

He was awarded the Chancellors Gold Medal, a top most honour in the
whole university. His success was unique in the history of the university
because nobody before him had ever got first class in M.A. with Sanskrit.

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of SociologyofIndia-II

He later applied for a scholarship to go abroad for studies in sociology,

which the Bombay university had advertised earlier. He was asked to meet
Prof. Patrick Geddes of sociology in Bombay university. During his
interactions with Prof. Geddes he wrote an essay on Bombay as an Urban
Centre which was highly appreciated by Geddes. This enabled Ghurye
to get the foreign study scholarship.
Ghurye went to England by ship. He became a student of L.T. Hobhouse.
Besides many other people, he met Dr. A.C. Haddon who was the world
famous ethnologist studying preliterate cultures. It was Haddon who
introduced Ghurey to Dr. W.H.R. Rivers whose influence on Ghurey was
considerable. Rivers was at the pinnacle of his intellectual glory and was
founder of the Cambridge School of Psychology. Rivers later came to India
and studied a polyandrous tribe called the Todas of the Nilgiri Hills.
Ghurye wrote several articles in sociology at this time and got them
published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and in the
journal, Anthropos. He wrote his most important work, Caste and Race in
India, during the 1930s. He was awarded the degree of Ph.D. from
Cambridge university. He came back to India after W.H.R. Rivers death.
He worked in Calcutta for 7 months on a scholarship which he received
from Bombay University. Then he and K.P. Chattopadhya of Calcutta
University got appointments as Readers in Sociology at Bombay university,
in 1924. He got this appointment due to the great respect and recognition
given to him by the late Dr. W.H.R. Rivers. G.S. Ghurye joined the Bombay
Asiatic Society as a member in the same year. He guided several students
under him. Some of his students are now famous sociologists. They made
significant contributions to the growth of sociology and social anthropology
in India.
G.S. Ghurye was made a Professor of Sociology in 1934, ten years after
he joined the Bombay university as a Reader and the Head of the
Department of Sociology. He was elected the President of the
anthropological section of the Indian Science Congress in 1934. In the
same year he was elected as the nominee of the Royal Asiatic Society by
the Managing Committee of its Bombay branch. In 1942 he became the
President of the Bombay Anthropological Society and continued to hold
this position till 1948. He wrote several books and articles and his
knowledge of Sanskrit enabled him to study the religious scriptures in the
context of Indian society. He studied castes and tribes, rural-urbanisation,
about the Indian Sadhus, about Indian costumes and so on. During his life
time he won several top honours accorded to any intellectual in India. He
became not only a nationally but internationally known sociologist of India.
He died in the year 1984.

5.5.2 Central Ideas

G.S. Ghuryes contributions to Indian sociology were mainly in the areas
of ethnography of castes and tribes, rural-urbanisation, religious phenomena,


Early Sociology

social tensions and Indian art. Let discuss his ideas in the following subsub-section. Caste and Kinship in India
In the early 1930s, G.S. Ghurye published a book, Caste and Race in
India which still is an important source book on Indian castes. In this work,
he examined the caste system from historical, comparative and integrative
perspectives. Later, he made a comparative study of kinship in IndoEuropean cultures. In his studies of kinship and caste, Ghurye emphasised
two points: (a) the kin and caste networks of India had parallels in some
other countries also; and (b) the kinship and caste in India served as
integrative framework. The evolution of Indian society was based on the
integration of diverse racial or ethnic groups through these networks.
The gotra and charana were kin-categories of Indo-European languages
which systematised the rank and status of the people. These categories
were derived from names of the sages of the past. These sages were the
real or eponymous founders of the gotra and charana. In India descent has
not always been traced to the blood tie; the lineages were often based on
spiritual descent from sages of the past. Outside the kinship we might notice
the guru-shishya relationship, which is also based on spiritual descent; the
disciple is proud to trace his descent from a master. Likewise, caste and
sub-caste integrated people into a ranked order based on norms of puritypollution. The rules of endogamy and commensality which marked off
castes from each other, were in fact integrative instruments to organise
them into a totality or collectivity. The Hindu religion provided the
conceptual and ritualistic guidelines for this integration. The Brahmins in
India played a key role in legitimising the caste ranks and orders through
their interpretation of Dharmashastras, which were the compendia of sacred
codes. New Roles of Caste in India


Ghuryes work on caste contained some interesting speculations, which

have been proved to be correct. Firstly, he noted that the Indian castes had
fostered voluntary association for furtherance of education and reformist
aims. The Nadars, Reddys and Kammas of South India, Saraswat Brahmins
of Maharashtra and Vaisyas, and Kayasthas of North India, to mention
only a few, founded caste associations. Ghurye presumed that in the future
they would give rise to a political consciousness based on caste ties. In the
post-Independent India, the caste associations have been quite vocal about
getting political concessions to their members. In the later decades of
twentieth century, Rajni Kothari, a political analyst, extensively analysed
the caste associations. Unlike Ghurye, Kothari recognised the positive roles
of these caste associations such as taking up welfare activities, etc.
According to Ghurye, they have served to mainly articulate the peoples
political aspirations in a democratic framework. Secondly, Ghurye referred
to the various agitations of the backward classes for better privileges. These
struggles seemed to be undermining the integrity of the Indian society.
Thus, the caste system was becoming pluralist in the sense that each
caste was in competition or conflict with the other for bigger share of the
nations wealth. Hence, according to Ghurye this scramble for privileges
was damaging the unity of society. Study of tribes in India

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Ghuryes works on the tribes were general as well as specific. He wrote a

general work on scheduled tribes in which he dwelt with the historical,
administrative and social dimensions of Indian tribes. He also wrote on
specific tribes such as the Kolis of Maharashtra. Ghurye was of the view
that the Indian tribes were like backward Hindus. Their backwardness
was due to their imperfect integration into Hindu society. The Santhals,
Bhils, Gonds, etc. who live in South-Central India are examples of it.
Ghurye (1963) wrote, While sections of these tribes are properly integrated
in the Hindu society, very large sections, in fact the bulk of them are rather
loosely integrated.. Under the circumstances, the only proper
description of these peoples is that they are the imperfectly integrated classes
of Hindu society.
For Ghurye, the incorporation of Hindu values and norms into tribal life
was a positive development. With increasing contact with the Hindu social
groups the tribes had slowly absorbed certain Hindu values and style of
life and came to be considered part of the Hindu caste society. The tribes
gave up liquor-drinking, received education and improved their agriculture
under Hindu influence. In this respect, Hindu voluntary organisations such
as Ramakrishna Mission and Arya Samaj played a constructive role. In his
later works on north-eastern tribes, Ghurye documented secessionist trends.
He felt that unless these were held in check, the political unity of the
country would be damaged.
5..5.2.4 Rural-urbanisation in India
Ghurye was interested in the process of rural-urbanisation. He held the
view that the urbanisation in India was not a simple function of industrial
growth. In India, the process of urbanisation, at least till 1980s, started
from within the rural area itself. Ghurye quoted Sanskrit texts and
documents to illustrate the growth of urban centres from the need for
markets felt in rural hinterland. In other words, owing to the expansion of
agriculture, more and more markets were needed to exchange the surplus
in food grains. Hence, in many rural regions, one part of a big village was
converted into a market; in turn, this led to a township which developed
administrative, judicial and other institutions. We may add here that urban
centres were also based on feudal patronage. In the past, demand of royal
courts for silk cloth, weapons, jewellery, metal artifacts led to the growth
of urban centres such as Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Jaipur, Moradabad etc.
In sum, Ghuryes approach to rural-urbanisation showed the indigenous
source of urbanism. The growth of metropolitan centres during colonial
times altered the Indian urban life. The towns and cities were no longer
the outlets for agricultural produce and handicrafts; but they became the
major manufacturing centres, which used rural hinterland for producing
raw-materials and turned it into a market for selling industrial products.
Thus, metropolis came to dominate the village economy. In contrast to
previous pattern, now the urbanisation has started making inroads into the
rural hinterland.
Ghurye made the study of a village in Pune district of Maharashtra to
highlight the continuity of the social structure. This village named Lonikand


Early Sociology

had been studied by a British officer in 1819. He described its general

layout, economic infrastructure, caste composition, market transactions and
political and religious dispositions. The re-survey of the village made by
Ghurye in 1957 did not reveal any far-reaching differences in the
demographic, economic and social dimensions of the village. Besides, he
found that the layout of the village corresponded to the pattern laid down
in a text of antiquity. He also noted that the village did not have a very
well-knit social structure; there were loose strands in its social fabric. In
spite of it the village had survived as a viable unit.


Activity 2
Read carefully the paragraphs in sub-section 5.5.2 on central ideas of
G.S. Ghurye on rural-urbanisation in India. Discuss with two elders
about the kind of changes they have seen taking place in their city,
town or village after the colonial period. Ask them about the changes
in the layout of the village, that is, how it has been planned, where the
market is situated, where the residential areas are situated and so on.
Write a note of about a page on the Rural-Urban growth in My City
or Town or Village. Compare your note, if possible, with notes of
other students at your Study Centre. Religious Beliefs and Practices in India


Ghurye made original contributions to the study of Indian religious beliefs

and practices. He wrote three books on this in the period between 1950
and 1965. He argued that the religious consciousness in ancient India, Egypt
and Babylonia was centered around the temples. There were also
similarities between Indian and Egyptian patterns of worship and temple
architecture. In his work on the role of Gods in Indian religion, Ghurye
traced the rise of major deities such as Shiva, Vishnu and Durga to the
need to integrate local or sub-regional beliefs into a macro-level system of
worship. The diverse ethnic groups in India were integrated into a religious
complex around these deities. Political or public patronage was often the
basis for the spread of popular cults in India. The Ganesha festival in

Maharashtra and Durga festival in Bengal gained popularity due to the

efforts of nationalists such as B.G. Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal who were
using religious idiom for the propagations of political ideas during the
freedom struggle. Even in the beginning of the twenty first century, these
festivals have retained some political overtones.

History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II Role of the Sadhu in Indian tradition

In his work, Indian Sadhus, Ghurye (1953) examined the paradoxical nature
of renunciation in India. In Indian culture, the Sadhu or Sannyasin is
supposed to be detached from all caste norms, social conventions, etc. In
fact, he is outside the pale of society. It is the usual practice among
Shaivites to conduct a mock funeral of one who is entering the path of
renunciation. It means that he is dead to society but is reborn in spiritual
terms. Yet, interestingly enough since the time of Shankara, the eigth
century reformer, Hindu society has been more or less guided by the Sadhus.
These Sadhus are not individual hermits. Most of them are organised into
monastic orders which have distinctive traditions. The monastic organisation
in India was a product of Buddhism and Jainism. Shankara introduced it
into Hinduism.
Indian renouncers have acted as the arbiters of religious disputes, patronised
learning of scriptures and even defended religion against external attacks.
So, renunciation has been a constructive force in Hindu society. Ghurye
considered in detail the different groups of Sadhus. Important among them
were the Shaivite Dashnamis (literal meaning: ten orders) and Vaishnavite
Bairagis. Both these groups had the Naga (militant naked ascetics)
contingents which were ready to fight off those who threatened the Hindu
religion. Incidentally, Bankim Chandra Chatterjees Bengali novel, Anand
Math recounts the story of a group of Shaivite monks who put up an armed
struggle against the British forces in the nineteenth century. They were no
doubt defeated by the British but they thereby revealed their staunch
commitment to Hinduism. These Sadhus who assembled on a large scale
at Kumbh Mela were the very microcosm of India; they came from diverse
regions, spoke different languages but belonged to common religious orders.
Asceticism, according to Ghurye, was not a relic of the past but a vital
aspect of the current practices of Hinduism. The well-known ascetics of
the recent times, Vivekanand, Dayanand Saraswati and Sri Aurobindo
worked for the betterment of Hinduism. Indian art and architecture
Ghurye was also keenly interested in Indian art. According to him, the
Hindu, Jain and Buddhist artistic monuments shared common elements.
By contrast, Hindu and Muslim monuments were grounded in diverse value
systems. The Indian temples were indigenous in inspiration. The Veda,
epics and Purana provided them with popular themes. But Muslim art was
Persian or Arabic and had no roots in this soil. He did not agree with the
view that the Muslim monuments in India represented a synthesis. The
Hindu elements remained decorative in Muslim buildings. By contrast, the
Rajput architecture retained its commitment to Hindu ideals, in spite of
political control of Rajasthan by Muslim rulers. Ghurye traced the costumes
in India from the ancient to the present time. He drew upon Hindu, Buddhist


Early Sociology

and Jain artistic works (architecture and sculpture) to illustrate the variations
in costume over the ages.
Radhakamal Mukerjee, as noted earlier, wrote on Indian art. There was,
however, a difference in his approach to art. Mukerjee viewed it as a vehicle
of values, norms and ideals of a civilisation which had thrived through
centuries. Ghurye, by contrast, was looking at art as a specifically Hindu
configuration. Ghurye wrote that Rajput architecture was the assertion of
Hindu faith in its own destiny. Mukerjee looked at the same phenomenon
of artistic activity somewhat differently. He held that the Rajputs were
fervently engaged in building monuments which they believed would outlast
them as their artistic heritage. Thus, in spite of their continuous battles
with Muslim overlords, they used their resources to patronise art. Hindu-Muslim relationships
Ghuryes works often discussed Hindu-Muslim relationships. He regarded
Hindus and Muslims as separate groups, with little possibility of mutual
give and take.
The pro-Hindu stance of Ghurye was based on the conflicts engendered
by nearly seven centuries of Islamic rule in India. The forced conversions,
destruction of places of worship, etc. no doubt damaged the Hindu psyche.
Looking critically at Ghuryes views, it is necessary to add here that the
predatory acts of Muslim rulers find no sanction in Koran. Islam does not
advocate violence. What happened was that political expediency rather
than commitment to faith made the Muslim rulers use force against their
subjects. Besides, Hindu-Muslim interactions have been culturally
productive and socially beneficial. Sufism stimulated Bhakti movement in
India; the growth of Urdu literature, Hindustani classical music and shared
patterns of life style showed that Islamic rule had a positive side. Communal
tensions were in fact mainly a product of colonial rule. It was a political
strategy of the British to divide the Indian society, especially the Hindus
and the Muslims, after the 1857 Mutiny so that they could not fight them
as a united force. Communalism also received a fillip by the expansion of
urbanism due to conflict of interest. Mostly, the communal riots have almost
always taken place in Indias urban centres due to political and economic
reasons under the garb of religion. Ghuryes works have focused on the
disturbances during his life-time. In reality, in pre-British times there was
good cooperation between the two communities.

5.5.3 Important Works

Some of the important works of Ghurye in sociology are

Indian Sadhus (1953)


Family and Kin in Indo-European Culture (1961)

iii) Gods and Men (1962)

iv) Anatomy of a Rururban Community (1962)

Scheduled Tribes (1963)

vi) Caste and Race in India (1969, Fifth Edition)

Some of his other works which show us the range of his interests are

Bharatnatyam and its Costume (1958)


Cities and civilisation (1962)

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iii) Indian costume (1962, 2nd Edn.)

Check Your Progress 3

Name the British anthropologist who influenced G.S. Ghurye very

much. Use about one line.


What was the approach of Ghurye in studying caste in Indian society?

Describe using about two lines.

iii) Give in about three lines the opinion of Ghurye regarding tribes in
iv) Describe Ghuryes approach to the study of urban growth in India.
Use about six lines.



In this unit you have learnt about the three pioneers of Indian Sociology,
namely Radhakamal Mukerjee (1889-1968). Dhurjati Prasad Mukerji (18941962), and Govind Sadashiv Ghurye (1893-1984).
You learnt about the biographical details of the three thinkers. We have
described some of their major ideas in the field of sociology. All three
thinkers have dealt with the study of society in their own ways. These
thinkers have also studied Indian cultural tradition, art and civilisation.
Finally, we have listed some of the important works of the three thinkers.


Early Sociology




A measure which leads to the welfare or

betterment of a social group


The laws, rules or general principles of a



To divide anything into separate sections. In the

unit, it refers to the limits put to the boundary
of a social science like history, economics,
political science or sociology.


The study of plants, animals people or

institutions related with the environment

Ethical Relativism

Variation of values from one culture to another

is called ethical relativism.


The cultivation of one cash crop year after year

which depletes the soil of its nutrients making
it infertile


The protection and encouragement given to

certain arts, crafts and architecture by a ruler,
landlord or a rich and powerful person


It means a rebirth or revival in a literal sense

but it also refers to the great revival of art,
literature and learning in Europe in the
fourteenth, fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries.


The process in which culture specific values

become part of the value system of a larger
society, such as a nation or the universe.



Ghurye, G.S. 1986. Caste and Race in India. Popular: Bombay.

Mukerjee, Radhakamal 1984. The Culture and Art of India. Munshiram
Manoharlal Publishers: New Delhi.
Mukerji, D.P. 1986. Diversities, Popular: Bombay
Rau, Chalapathi M. in Unithan, T.K. N. et. al. (ed.), 1965 Towards a
Sociology of Culture in India, Prentice-Hall of India Pvt. Ltd.: New Delhi.




Check Your Progress 1










History and Development

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An econological zone is a result of the combination of a certain kind

of geological, geographical and biological factors.

iii) Radhakamal Mukerjees interest in social ecology led him to the study
of regions in India. He call this study regional sociology. According
to Mukerjee, if the regions in modern India were developed to the
extent that they became self-sufficient then India will benefit as a whole.
But if some regions lag behind they will be dominated by the developed
regions and this will result in a lop-sided development of India.
iv) Radhakamal Mukerjee was against the Western trend of separating
facts from values as done by the positivists in sociology.
According to him facts and values are inseparable elements of
human interaction and such behaviour as taking or giving food,
wearing a dress, etc. are value-based and normatively determined by
the society.
Check Your Progress 2

D.P. Mukerji was keenly interested in social processes taking place in

a rapidly changing society like India. He was a Professor of sociology
at Lucknow University which he had joined in 1922. He was trained
in both economics and history and he too like Radhakamal Mukerjee
combined sociology with economics and history. He called himself a
Marxologist due to his belief that Marxs ideas were very relevant
when adapted to Indian history and civilisation.


Two of his important works are


Modern Indian Culture (1942)


Diversities (1958)

iii) a)






Check Your Progress 3


The British anthropologist, who influenced G.S. Ghurye deeply, was

Dr. W.H.R. Rivers.


Ghurye studied the historical, comparative and integrative aspects of

caste system in India. His approach was ethnographic, using historical,
Indological and statistical data.

iii) According to G.S. Ghurye, the various tribes such as Bhils, Gonds,
Santhals, etc. in India are like backward Hindus. The backwardness
of these tribes is a result of their imperfect integration in the Hindu


Early Sociology


iv) The process of urbanisation in India, according to Ghurye, is unique

since it is not as a result of industrial growth. In India urbanisation
process began from the rural areas because of the need for exchanging
surplus food grains. Markets developed in the rural areas slowly and
became centres of small towns with their own administrative, judicial
machinery and other institutions. These urban centres were also
sometimes dependent on feudal patronage, some examples of such
towns are Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Jaipur, Moradabad, etc.


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Singh, Baljit (ed.) 1956. The Frontiers of Social Science. (In Honour of
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Jain Shobhita, 1995. Habitat, Human Displacement and Development Cost:
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Rhetoric of Participation; 14. Leveling the Playing Fields: Recognizing
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Jain Shobhita 2001b. 1. Participation:Philosophy, Nature and Approach;
2. Operationalisation of Participatory Processes; 3. Data Collection
Techniques for Mobilizing Participation; 4. Techniques of Data Analysis
and Modes of Analysis (co-authored with Ms Neeti Bhargava),lessons in
MRR 02 of Participatory Management of Displacement, Resettlement and
Rehabilitation, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi


Jain Shobhita, 2001c. Participatory Learning and Discourse on Local and

Global Culture of the Disadvantaged. Indian Journal of Open Learning,
10 (2): 159-173

History and Development

of SociologyofIndia-II

Jain Shobhita 2003. Panchayats, Women and Empowerment. IN Bidyut

Mohanty and Shashi Narayan (ed) Women and Political Empowerment.
Institute of Social Sciences. pp 60-66





Notion of Social-Inequality
Nature of Caste-Inequalities in India
Caste as the Invention of Colonial Modernity or a Legacy of Brahmanical Traditions
Nature of Class-Inequality in India
Interrelation of Caste and Class Hierarchies
Social-Inequalities, Development and Participatory Politics


The normative and democratic pillars of institutions and doctrines enshrined in the Constitution
of India set the agenda of post-colonial state in India in terms of abolition or at least reduction
of social-inequalities. The objective of welfare state was to make a modern caste-less
society by reducing centuries old disabilities inflicted upon the depressed and attempt to
improve their lot by providing them reservations and quotas in education as well as job
market especially in state-bureaucracy and over-sized public sector enterprises. The Constitution
of India requires the state to treat all citizens equally, without regard to birth, gender or
religious belief. However, society does not function merely on the basis of formal principles.
Enforcement of legal doctrines and attempt to remove social discrimination is a process
entangled in the complexities of social formation. The pernicious aspects of jati, varna and
class, therefore, still permeate our families, localities and political institutions. In this unit, our
focus will be on various aspects of social inequality and their impact on democratic polity and
political economy of development in the post-colonial state of India.



Human societies vary in the extent to which social groups as well as individuals have unequal
access to advantages. Rousseau had made a distinction between natural and social inequality.
The former emerge from the unequal division of physical and mental abilities among the
members of a society. The latter arise from the social entitlement of people to wealth or
economic resources, political power and status regardless of potential abilities possessed by
individuals. Not only economic resources of societies vary according to the level of development
and structural features of society, but also different groups tend to have differential access to
these resources. Power enjoyed by the social groups also differ and offers another related
social advantage. Similarly, conventions, rules, customs and laws confer greater prestige and
status on certain groups and occupations in most human societies. Hierarchy, stratification,
class-divisions are notions used by anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists to
describe and denote social-inequality. Anthropologists generally distinguish three types of
societies in terms of social-inequality. These are classified as egalitarian, rank and class societies.

Egalitarian societies contain fair amount of equality and no social group enjoys greater access
to economic resources, power or prestige. Rank societies do not have unequal access to
wealth or power, but they do contain social groups that enjoy greater honour and status. A
pre-literate tribal society in which social ranking is based on rules of descent and alliances
belong to this category. The complex class societies have unequal access and entitlement to
economic resources, power and status.
In many pre-industrial agrarian societies, access to social opportunities and status was
determined by birth. The ascribed role or status of individual was assigned by virtue of factors
outside his or her own control such as birth, sex, age, kinship relations, and caste. This
assigned role was rationalised as divinely ordained and natural. The estates or orders of
medieval Europe were unequally ranked and this hierarchy of ranks was legally recognised
and approved by religious-normative order of the society. Indian caste system was another
type of validation of social hierarchy. The individuals professional or occupational role came
to depend on individual effort and ability in the modern industrial and democratic society. This
new role was emphasised in the political discourse of modernity and was seen as consonant
with the democratic ideal. It involved an exercise of effort and choice as well as a fair deal
of competition to occupy a given position. The society moved from the principle of hierarchy
to stratification. According to the sociologists, hierarchy prevailed in societies based on castes
or estates and social-inequalities were legitimated as naturally given. Stratification, on the other
hand, is a feature of modern industrial societies in which inequalities do exist but are not
considered as a part of natural or divine order. In this process of social change, inequality did
not vanish or reduce, but changed its nature. Now class boundaries became more porous and
permeable, individual mobility is possible and societys normative order is based on formal
equality. However, there is still a large area of industrial society where roles are allocated by
virtue of being male or female, black or white and so on.
G.D. Berreman suggests that out of differentiation of persons, which is a natural and universal
phenomenon, inequality or social evaluation of differences arises. He terms the behavioural
expression of inequality as dominance and combination of inequality and dominance is socialinequality. Dominance and status in egalitarian societies is often negotiable and contextual
whereas in ranked or inegalitarian societies, inequality is institutionalised. It is embedded in a
hierarchy of statuses and is not linked to individual differences of ability. Marxists generally
tend to view gradations of power and status as correlated to the distinctions of class defined
by economic position and accessibility of economic entitlements. In the Weberian paradigm,
however, status and power are not entirely governed by economic divisions or control over
economic entitlements. Although the term stratification reminds us of a geological image which
signifies a sort of vertical layering or arrangement of social strata, social organisation is much
more fluid and complex. A multiple set of factors affect a particular social formation and it is
never a simple vertical or hierarchical arrangement of layers like the earths crust. Political
thinkers like Pareto, Mosca and Michels assigned primacy to power as the real source of
inequality in society. According to them, power is the ability to make others do what they do
not want to do and the elite groups exercise this power as they occupy the top positions within
the institutions of a given society. Similarly, French scholar Bourdieu employs terms symbolic
capital and distinction to identify social groups who enjoy more prestige and honour in society
simply because they are endowed with more symbolic capital reflected in their pattern of

behaviour and taste. The notion of social-capital also has similar connotations. It demonstrates
how certain social groups have greater capacity to form social-relations and competence to
associate with others. They indicate that differences in terms of esteem, prestige and status
rather than neat
economic or political hierarchy may play the dominant role in some
systems of stratifications.



Caste is the most contentious issue that has fascinated and divided scholars who have wished
to study this system of stratified social-hierarchy in India. There is an enormous body of
academic writing and political polemic on the issue. These are basically the part of debate on
the transformation of Indian society under the impact of colonialism and its administrative
mechanisms. Some argue for the continuities of pre-colonial social-structures including caste.
Others stress the basic qualitative changes introduced by the colonial rulers.
Louis Dumont, the French scholar and writer of a famous book on caste, Homo-Hierarchicus,
constructed a textually-informed image of caste. In this image, two opposing conceptual
categories of purity and pollution are the core elements of caste-structure. These unique core
principles of caste-hierarchy, according to Dumont, are observed in scriptural formulation as
well as the every-day life of all Hindus. In other words, these values separate Indians culturally
from the Western civilisation, making India a land of static, unchangeable, oriental Brahmanical
values. This notion of caste has been challenged by Nicholas Dirks and others. Dumonts
notion was criticised as it failed to explain the social change, dynamism and individualistic
strivings even within the traditional Indian society. Gerald Berreman pointed out that the
principle of Brahmanical hierarchy was not uniformly followed by all Hindus. He also criticised
the Dumontian notion that power and economic factors are distinct and epiphenomenal to
caste. It has been pointed out by others that caste hierarchy is not a fixed hierarchy; rather
it is context-specific and fluid and contains seeds of contestation among various castes.
Nicholas Dirks cites ethnographic and textual evidence to demonstrate that Brahmins and their
texts were not so central to the social fabric of Indian life. According to this view, powerrelations and command over men and resources were more important. Brahmins were merely
ritual specialists, often subordinate to powerful ruling families. The caste-based scriptural or
Brahmanical model of traditional India was an invention of the British Orientalists and
ethnographers, according to this view. However, caste played a very critical role in the Indian
social-reformers and nationalists perception of caste. It was certainly not a mere product of
British imagination.


As we hinted above, two opposing viewpoints see caste differently. Some view it as an
unchanged survival of Brahmanical traditions of India. According to this view, Brahmanism
represents a core civilisational value and caste is the central symbol of this value. It is the basic

expression of the pre-colonial traditions of India. Contrary to this view, Nicolas Dirks, in his
Castes of Mind (2001), argues that caste is a product of colonial modernity. By this he does
not mean that caste did not exist before the advent of British. He is simply suggesting that
caste became a single, unique category under the British rule that expressed and provided the
sole index of understanding India. Earlier there were diverse forms of social-identity and
community in India. The British reduced everything to a single explanatory category of caste.
It was the colonial state and its administrators who made caste into a uniform, all-encompassing
and ideologically consistent organism. They made caste a measure of all things and the most
important emblem of traditions. Colonialism reconstructed cultural forms and social-institutions
like caste to create a line of difference and demarcation between themselves as European
modern and the colonised Asian traditional subjects. In other words, British colonialism played
a critical role in both the identification and production of Indian tradition. The colonial
modernity devalued the so called Indian traditions. Simultaneously, it also transformed them.
Caste was recast as the spiritual essence of India that regulated and mediated the private
domain. Caste-ridden Indian society was different from the European civil society because
caste was opposed to the basic premises of individualism as well as the collective identity of
a nation. The salience of this pre-colonial identity and sense of loyalty could easily be used
to justify the rule by the colonial modern administrators. So, according to Dirks, it was the
colonial rule of India that organised the social difference and deference solely in terms of
The attempts to downplay or dismiss the significance of Brahmins and Brahmanical order is
not in accordance with familiar historical records and persistence of caste-identities even in the
contemporary Indian social life. Caste-terms and principles were certainly not in universal use
in pre-colonial periods. Caste in its various manifestations and forms was also not an immutable
entity. However, starting from the Vedas and the Great Epics, from Manu and other
dharmasastras, from puranas, from ritual practices, the penal system of Peshwa rulers who
punished culprits according to caste-principles, to the denunciations of anti-Brahmanical
reformers of all ages, everything points towards the legacy of pre-colonial times. It is true
that there were also non-caste affiliations and identities such as networks of settlements
connected by matrimonial alliances, trade, commerce and state service in the pre-colonial
times. However, caste was also a characteristic marker of identity and a prevailing socialmetaphor. Caste was not merely a fabrication of British rulers designed to demean and
subjugate Indians. It did serve the colonial interests by condemning the Brahmanical tyranny,
colonial administration could easily justify their codes to civilise and improve the fallen
people. Moreover, strengthening of the caste-hierarchy could also act as a bulwark against



Class societies are characterised by the horizontal division of society into strata. In Marxist
terms, classes are defined by their differential access to the means of production. The dominant
classes appropriate the surplus produced by other classes through their control of means of
production, and thus exploit their labour. The actual configuration of social classes varies from
one society to another. The rise and growth of Indian social classes was organically linked to
the basic structure of colonialism and bore the imprint of that association.

What constitutes the dominant proprietary class in the urban-areas is marked by plurality and
heterogeneity in its composition. A clear-cut demarcation along the lines of merchant, industrial
and finance capital is not possible in case of India. The Indian business classes exhibit a
complex intertwining of functions. Under the colonial rule, the Indian businessmen were initially
relegated to small private trade, money lending and acted as agents of foreign British Capital.
The British capitalists and merchants controlled the upper layer of Indian economy represented
by the big joint stock companies, managing houses, banking and insurance and major exportimport firms. Despite obstacles and constraints, the Indian capitalist class grew slowly and
steadily and breached white collective monopoly. With all structural constraints, colonialism
also guaranteed the security of private property and sanctity of contract, the basic legal
elements required for a market-led growth. The expansion of foreign trade and commercialisation
eased the capital shortage and accelerated the growth of sectors where cost of raw-materials
was low such as cotton textiles, sugar, leather, cement, tobacco and steel. Certain groups of
Parsis, Marwaris, the Khojas, the Bhatias and Gujarati traders benefited from their collaboration
with the European companies and pumped their resources into the manufacturing sector. This
Indian capitalist class grew, diversified to some extent and acquired important position by
1940s. This class thrived during Independence under the governments policy of importsubstitution and quantitative controls. The Public- Sector units provided the infrastructure
and the intermediate and capital goods to this protected class while the public lending
institutions provided it with cheap sources of finances. The assets of the biggest 20 industrial
houses increased from Rs. 500 crores in 1851 to Rs 23,200 crores in 1986. This was the
result of benefits derived from state-developed infrastructural facilities, subsidised energy inputs,
cheap capital goods and long-term finance made available to these by big monopoly industrial
houses under the planning. On the other hand, almost 70% of the people exist on merely
subsistence level and 76.6 million agricultural labourers earn only one-tenth of what an organised
sector worker in the city earns. In the 1980s, unemployment reached about 10% of total
active population. In the urban centres, the bulk of labourers are working in unorganised
informal sectors. The vast army of pavement vendors, domestic servants, porters and street
hawkers represent a kind of disguised urban unemployment.
The class-composition in the rural areas also bears the stamp of colonialism. The older group
of rural gentry, although its wings were clipped away by the British colonial regime, was
retained and transformed into a kind of rentier class of landlords invested with newly defined
property rights on land. This was especially true of permanently settled Zamindari areas of
Bengal and Taluqdari areas of Awadh. This landlord-rentier class generally emerged from the
pre-existing groups of Zamindars and Taluqdars who had enjoyed the rights of revenuecollection under the pre-British regimes. They exercised extra-economic feudal coercion
over their small marginal share-croppers. Since the Congress Party favoured a bureaucratic
rather than mobilisational form for carrying out a gradual social transformation after Independence,
the power and privileges of these semi-feudal agrarian magnates remained intact in some
areas. These classes now managed the new democratic polity. The failure to implement radical
agrarian reforms meant that the availability of resources and accessibility to spaces within the
new polity to the socially marginal groups remained limited.
The rich farmers, however, are numerically the most important proprietary class in the rural
areas. In areas outside Zamindari settled areas of Bengal, the colonial state settled land-

revenue with dominant cultivating groups. A class of rich farmers emerged from these groups.
They took advantage of the expanding market networks under the colonial economy and they
had resources like sufficient arable land, livestock, implements and better access to credit.
They also became less dependent on money lenders and they took to usury themselves. The
Jat peasants of Punjab and the Upper Doab, the Vellalas in Tamilnadu, the Kanbi-Patidars of
South Gujarat, the Lingayats of Karnataka and the Kamma-Reddy farmers of Andhra constituted
this group. The tenancy legislation under colonialism and after Independence initiated the
process of transfer of landed resources from non-cultivating, absentee landlords to the
enterprising rich farmers. Some older groups of rentier landlords also converted themselves
into this class. The political clout of this class grew as it drew encouragement from states
policy of providing price-supports to agricultural produce and from liberal provisions of
subsidised inputs such as water, power, fertilizers, diesel, credit and agricultural machinery.
This class is easily identifiable by the ownership of landed and other agricultural resources. In
1970s, about 20% households of the rich farmers owned about 63% of rural assets such as
land, livestock, building, and implements. This disproportionate access to rural assets is
combined by its control over wage labour which is used to produce a sizeable marketable
surplus by this class. The other pole of rural social-structure is the world of semi-proletariat
having little or no control over productive resources. The agricultural labourers are a predominant group with little or no guarantee of a regular employment, often burdened by
coercive domination of rich farmers.
The bureaucratic-managerial elite also constitute a significant class in India as the relatively
weak capitalist class at the time of Indias Independence was not in a position to completely
subordinate the highly developed administrative state apparatus. The growth of non-market
mechanisms and planning in the allocation of resources and economic patronage also resulted
in the expansion of bureaucracy. This class expanded in the post-colonial phase with the
spreading out of education and need for professional and white-collar jobs involving new skills
and expertise. This is not merely an auxiliary class of bourgeois as there are conflicts of
interests between the public sector professionals and private capital. The command over
knowledge, skills, tastes and networks of relationships are notable features of this class.


Caste and class point towards inequality and hierarchy. In both the cases, however, the
principle of organisation differs. The core features of caste are: endogamy or marriage within
caste, occupational differentiation and hereditary specialisation of occupations, notion of pollution
and a ritual hierarchy in which Brahmins are generally at the top. Classes, on the other hand,
broadly refer to economic basis of ownership or non-ownership relation to the means of
production. But how does caste and class correlate to each other? Classes are sub-divided
in terms of types of ownership and control of economic resources and the type of services
contributed to the process of production. The Brahmanical ritual hierarchy of the caste is also
not universally applicable and upheld by all. In many cases, ritual hierarchy is only contextual.
The prosperous Jats in North India enjoy social and political dominance without equivalent
ritual status. In most popular renditions of caste, hierarchy alone is emphasised and that too

from Brahmanical point of view. Sometimes, however, caste works as a discrete community,
without hierarchical relationship to other segments of society. Our conceptual categories do
not always recapture the existing social reality. For instance, a conceptual distinction is often
made between sharecroppers and agricultural labourers. In actual life, however, there is a high
degree of overlap and they do not constitute discrete entities. Similar overlap is found in the
rentier-landlord and cultivator-owner categories. The picture becomes hazier when we turn to
caste-class configuration.
Caste and class resemble each other in certain respects and differ in others. Castes constitute
the status groups or communities that can be defined in terms of ownership of property,
occupation and style of life. Social honour is closely linked to ritual values in this closed
system. Class positions also tend to be associated with social honour; however, they are
defined more in terms of ownership or non-ownership of means of production. The classes
are much more open and fluid and have scope of individual upward social mobility. In caste
system, only an entire segment can move upward, and hence, the mobility is much slower.
Although there is considerable divergence between the hierarchy of caste and that of class,
the top and bottom segments of the class system are largely subsumed under the caste
structure. The upper castes own means of production (land in rural areas) and act as rentiers.
The landless agrarian proletarian coincides with the lower castes or dalits who provide labour
services for the rentier upper caste people as well as rich prosperous farmers of intermediate
level. At the intermediate level, articulation of class-identities is more complex. The process
of differentiation of communities dislocates class-relations from the caste-structure. If caste
and class show a fair degree of overlap at the top and bottom level and in some cases appear
almost co-terminus, the picture is quite ambiguous at the intermediate level of caste hierarchy.
Similarly, the processes of modernisation especially urbanisation, acquisition of education and
new skills act as the forces of dislocation that puncture the forces of social inertia and modify


If social inequalities are so deeply entrenched, then how do they affect the developmental
process and participation of deprived sections of society in a democratic polity? This key
question has been answered in different ways. Kothari, while analysing the intrusions of caste
into politics and politics into caste, distinguishes three stages in the progression of political
modernisation after Independence. In the first stage, he says the struggle for political power
was limited to the entrenched and the ascendant castes. In the second phase, competitions
within these castes for power led to factionalism and in the third stage, lower castes have been
mobilised and are asserting themselves in the political domain. In his words It is not-politics
that gets caste-ridden; it is the caste that gets politicised. With the extension of franchise in
the post-colonial India, each social group and sub-group got mobilised for a share in the
developmental process and competed for positions in the state-bureaucracy. The Indian polity
is, thus, governed both by vertical mobilisation by the dominant castes and horisontal alliances
in the name of jati and varna. The political parties exacerbate the existing cleavages in a
developing society like India. The salience of primordial ties of kinship, caste and community

play significant role in hindering the establishment of civil society. Moreover, there is never a
set chronology of mobilisation and political modernisation, especially any pre-ordained and
unconditional progression along a set path. In the rural hinterlands, cleavages of caste and
community and articulation of kinship and territorial affinities work against implementation of
a piece of redistributive land-reforms. The rich prosperous farmers use the existing social
networks in the multi-class agrarian mobilisation in the electoral arena to mobilise and harness
marginal and small farmers for their own economic interests such as lower taxes, higher prices
for agricultural produce, better subsidies and cheaper credit facilities.
So, despite the egalitarian ideal of post-colonial Indian state, there are still disproportionate
access to resources, power and entitlements between different social classes and castes. The
relationships between the upper and lower castes in the rural areas are still governed by the
ideology of caste. According to Andre Beteille, professionalisation and specialisation of modern
service sector in the post-colonial Indian society has increased the role of formal education,
technical skills and training; family and not caste plays critical role in the social reproduction
of inequality, especially in urban areas. However, it is still a debatable point whether the
increasing bureaucratisation of professional activities per se enhances the chances of social
mobility and equality of opportunities. Although, there may be no legal barriers to entry into
new occupation, the unequal distribution of life chances, status and power on the grounds of
birth determine the social and political trajectories that accord positions, ranks and power to
the individuals.
The establishment of a formal democracy in itself is no guarantee that all citizens will enjoy
equal access and participation in the political processes. Political privileges are retained and
ingrained in many non-elective institutions, the civil bureaucracy and the police in particular.
They protect the interests of the dominant proprietary classes and the upper castes. The lower
castes and classes are not yet sufficiently empowered to shape and mould the political processes
or the states social and economic policies. The powerful landed magnates of upper castes in
the countryside and the industrial and business classes of urban rich make use of authoritarian
streak inherent in the non-elective institutions to deny genuine democratisation of polity. The
apparent assertion of their rights and mobilising capacity by the backwards and scheduled
castes is used by the crafty politicians to augment their power and wealth. Such mobilisations,
thus serve the interests of a spoils system and a thoroughly corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy
instead of articulating a programme of equitable development and social empowerment. Apart
from other institutional constraints, the failure of democracy to grant substantive democratic
rights and deliver the promise of redistributive justice is rooted in the class and caste-based
inequalities in India. Dreze found evidence of subtle forms of deprivation in the rural areas of
the Eastern U.P. in terms of accessibility of the disadvantaged groups to schooling, health
services and exclusion of marginal sections of population from effective participation in the
political processes.



The post- colonial state in India accepted the formal principles of equality and social-justice
in its governance. However, no social-entity exists in a vacuum. The functioning of our democratic
polity is profoundly and unfairly influenced by the caste and class-based inequalities. The

Unit 5



Understanding Modernisation
Giddenss Theory of Modernity
Decline of the Paradigm
The Debate
Modernisation and Globalisation
Further Reading

Learning Objectives
After going through this unit, you will be able to:

understand the concept of modernisation;

critically discuss the contemporary theories of modernity; and

explain how modernity is cross-linked with development.

5.1 Introduction
Through the four units of Block 1 we have already acquired a basic understanding
of the concept and process of development and other related concepts. We
also understood that there are varied perceptions about the concepts and
process of development and that these perceptions are not static but keep
on changing. Although we did refer to some of these perceptives in Block 1,
in the present Block (Block II), we will be dealing with them in greater detail.
Let us start with modernisation.
The concept of modernisation emerged as the response of the western social
science to the many challenges faced by the Third World. With the process of
political decolonisation following the Second World War, the new nations were
in a hurry to launch massive programmes of economic development and technical
change. The need for developing new paradigms to shape and order their
development programme was strongly felt. Modernisation was one such
formulation which held out considerable promise.
In this unit, we explore the concept of development in the context of
modernisation. At the outset we discuss the notion of modernisation as a
paradigm in sociological literature, particularly in the writings of Giddens. The
purpose here is to develop an understanding of modernisation theory and
then go on to its criticism and emergence of postmodernism as a paradigm.
In the course of tracing this trajectory we explore the many dimensions of
development that acquire importance at different stages.

5.2 Understanding Modernisation

Modernity may be understood as the common behavioral system that is
historically associated with the urban, industrial, and literate and participant
societies of Western Europe and North America. It is characterised by a rational
and scientific world-view, growth and the ever increasing application of science
and technology, which is coupled with the continuous adaptation of the
institutions of society to the imperatives of the world-view and the emerging
technological ethos.


Approaches to
Sustainable Development

Box 5.1: Concept of Modernity

Modernity involves the rise of modern society (secularised societies with an
institutional separation of the state from civil society, a much greater degree of
social and technical division of labour, and the formation of nation-states uniting
cultural and political borders), a rationalistic epistemology, and an individualistic
and objectivistic ontology (Torfing 1999: 303).

A series of societal changes are implicit in the process of modernisation.

Agrarian societies are characterised by the predominance of ascriptive,
particularistic and diffused patterns; they have stable local groups and limited
spatial mobility. Occupational differentiation is relatively simple and stable;
and the stratification system is deferential and has a diffused impact. The
modern industrial society is characterised by the predominance of universalistic,
specific and achievement norms; a high degree of mobility; a developed
occupational system relatively insulated from other social structures; a class
system often based on achievement; and the presence of functionally specific,
non-ascriptive structures and associations. Historically evolved institutions
continuously adapt themselves to the changes dictated by the phenomenal
increase in the human knowledge that has resulted from the control humanity
has over its environment. Modernisation theory does not clearly spell out its
distributive objectives. The emergence of an implicit egalitarian and
participative ethos does, however, indicate the narrowing of social gaps and
promotion of greater equality as desirable ends.
Modernisation, as a form of cultural response, involves attributes which are
basically universalistic and evolutionary; they are pan-humanistic, trans-ethnic
and non-ideological (Singh 1961). The essential attribute of modernisation is
rationality. Rationality transforms thought processes at the level of the individual
and in the process permeates the entire institutional framework of society.
Events and situations are understood in terms of cause and effects. Strategies
of action are determined by careful means-ends calculations. Rationality begins
to characterise all forms of human interaction and enters into peoples vision
of a new future as well as into their strivings for the attainment of the
objectives they set for themselves. The concomitant structural changes and
value shifts bring about fundamental changes in the entire cultural ethos.
Box 5.2: Meaning of Rationality
The term rationality denotes thought and action which are conscious in accord
with the rules of logic and empirical knowledge, where objectives are coherent,
mutually consistent and achieved by the most appropriate means.
The conviction that rationality, or reason, is the distinctive characteristic of
human beings has made it a central theme in western philosophy for over two
thousand years. In so far as this has led to an over-estimation of the place and
power of reason in human society, it has been criticised as the doctrine of
Max Weber, especially in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, 1921, has been responsible
for the most extensive use of the term in sociology. He classifies all action into
four types : purposively rational, (Zweckrational) action, where means are
correctly chosen to obtain ends; value rational (Wertrational) where action is
in accord with conscious value standards; affectual; and traditional; the last two
types being regarded as deviations from rational action ( Albrow 1968: 154).

In his essay The Change to Change: Modernisation, Development, and Politics

Huntington (1976: 30-31), has identified the following characteristics of the
modernisation process.

Modernisation, and by implication development, is a revolutionary process.

Efforts are made to transform rural agrarian cultures into urban industrial

cultures. This is what Alvin Toffler (1980) would describe as the move from
the first wave to the second wave.


The process of both modernisation and development are complex and

multidimensional with a series of cognitive, behavioral and institutional
modifications and restructuring.

iii) Both are systemic processes since variation in one dimension produces
important co-variations in other dimensions.
iv) They are global processes.

They are lengthy processes.

vi) Movement towards the goals of modernisation and development takes

place through identifiable phases and sub-phases.
vii) They are homogenising processes.
viii) Except temporary breakdowns, both are irreversible processes.
ix) They are progressive processes. In the long run they contribute to human
well-being, both culturally and materially.
Reflection and Action 5.1
What do you understand by modernisation?

Modernisation theory evolved from two ideas about social change: the
conception of traditional vs. modern societies, and positivism that viewed
development as societal evolution in progressive stages of growth (Deutsch
1961; Rostow 1960). Concern with development emerged in the 1940s as a
fallout of the process of decolonisation and reconstruction after the Second
World War against the backdrop of the Cold War. Developing countries could
evolve the traditional society by rationalising them through a linear process in
the course of which they could evolve into becoming a country in a modern
and developed society. The evolutionary theory of development identified the
different stages, variables and processes through which a society develops.
Positivist evolution implied that all societies would pass through the same set
of stages from traditional to modern society that the western society had
passed. These stages were: (i) the traditional society; (ii) preconditions for
take-off; (iii) take-off; (iv) the drive to maturity; and (v) the age of high mass
consumption. The progression of society through these stages of modernisation
is better known as Rostows stage theory (for more details refer unit 2 of this
Modernisation theory took development into a more inter-disciplinary realm.
It advocated social and institutional change to facilitate economic
transformation. It was through theorisation on modernity that sociologists
made their first foray into development studies.
Discussion on modernity in the present day centers on multiple modernities.
The notion of multiple modernity expounded by Eisenstadt explains that
modernity in the West has brought up consequences that have a wide bearing
across the world. These consequences, however, have not resulted from the
global transplanting of the western mode of modernity, but are modern
situations of various types and characteristics in various non western
countries. Eisinstadt, (1996: 1-2) one of the major advocates of this idea, said,
The actual developments in modernising societies have refuted the
homogenising and hegemonic assumptions of this western programme of
modernity. While a general trend towards structural differentiation developed
across a wide range of institutions in most of these societies in family life,
economic and political structures, urbanisation, modern education, mass
communication and individualistic orientation the ways in which these arenas
were defined and organised varied greatly, in different periods of their


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development, giving rise to multiple institutional and ideological patterns. He

thought that the best way of explaining modern society and the history of
modernity is to regard it as a story of continual constitution and reconstitution
of a multiplicity of cultural programs.
Through the notion of multiple modernities Eisenstadt, however, does not
mean only to propose a new description or narrative of the history of modernity.
He argues that modernity and westernisation are not identical. His notion of
multiple modernity is not only descriptive but also normative, though in a
negative sense. Diffused benefits which leave a large section of humankind
untouched, homogenisation in the face of rising ethnicity and pluralities of
culture consciousness, the social cost and cultural erosion implicit in the
process pose serious concerns.
Following Parsonss well-known pattern variables, modernisation assumes that
status is determined by achievement rather than ascriptive criteria; patterns
of interaction are governed by universalistic rather than particularistic norms;
expectations and obligations in the system of role relationship acquire greater
specificity and replace the diffuse system that characterised the traditional
order. Units of society tend to be more specialised and self-sufficient. There
is increasing evidence of role differentiation, solidarity and integration.
Eisenstadt (1996) suggested that modern society emerges as a consensual
mass society and crystallises as a nation-state. Modernised societies operate
through institutional structures that are capable of continuously absorbing the
changes that are inherent in the process of modernisation. A series of
organisations that are complex and differentiated, relatively self-sufficient
and functionally specific seek to discharge functions in diverse and disparate
fields. Simultaneously, the roles of family and kinship based organisations get
more narrowly defined. Government and associated units the bureaucracy,
economic and financial institutions, armed forces and organisations dealing
with specific functional areas such as education, health, housing, public
transport and recreation assume increasingly important roles.
Box 5.3: Role of the Government in Modernisation
By and large, the government is vested with an important role in modernising
the country and planning the economy. In the words of Wilber and Jameson
(1988: 9),
The government must intervene in the economy to offset the anti-development
impact of the two types of obstacles to development. On the side of non-rational
behaviour, the government can attempt to convince its citizens of the need for
modernisation while, at the same time, substituting its own enterpreneurial
ability and knowledge to fill that vacuum. On the side of markets, the government
can again offset the difficulties through economic planning. By developing a
coherent overview of the economy through the various means at its disposal, the
orthodox result of growth in income can be attained.

5.3 Giddens's Theory of Modernity


Recent social changes have led to debates over the very nature of the
contemporary social world. There is a debate between those who continue to
see contemporary society as a modern world and those who argue that a
substantial change has taken place in recent years and that we have moved
into a new, postmodern world. Most of the classical sociologists were engaged
in an analysis and critique of modern society which is clear in the works of
Marx, Weber, Durkheim and Simmel. As we move into the 21st century, it is
obvious that todays world is a very different place. The issue is whether the
changes in the world are modest and continuous with those associated with
modernity or are so dramatic and discontinuous that the contemporary world
is better described by a new term, postmodern.

A host of social changes are fundamentally altering our world, and traditional
class politics and faith in progress are being replaced by identity politics
and new social movements such as feminism, gay liberation, ecologism,
ethnic revivalism, religious neofundamentalism (Tucker Jr 1998: 126). These
changes have brought with them a challenge to the philosophical discourse
of modernity. The conceptual framework of social science and the historical
legacy of Enlightenment rationality have been challenged by new postmodern
knowledge, of which contends that reason is a form of illegitimate power that
marginalises and excludes cultural vocabularies that do not conform to its


Giddens said that in order to understand and conceptualise contemporary

society, we need a new sociological theory capable of grasping its complexity.
He describes the modern world as a juggernaut. Modernity in the form of
a juggernaut is extremely dynamic, it is a runaway world with great leaps in
the pace, scope and profoundness of change over prior systems (Ritzer 2000
: 424). Giddens defines modernity in terms of four basic institutions. The first
is capitalism, characterised by commodity production, private ownership of
capital, propertyless wage labor and a class system derived from these
characteristics. The second is industrialism, which involves the use of inanimate
power sources and machinery to produce goods. Industrialism is not restricted
to the workplace, and it affects an array of other settings, such as
transportation, communication and domestic life (Giddens 1990: 56). The
third, is surveillance capacities which is defined as the supervision of the
activities of subject populations (mainly, but not exclusively) in the political
sphere (Ibid 1990: 8). The fourth is military power, or the control of the
means of violence, including the industrialisation of war. It should be noted
that at the macro level, Giddens focuses on the nation-state (rather than the
more conventional sociological focus on society), which he sees as radically
different from the type of community characteristic of pre-modern society.
According to Giddens, modernity is given dynamism by three essential aspects:

Time-space separation: With modernisation, time was standardised. In

large part, social interaction does not take place at the same time and in
the same place. Relationships with those who are physically absent and
increasingly distant become more and more likely. New technological
measures also call for expansion of our space which means that we can be
in the same space though not necessarily in the same locale. The modern
rational organisation, for example, has been able to connect the local and
the global in new ways. A modern company can function because it has
been possible to break the time-space connection.


Disembedding of social systems: Earlier the institutions and actions of

society were embedded in the local community. The condition has changed
because social relations are lifted out of the local interaction context by
disembedding mechanisms. Giddens distinguishes between two types of
disembedding mechanisms which contribute to the development of modern
institutions: i) symbolic tokens; and (ii) expert systems. Together these
are called abstract systems. Money is an example of a symbolic token. It
places time in a bracket as it functions as a means of credit. It represents
a value that can be later used to purchase new goods. The standardised
value allows transactions to be carried out without actually meeting, thus
fracturing the notion of space. New patterns of interaction are created
across time and space.
Expert systems are defined as, systems of technical accomplishment or
professional expertise that organise large areas of the material and social
environments in which we live today (Ibid: 27). The most obvious expert
systems involve professionals like lawyers and physicians. Consider the
following example. In travel by bus one enters a large network of expert


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Sustainable Development

systems including the construction of the bus, roads and the traffic control
system. The bus can be taken without possessing knowledge of how these
systems are constructed. One only needs the money for the ticket (another
expert system). The expert systems also help to move social relations from
one given context to another. Such a disembedding mechanism requires
a time-space separation.
iii) Reflexivity of Modern society: According to Giddens, reflexivity, the third
contributing factor in societys profound process of transformation, is of
two forms. The first is a general feature of all human action. The second
type of reflexivity is unique to modernity. Modern society is experiencing
a reflexivity at both the institutional and personal levels, and this is decisive
for the production and change of modern systems and modern forms of
social organisation. Giddens defines reflexivity as institutions and
individuals regular and constant use of knowledge as the conditions for
societys organisation and change. The firm undertakes market surveys in
order to establish sales strategies; the state conducts censuses in order
to establish the tax base. This increased reflexivity is made possible by
the development of the network of mass communication. With an expansion
of the time-space dimension, the social practices are constantly
investigated and changed on the basis of newly acquired information.
Today we reflect on tradition and act in accordance with it only if it can
be legitimised via reflexivity.
To sum up, Giddens states that modernitys culture of incessant reflexivity
creates a post-traditional social world. As modernity spreads throughout the
globe, it encourages the rise of expert, abstract systems of knowledge,
represented by the social and natural sciences. These expert systems encourage
constant change and reflexivity, which separates time and space from their
particular context, re-embedding them in new ones. He also views new social
movements, centered on a new life politics, as integral to the texture of
modern life. He rejects the claim of surpassed modernity and rejects most, if
not all, tenets associated with postmodernism.
Reflection and Action 5.2
What are the main features of Giddenss theory of Modernity?

5.4 Decline of the Paradigm

The modernisation approach dominated the social science domain in the West
and in several parts of the Third World for a decade and developed most
between the late 1950s and the mid-1960s. Towards the end of the 1960s,
however, it began to lose appeal. The gap between promise and performance
of modernisation was too wide to escape attention. The absence of results
generated mass apathy and anger and left the modernising elite confused. In
the process, the concept of modernisation got demystified.


It was observed that the paradigm of modernisation sought to transfer

technology without effecting necessary institutional changes. Imaginative and
systematic efforts were to be directed towards institution building for
accomplishing the highly specialised and differentiated tasks implicit in the
process of modernisation. The notion of rationality, which was the cornerstone
of modernisation paradigm, was itself ambiguous. It is now recognised that
rationality can be of different kinds operating at different levels and in different
contexts. The explanatory power of the paradigm was limited and the guidelines
for action embodied in it were somewhat obscure. It was evasive on the vital
issue of the poverty of the masses, especially in the less developed countries.
The formulation did not take into account the qualitative changes in the
problems that humanity faces. The prospects of modernisation and development
against the backdrop of the realities of the contemporary world order were

not clear. Thus the global context of modernity remained unexamined. The
notion of ceaseless and limitless modernisation has been challenged powerfully
from other quarters, especially by environmentalists and conservationists. Nonrenewable natural resources, on which the edifice of modernisation is built,
are being rapidly depleted; and adequate, efficient and economic substitutes
are not yet in sight. The consequences of environmental pollution and ecological
imbalance are dangerous. Many vital questions regarding the desirability and
possibility of modernisation remain unanswered. This arrests the search for
meaningful alternatives and inhibits reflection and action aimed at appropriate




A major challenge to sociological theories of modernity came from the

theoretical position of postmodernism. Postmodernism denies any meaningful
continuity in history. It is a new historical epoch that is supposed to have
succeeded the modern era or modernity. As Habermas states, postmodernism
is akin to the anarchist wish to explode the continuum of history, demolishing
theories of modernity in doing so (Tucker Jr. 1998: 131).
Giddens distinguishes between postmodernism and post-modernity.
Postmodernism refers to the recent changes in architecture, literature, art,
poetry while post-modernity refers to recent institutional changes in the
social world. He finds the latter more important but does not believe that
post-modernity theoretically captures the meaning of these social changes. In
his view, the contemporary pervasiveness of reflexivity makes useless the
distinction between modern and postmodern eras.
For some theorists postmodernism means that we have entered a new,
postindustrial world, which problematises old assumptions, including ideals of
social progress, the importance of class as a source of social identity and the
very idea of a unified self. A new social world requires new knowledge.
Postmodernism destabilises contemporary social theory. It values difference,
as there are no absolute values that command our allegiance. Postmodernism
critiques all limiting assumptions in social and political life, especially those
based on rationality that seek to exclude multiple perspectives on the world.
It is suspicious of any evolutionary theory and all centralising tendencies and
celebrates a diversity of approaches to social life and decentralised social


The Debate

Giddens shares many of these themes with contemporary sociological theorists

such as Habermas, Touraine and Melucci. These authors attempt to grasp the
distinctive culture of late modernity that is fragile, ever-changing and different
from that which preceded it. Due to the worldwide spread of capitalism, the
mass media and industrialism, contemporary society is a global society. More
and more people realise that their identities and moral systems can no longer
rely on taken-for-granted traditions. With the decline in tradition hence, there
has been a rise in reflexivity (Giddens 1990).
These theorists view modernity as an unfinished project and construct a
narrative of modernity which culminates in a reformed vision of rationality,
universality and evolutionary development. For Giddens, as for these theorists,
in the late modern era of highly differentiated and specialised Western
societies, conflicts arise in the areas of information and communication. The
line between public and private issues becomes blurred. Reflexivity relates self
with society in ever changing ways.

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Sustainable Development

Critiquing postmodernism, Giddens and other contemporary sociological theorists

reconstruct modernity viewing it as internally complex. Like Weber, they are
especially aware of the problems created by a rationality which destroys
meaning. Like the postmodernists, they recognise that a major problem of
modern culture has been the destructive potential of a rationality that is not
sensitive to social and natural contexts. Such a concept of rationality also
undermines the conditions of self-government, largely by translating social
questions into issues of technical, undemocratic policy.
Habermas is the strongest defender of the legacy of modernity against the
postmodern criticisms of it. He sees in modernity tendencies towards rampant
instrumental rationality that destroys alternative, more democratic visions of
social life. Like Parsons, he states that a universalistic rationality is a major
achievement of modernity, which must integrate an increasingly differentiated
and complex modern society. Rise of different types of reasoning constitute
the key feature of the modern world. Modernity cannot rely on traditional
justifications of rule and action and must ground its criteria for evaluation
within its own history. In the absence of tradition, communicative rationality
takes on the ethical role of coordinating diverse social actions. He sees the
culture of modernity embodied in communicative rationality as concerned
with establishing autonomy and justice. For Habermas, this communicative
context informs the acquisition of knowledge, the transmission of culture, the
formation of personal identity and more general processes of social integration.
He further contends that new social movements provide avenues for the
development of new values and identities. Arising in a post-traditional and
post-industrial society, new social movements represent the main vehicle by
which a non-instrumental, communicative rationality can be brought into public
life. New social movements associated with late modernity, such as feminism
and environmentalism, have fundamentally changed the nature of politics. In
sum, Habermas contends that modernity establishes inseparable links between
rationality and freedom as demonstrated in the great modernist
accomplishments such as democracy and human rights. New social movements
are expressing and attempting to implement these achievements in new ways.
His championing of the legacy of modernity distances him from the
Like Touraine and Melucci, Giddens theorises a reformed view of modernity
that is much more critical than that of Habermas. They argue that new social
movements raise novel issues of cultural identity in a global context marked
by rapid increases in communication technologies and recognition of the
importance of cultural differences. Melucci and Touraine contend that modern
societies exist in a post-industrial context, and cultural strife between diverse
groups has replaced class struggles over the distribution of resources as central
social conflicts. Modern societies are in chronic combat over the possession
and very definition of cultural codes and information. New social movements
are the primary agents and carriers of innovative discourses and practices in
the struggles of the late modern era.
These theorists critically engage the postmodern persuasion, arguing that
modernity has not been superseded but remains an unfinished project, as
modernist beliefs and practices are still central to contemporary societies.
They believe that rational reflexivity has replaced tradition as the main form
of social solidarity in the modern world.
Giddens differs from these theorists in that he takes tradition more seriously.
In the new distinctively modern-risk society, people draw on expertise, reevaluate it in terms of their own particular cultural context and then utilise
this knowledge to evaluate their everyday actions. He argues that modernity
excludes and marginalises particular groups of people who do not fit into


these categories. He agrees with the postmodern claims that the foundations
of knowledge are fragile and there is no inherent progress in history, and the
new social movements are raising qualitatively new issues about social life. He
believes that personal identity has also become less firm and more fragmented
in the modern world. However Giddens disagrees with many postmodern tenets.
He prefers the idea of late modernity to that of post-modernity. People do
not live in fragmented, unconnected lives; they still construct narratives about
their selves, but they do so in post-traditional conditions (Tucker Jr. 1998: 143).



Modernisation and Globalisation

The intellectual portrayal of modernisation was, as a political and economic

proposition, coming to the fore following World War II. It equated the
intellectual, cultural and technological advance of victorious nations as
something that needed to be emulated by the poorer less civilised people
of the world. This is connected to the process of modernity which was a
project of global conquest originating in Europe. By Globalisation, we mean
the profound reorganisation of manufacturing, trade and services within a
globally encompassing system. It points to a phenomena identified
interchangeably as a process, a historical event or the end result of shifting
ethno techno, media finance and ideo scapes ( Appadurai 1996: 32).
Accordingly, it replaces the unavailing verb, modernisation, because modernists
and their opponents depended on model dualistic analysis such as centre
periphery, north south, First World Third World, developed
developing, etc.
The concept of modenisation was very much tied to the idea of recreating
the world in the image of America and Western European principles and culture.
More recently, discussions on Globalisation describe a process by which the
world is becoming increasingly interconnected and unified, subject to
homogenous and uniform processes of cultural unification. Characters such as
Michael Jackson or the corporate logos of McDonald and Nike are examples of
global awareness.

5.8 Conclusion
The similarities between classical modernisation studies and new modernisation
studies can be observed in the constancy of the research focus on Third world
There are important distinctions between the classical studies and the new
studies of the modernisation school. For example, in the classical approach,
tradition is seen as an obstacle to development whereas in the new approach
tradition is an additive factor of development. With regard to methodology,
the classical approach applies a theoretical construction with a high level of
abstraction; the new approach applies concrete case studies given in a historical
context. Regarding the direction of development, the classical perspective
uses a unidirectional path which tends towards the United States and European
model, the new perspective prefers a multidirectional path of development.
Finally, the classical perspective demonstrates a relative neglect of the external
factors and conflict. This stands out in sharp contrast to the greater attention
to the external factors and conflicts bestowed by the new approach.
Development, in the changed context, poses a challenge and, at the same
time, presents an opportunity.
This unit begins with an attempt to understand the process of modernisation
and the evolution of modernisation theories. The unit goes on discussing how
the theoretical position of post-modernism pose challenge to the sociological
theories of modernity. We also saw how Giddens and other advocates of

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modernisation thoeries defend their theories and why they prefered the idea
of late-modernity to that of post-modernity. The unit sums up with an analysis
of interrelationship between modernisation and globalisation.

5.9 Further Reading

Dube S.C. 1988. Modernisation and Development. Vistaar publications: New
Ritzer, George 2000. Modern Sociological Theory. 5th edition. McGraw Hill Higher
Singh, Y. 1977. Modernisation of Indian Tradition. Thomson. Faridabad


Unit 6

View from the Field




An Overview of Caste Situation in Different Societies


Field Based Studies




Further Reading

Learning Objectives
After going through this unit, you will be able to

distinguish between book-view and field-view of caste

identify the operative aspects of castes in different societies

discuss recent changes in the caste system.

6.1 Introduction
Field-view or the view from the field refers to an orientation to the
experiences of people, with their inner tensions and contradictions which
one seeks to understand and interpret (Beteille, 1997). In fact, Srinivas
proposed the distinction between the book-view and the field-view of
Indian society. He maintained that there is a book-view of every major
institution: of castes, of joint family, and of village community. Accounts
based on fieldwork reveal a distinct departure from accounts drawn from the
texts. The book-view of the caste system upholds the superior position of
Brahmins in the social hierarchy while the untouchables occupy the lowest
rungs. There is strict restriction on commensality and mobility. More
importantly, the book-view is projected as uncontestable and immutable.
View from the field particularly in the context of caste situation, brings out
lived reality of the people, the articulation of what is contained in the
scriptural texts in real life situations Here, social mobility assumes importance.
Further, accounts base on fieldwork reveal a distinct departure from accounts
drawn from texts in the sense that the latter bring out the actual working
of the caste system at the grassroots.
This unit focuses on the operation of caste at the grass roots. In doing this
it takes a departure from the earlier unit on the Brahminical perspective on
caste that dealt with ideas about caste contained in the sacred texts. Here
we will explore how caste system works in different societies by reviewing
some field based studies.

6.2 An Overview of Caste Situation in Different

Many sociologists and anthropologists have tried to analyse the basic tenets
of caste system on the basis of their experience in the field. All of them
have found new dimensions of caste that were either not present in the bookview of the caste system or was not specifically highlighted by the authors.


Srinivas adds a significant dimension to field-based studies of caste system

in proposing the concepts of sanskritisation and dominant caste.

Sanskritisation is the, process by which a low caste or tribe or other group
takes over the customs, rituals beliefs, ideology, and style of life of a high
and in particular twice-born (dwija) caste. The Sanskritisation of a group
has usually the effect of improving its position in the caste hierarchy (Srinivas,
1989:56). The other concept that assumes importance in the field-view of
caste is that of dominant caste which he explains is one which is numerically
preponderant and wields economic and political power. What is important to
note is that ritual status does not necessarily determine dominance of a
caste group over others.

View from the Field

Box 6.1: Sanskritisation and Westernisation

The idea of hierarchy is central to caste. The customs, rites and way of
life were different among the higher and lower castes. The dominant caste
punished those who encroached on forbidden ground, but the process could
not be stopped. This adoption of the symbols of higher status has been
celled Sanskritisation. The Lingayats of Mysore Sanskritised their way of life
over eight centuries ago. In recent times, Sanskritisation has been widespread
both spatially as well as structurally. The Ilavans of Kerala, the Smiths of
South India, the Ramgharias of Punjab, the Chamars of Uttar Pradesh and
many other castes have all tried to sanskritise their way of life. Liquor and
forbidden meals are given up. Sanskritic ritual is increasingly adopted and
there is an increasing demand for the services of a Brahmin priest at
wedding, birth, funeral rites and sraddha.
On the other hand, the higher castes, especially those living in the bigger
cities, are undergoing a process of Westernisation. Westernisation, like
Sanskritisation, is a blanket term: it includes Western education as well as
the adoption of Western ways of life and outlook. It also implies a degree
of secularisation and rationalism, and in these two respects it stands opposed
to Sanskritisation. In certain other respects, Westernisation helps to spread
sanskritisation through the products of its technology ___ newspapers, radios
and films.
In some exceptional cases, the lower castes and tribes are being Westernised
without undergoing a prior process of Sanskritisation. Again, Sanskritisation
occurs generally as part of the process of the upward movement of castes
while Westernisation has no such association. In fact, unlike Sanskritisation,
Westernisation is more commonly an individual or family phenomenon and
not a caste phenomenon, though some groups (Kodagus) and some areas
(Punjab) may be said to be more Westernised than the others. Again, some
groups may be more Westernised in the sense that they are highly educated,
whereas some others may be Westernised in their dress, food habits and
recreation (Srinivas, 1980:77-78).

Mencher analyses the caste system from bottom-up approach on the basis
of fieldwork among untouchables in Tamil Nadu. She argues that the
functionality of the caste system is only for those castes that enjoy the
privileges. On the other hand, the caste located at the lowest rung of the
caste hierarchy suffers from economic and social exploitation. She reveals
that there has been a protest from the castes located at the lowest rung of
the hierarchy, sometimes explicitly other times tacitly. But the fact of the
matter is that these protests were not recorded so they do not constitute


Perspectives on Caste

significant part of historical evidence. One of the reasons why this happened
was because the untouchables could never gather enough courage to lodge
their complaint against the so-called upper castes, as they were economically
dependent on them.
In a study of Jatavs of Agra, Lynch (1974) has highlighted the fact that the
Jatavs who once wanted to sanskritise, rejected the complete process of
sanskritisation when they got other avenues of mobility. These avenues, he
argues, have been thrown open by the process of parliamentary democracy,
and possibilities of political participation of the Jatavs. In this context the
Jatavs, hitherto untouchables, with stigmatised identity have taken refuge
in the democratic constitution of the social fabric in independent India.
They assert their right on the basis of equality and argue for provision of
equality of opportunity. The Jatavs formed secular association instead of
traditional panchayats. They also contested elections by forming political
parties and thereby tried to enhance their social status. They also attained
political and economic powers that were denied to them in the traditional
caste system.
In another case, Singh (1994:55) discussing patterns of sanskritisation reveals
another fact about the rejection of traditional caste hierarchy by the hitherto
untouchables. In his words, The third pattern in Sanskritisation is even
more important from a sociological point of view. Sanskritisation in such
cases takes place through increased Puritanism and traditionalism in a caste
along with rejection of the superiority of the twice born castes. Certain
casts of eastern Uttar Pradesh refused to accept water even from the
Brahmins, considering them less pure than themselves. Similarly, in many
other untouchable castes, the process of Sanskritisation includes the
rejection of some models of book-view of caste system. In this regard Cohn
(1955:215) writes:
Literacy has enabled the Chamars to relate to aspects of the Hindu Great
tradition, through reading stories available in vernacular books. Urban
employment has enabled Chamars to participate in rituals, derived from the
Hindu Great tradition, at low caste temple in the cities. Simultaneously,
there continues an earlier movement, the Siva Narayan sect, whose goal was
Sanskritisation. Another strand is represented by the celebration of Rai Das
birthday, which now is in hands of Chamar college students, who are, among
other things, using political action. Their stories about Rai Das have an antiBrahmin tint to them and they stress right action and right principles rather
than the more orthodox activities, worship and rituals. Another aspect that
deserves mention is the protest of the nonBrahmin communities against
the domination of Brahmins in different parts of the country. The apical
position accorded to the Brahmins in the sacred texts was challenged.


Further, we have noted that the caste system has often been considered a
system which is maintained rigidly through the practice of endogamy and
the ideology of purity-pollution ignoring conflict of power and privileges.
The field-view of caste has, however, revealed that the caste system was
(and is in the present day too) much influenced by political and economic
factors. The study of Nadars of Tamil Nadu is a case in point. Defining the
importance of caste in Indian politics, Rudolph and Rudolph (1987) reveal
that political clout can be used to change even the status in the caste
hierarchy and many rights can be acquired which were once denied to a
caste. They took the case of an untouchable community i.e. Shanans of

Tamil Nadu and explained how it could change the social status with the help
of political mobilisation and association. In their words, In 1921, the Shanans
succeeded in officially changing their name. Their metamorphosis was wrought
neither by the institutions of traditional society nor by findings of the legal
system, of the British state customs or the sacred texts of traditional society
justified shanan claims. It was government of Madras that wrought this
important symbolic change, and its reasons for doing so were in considerable
measure political. Nadars (as they were later on called) had brought increasing
political pressure to bear on government to recognise the changes in self
and social esteem resulting from a century of social change and mobility
(Rudolph and Rudolph, 1987:45).

View from the Field

Box 6.2: Pollution Rules

Pollution rules are much less strictly observed in cities than in villages. In
fact, in certain areas of urban life pollution has ceased to have any application.
People mix freely in factories and schools, and very few bother about the
caste of fellow-passengers in train and buses. In cities pollution is being
increasingly confined to the house, to women and to ritual occasions
In older days the higher castes regarded contact with the lower castes as
polluting, and the latter were also subjected to some disabilities. For instance,
the lower castes were not allowed to build tiled houses, wear the clothes that
the upper castes wore or take out wedding processions in streets inhabited
by high castes. Punishment for an offence varied according to the caste of
the persons who committed it and against whom it was committed. Mahatma
Gandhi roused the conscience of educated Indians about the practice of
untouchability. Apart from the injustice, educated Indians realised the political
dangers of trying to deny basic conditions of decent living to large numbers
of people on the ground of birth in a particular caste. It is this awareness
that has led to the adoption of various measures in independent India to put
an end to untouchability and to enable the scheduled castes and tribes to
advance to the level of the high castes. The grosser expression of
untouchability have disappeared in the cities, but in rural areas it still holds
sway. The economic emancipation of the Harijans and their increased
migration to urban areas are necessary for the complete eradication of
untouchability (Srinivas, 1980:78-79).

The caste system in its traditional form has undergone tremendous change
because of politicisation. In the domain of politics, both caste and kin seek
to establish new identities and strive for enviable positions. Politicians find
caste groupings readily available for political mobilisation. Kothari (1970)
explains that, traditionally, there were two aspects of the secular organisation
of caste: the governmental aspect which included caste councils, village
arbitration procedures and so on; and the political aspect which included
the intra-caste and inter-caste authority and status alignments and cleavages.
These were dispensed through authority relationships of the local elites and
the central political system(s). In the present day, electoral and party politics
assume tremendous importance. There is continuous co-option of more and
more strata in political-decision making processes. In some regions the
Brahmins got involved readily, in others particularly where the Brahmins were
not dominant, certain agricultural upper castes got involved
According to the dalits, the caste system was framed by the Aryans to
subjugate them. They say that since the Aryans were few in number and,


Perspectives on Caste

needed to control the indigenous people i.e., the dalits who were egalitarian,
they devised the caste system. Various caste movements as the Adi-Dravid,
were led by this ideology (Omvet, 1994). Dalits assert that their conversion
to different religions Islam, Sikhism, and Christianity introduced the element
of caste in them too. Later the dalit leaders mobilised the untouchables and
Shudras (who constitute the Dalit and other backward classes category in
contemporary times) under the banner of majority-minority communities.
They argue that the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas constitute only 15
per cent of the population, hence they are in minority to Dalits who constitute
the remaining population.

6.3 Field Based Studies

The field-view of caste comes out most clearly from studies at the grass
roots by sociologists and social anthropologists. Further, in specific terms
the field view localises our understanding of caste and makes the researcher
aware about the historical forces operating in the particular village or region
down the ages. The field view also equips the researcher to take into
account the internal factions within the caste. A researcher can observe
everyday interaction between various castes in a village in economic, political
and socio-religious spheres in a field situation and then develop a holistic
framework for exploring the social status and mobility of different castes.
What follows now are specific, field based studies that bring to light the
working of the caste system in the lives of people. Let us turn to a detailed
study of some important aspects of field-view with specific examples. Here
we have tried to evaluate the analysis of caste undertaken F. G. Bailey,
Adrian C. Mayer, McKim Marriott, and O.M. Lynch. The contribution made by
these authors is significant because their understanding of caste is based on
field view. This means they have tried to look at the caste system in India
in operational terms. All the scholars have closely observed and recorded the
intra/inter-caste interactions in the villages/regions of their studies and
have discussed the implications of such an inter-caste interaction for the
ranking of castes in the hierarchy. Nevertheless, they vary in their emphasis
and focus of study.

a) Kishangarhi Village in Aligarh

In the village of Kishangarhi located in Aligarh district, Uttar Pradesh, McKim
Marriott set out to study the nature of social hierarchy. The village was one
with people belonging to different castes, practicing different occupations.
Interestingly, all the people did not give the same rank order to castes.
Again, there was disparity between the rank ascribed to a caste in the
scriptures and that ascribed to it by the people. What this means is that,
the castes did not seem to derive their position in the social hierarchy from
the highness or lowness of their attributes. In fact some of the attributes
such as diet and occupational restrictions were not determinate in ascription
of rank to a caste. This stood out in contrast to the emphasis on the two
attributes in the texts. He found that the categorisation of food into pucca
and kuchha and its acceptance from those equal in caste rank or refusal from
those lower in caste rank was not a sufficient criterion of determining the
position of a caste in the hierarchy. In the Kishangarhi village itself the
vegetarian castes (as the washerman i.e., Dhobi) and the non- vegetarian
caste (as the leather workers i.e., Chamar) occupied the same position in
the caste hierarchy.


Marriott found that in relation to the occupational hierarchy or ranking of

castes on the basis of purity of occupations, the placement of castes did not
follow from the highness or lowness of occupation. Thus, those castes that
followed clean occupations were ranked differently; the carpenter was higher
than the gardener who was considered higher than the cultivator and so on.
The barber, shepherd and several others were, however, placed on the same
level of the local hierarchy.

View from the Field

Other scholars note that, castes following clean and pure occupations and
food habits are often ranked below those castes that follow the less pure
or more polluting occupations. In a Mysore village studied by Srinivas, for
example, there were both vegetarian and non-vegetarian castes, and castes
following both clean and unclean occupations. The traders caste is both a
vegetarian and follows a clean occupation as compared to other castes such
as the peasants. But castes such as the peasants rank above the traders.
This shows a discrepancy between the attributes of the caste and its rank.
It is found that a caste may follow a pure occupation and be non-vegetarian
or an impure occupation and be vegetarian. Thus both the castes combine
the pure and impure attributes. In such a caste, determination of rank is not
easy. A caste often consists of an admixture of attributes that are treated
as pure and those that are treated as impure. Often, a caste cannot be said
to be completely pure or completely impure. Take for instance the case of
Brahmins in different parts of the Indian subcontinent. According to the
book-view of the caste system, the Brahmins practice pure occupations,
such as priesthood, observe purity of diet i.e. strict vegetarianism and
teetotalism (i.e., avoidance of alcohol) and, among other reasons, because
of these attributes they occupy the highest rank in the hierarchy. But, when
we take the example of the Brahmins of Kashmir, Bengal and several other
regions we find that they are non-vegetarians and in spite of such dietary
habits they continue to occupy important social position in the caste
hierarchy. The book-view remains silent on the question of vegetarianism
and nature of occupation as being sufficient criteria for determining the
position of a caste in social hierarchy neither does it take note of the
different permutations in which the attributes combine and recombine in
actual lives.
Just as Marriott (1955) found in his village study that castes having the same
attributes of diet and occupation, often get ranked differently, F.G. Bailey
(1957) in his study of village Bisipara in Orissa, points out how there are
many castes in the village each of which is non-vegetarian yet they are
ranked differently by the villagers.

b) Caste in Bisipara Village of Orissa

Bailey studied the Bisipara village of Orissa which had several caste groups
represented by different population size that varied from one person to 150
people said that caste groups are united into a system through two principles
namely segregation and hierarchy. Castes, according to Bailey (1963:123),
stand in a ritual and secular (political, economic) hierarchy expressed in
rules of interaction. Here Bailey sees the caste system as a dynamic one in
which different castes are held together by the power of dominant caste.
According to him, the component of ritual status of a caste group goes
hand-in-hand with the political and economic status. The relationship
between castes is simply based on practice of rituals. The concern is with


Perspectives on Caste

power because, many castes are subordinate to the dominant caste. In fact,
the caste system is held together because of the concentration of power
(and force) in the hands of the dominant caste. Since ritual rank is always
consistent with political and economic status, once a caste becomes wealthy
it changes its pattern of interaction with other castes so that it may claim
a higher rank in hierarchy. In other words, a castes rank in the hierarchy is
expressed through its pattern of interaction with the other castes. Here,
the pattern of interaction becomes an indicator of its ritual status in the
hierarchy. The pattern of interaction includes the acceptance and distribution
of food; acceptance of water; willingness to smoke together and/ or to sit
together may also be treated as an indicator of pattern of interaction.
Exchange of gift is included in the list. Bailey also talks about the interaction
between people of same caste spread over different villages in the region.
A caste spread over a particular region may come together and strengthen
ties through marriage. When this region-wide relationship matures, the caste
may strive for power in the political sphere. Bailey explains the aforesaid
issue by looking at inter-caste interaction in Bisipara.
Box 6.3: Recent Changes
Dr. Baileys study, Caste and The Economic Frontier (1958), provides a good
example of kind of changes which came in the wake of British rule. In
Bisipara, a village in Khondmals in Orissa, two non-landowning castes made
money because they could get a monopoly of the profitable trade in hides
and liquor. It would have been polluting for the higher castes to handle liquor
or hides. Of the two castes one was able to raise itself up in the hierarchy
by Sanskritising its ritual and way of life; the other, found that untouchability
came in the way of its mobility (Srinivas, 1986:76).

According to Bailey, generally speaking, in the upper and lower extremes of

the hierarchy, one can find perfect correspondence between ritual, political
and economic status. In Bisipara, the warriors stood at the top of the caste
ritual hierarchy next only to a sole Brahmin family in the village. But in the
secular hierarchy consisting of political and economic statuses, warriors were
the dominant caste. They owned a large part of the land and dominated the
village council. But what happened after the change that swept Bisipara in
the post-independence period is more important to note from the vantage
point of field-view of caste system. After experiencing the winds of change,
the warriors position came to be ambiguous in the ritual hierarchy because
they lost much of their land. Moreover, the merchant caste as well as the
distiller caste people came to claim a position next to that of Brahmins.
None of these castes would accept food or water from one another anymore.
Thus, conflict developed between the distillers and the warriors regarding
their position in the ritual hierarchy.


Warriors like the Brahmins, accepted water from the herdsmen caste but not
from the distillers. Thus implicitly, the warriors placed the distillers below
herdsmen in the ritual hierarchy. The herdsmen, accepted food and water
from warriors but refused it from the distillers. The distillers now reacted by
accepting food and water only from the Brahmins and no one else. Thus,
distillers of Bisipara claimed for themselves a position next to the Brahmins,
after attaining wealth and weakening of the economic status of warriors.
The Bisipara case of distillers reveals that whenever there is an improvement
in political and economic status, castes tend to change their pattern of

interaction only to claim a higher rank in the ritual hierarchy. This is contrary
to the book-view that assigns a fixed ritual hierarchy for all the times with
Brahmins at the top and the Shudras at the bottom.

View from the Field

Reflection and Action 6.1

Discuss the major factors bringing about change in inter-caste relations.

c) Caste in Ramkheri Village in Madhya Pradesh

Ramkheri village is situated near a small town by the name of Dewas, in
Madhya Pradesh. Ramkheri had twenty-five Hindu and two Muslim castes.
Commensal relations were strictly regulated, though flexibility was possible
occasionally. To understand the hierarchy of commensal relations, Mayer
observed the following:
i) type of activity: eating, drinking water, smoking
ii) type of food: pacca food, kaccha food
iii) the place and context of eating: wedding or mourning
iv) who is seated next to whom while eating?
v) who provides the food? who cooks the food?
vi) in what vessel is water given, brass or earthen pot?
Mayer projects the village as a concrete reality affecting human relationships.
It is from the interaction between the various castes in a village that a
hierarchy of caste emerges. (See unit of ESO-12 of B.A. Programme) Mayer
analyses inter-caste relations and their relation with the unity of the village.
Mayer identifies economic and political interaction and more importantly,
commensality (inter-dining) as the factors, which determine caste hierarchy
in the village.
According to Mayer (1970), it is difficult to measure the ranks on the economic
and political basis of caste ranking. The problem with economic and political
factors is that, all members may not come together or have interaction in
the economic and political sphere. It is also a fact that economic wealth may
cut across caste divisions. In other words, a person of a high caste may
have a poor economic status and vice versa. These problems are resolved in
the context of ritual status. Ritual status in the caste hierarchy uniformly
applies to everyone in the caste. Even in the patterns of interaction, it is
only the commensal hierarchy that can give an intricate system of relations
between castes. In the words of Mayer (1970:59), The ranking of castes is
nowhere more clearly seen than in the commensal rules of eating, drinking
and smoking. Caste hierarchy is not determined solely by economic and
political factors, although these are important. For him, the single most
important factor is commensality, which clearly indicates the hierarchy
prevalent in the village.
It is a fact that, The commensal hierarchy is based on the theory that each
caste has certain quality of ritual purity which is lessened, or polluted by
certain commensal contacts with castes having inferior quality(Mayer, 1970:
33). Hence, a superior caste does not eat from the cooking vessels or the
hands of a caste that it regards as inferior, nor will its members sit next to
the inferior people in the same unbroken line (pangat) when eating. Drinking
and smoking follow similar rules of exclusion. According to Mayer, The position


Perspectives on Caste

of a caste on the commensal hierarchy can be assessed on the principle that

eating the food cooked or served by another caste denotes equality with or
inferiority and that not to eat denotes equality and superiority To put it
another way, those from whom all will eat are higher than those from whom
none will eat (Mayer, 1970:34).
Mayer explains, that the Brahmins come first in the undisputed position.
The Brahmins of Ramkheri village eat kaccha food cooked only by members
of their own caste or sub-caste. All the other castes accept the food cooked
by the Brahmins and drink freely from their earthen pots. Moreover, according
to Mayer, next to the Brahmin in the hierarchy are two groups of castes, one
group is vegetarian while the other is non- vegetarian. Rajputs eat nonvegetarian food, but consider barbers and the potters as inferior because
they accept kaccha food from the inferior carpenter or farmer. The dairymen
of Ramkheri accept kaccha food only from the Brahmins but from no other
caste. Only some most inferior castes (weaver, tanner, sweeper) accept food
from them. In a similar way, oil-pressers of Ramkheri are ranked slightly
above the dairymen, because at least a few castes above them eat from
them. Carpenter, gardener, smith, farmer and tailor castes accept kaccha
food only from the Brahmins. Carpenter is placed high because he eats only
from the Brahmins and the farmer is placed lower than carpenter because he
accepts food from Rajputs and potters as well.
Still lower in the hierarchy are the bhilala, mina, nath and drummer. None of
these castes accept kaccha food from each other. Weavers, tanners and
sweepers are at the lowest order of the hierarchy. Sweeper is considered to
be the lowliest of all castes in Ramkheri village because he alone eats the
left-over from the plates of other castes. Now from the above description
of caste hierarchies it becomes clear that the commensal relations in Ramkheri
village indicate and express the ritual status of various caste groups. The
other indicators of hierarchy as emphasised in the sacred scriptures have
been rendered inconsequential.
Reflection and Action 6.2
Discuss how the book-view of caste differs from the field-view of caste.
Illustrate your answer with suitable examples.

6.4 Conclusion


We have come to realise that the caste situation at the grass roots presents
several dimensions that are not contained in the sacred scriptures. The view
from the field lays emphasis on the secular, daytoday interactions between
people belonging to different castes and among people belonging to the
same caste. Now, while the texts classify people into four varnas (Brahmin,
Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra) based on a theory of their origin from different
parts of the body of the creator (later the fifth varna comprising those
presently known as untouchables, harijans was added) at ground-reality,
there are several jatis or castes based on occupation. The book-view of
caste was a rigid and closed system with negligible scope for social mobility.
The thrust was on rituals, hierarchy based on purity-impurity. Surely, then
caste emerged as a static entity. It may be safely concluded that the bookview of caste gives us only partial reality of the structure and functioning
of the caste system in India. It gives a normative and prescriptive order that
does not work in all situations. It can also be ascertained from the above

that the normative principles enshrined in the sacred texts on the basis of
which most of the notions of book view of caste are carved for individuals
and groups are governed by different principles in a given geographical and
socio-political situation. The field situation is plagued with social change and
conflict. It also points to the possibility of an alternate way of explaining

View from the Field

The field view brings to light the dynamics of caste relations in which the
element of ritual does not remain excessively significant. Wealth and power
rather ritual assume greater importance and determine and social hierarchy.
Dominant caste (defined by Srinivas as one which preponderates numerically
over the other castes, and wields preponderant economic and political power)
governs inter-caste relations. Education and constitutional provisions for
the backward caste have had a profound impact on the operative aspect of
the caste system. There is fuzziness of hierarchy in the caste occupying the
middle rungs.

6.5 Further Reading

Lynch, Owen, M., 1974 The Politics of Untouchability. National Publishing
House, Delhi
Mayer, Adrian, C, 1970 Caste & Kinship in Central India: A Village and its
Region, University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles
Rudolph, I, L.& Rudolph, Susanne, Hoeber., 1987, The Modernity of Tradition:
Political Development in India. Orient Longman









Demographic and Social Dimensions



Problems of Urban Areas



Slum Population
Emergence of Slums

Social Consequences of Urbanisation



Inadequate Housing
Unsafe and Insufficient Water Supply
Inefficient and Inadequate Transport
Environmental Decay

Problems of Slums


Demographic Dimensions
Social Dimensions

Efforts to Curb Undesirable Consequences

State Policy on Urban Problems


Social Legislation Relating to Urban Land and Housing

Programmes of Slum Clearance and Construction of New Houses
The Five Year Plans


Let Us Sum Up


Key Words


Further Readings

6.10 Answers to Check Your Progress



The objectives of this unit are to explain the meaning of urbanisation and
point out some of the major problems which have assumed a massive proportion
due to unprecendented rate of urban growth in India. To be more specific,
after reading this unit, you should be able to :

explain the meaning and social dimensions of urbanisation,

describe over-urbanisation and its problems with special reference to

the question whether India is really over-urbanised,

discuss the problems of housing, water supply, transport and environment

pollution in urban India,

examine problem of slums in Indian cities,


Structure in Tranistion I

analyse the major social consequences of urbanisation in relation to the

life and activities of urban dwellers, and

discuss the state policy on urban housing, water supply, sanitation, etc.



In the earlier two units of this block we discussed the social demography and
migration in the context of social problems in India. In this unit we shall deal
with the important facets of the social problems of the urban areas.
This unit begins with a discussion on the various dimensions of urbanisation,
viz., demographic and social. The demographic aspects cover the growth of
urban population and cities and metropolitan towns and their recent trends. In
the social aspects, we discuss urbanism as a way of life, the primary and
secondary urbanisation and the changing social and economic institutions. The
social problems of urban areas are discussed in great length in this unit with
special reference to the problems of over-urbanisation, housing, water supply,
transport, pollution and environmental decay. Problems of slums are also dealt
with in this unit. There are various negative social consequences of urbanisation,
viz., crime, isolation, maladjustment, etc. These undesirable consequences and
measures undertaken to curb these consequences are discussed in this unit.
Lastly, we discuss the state policy on urban housing, water supply and
sanitation. In this section, we discuss social legislation relating to urban land
and housing programmes of slum clearance and urban development in the
Five Year Plans.




In Unit No.4, Block 1, of ESO-02, we introduced you to the patterns of

urbanisation in India. In this unit we shall discuss the social problems associated
with the process of urbanisation in contemporary India. Before discussing these
problems, let us have an overview of the demographic and social dimensions
of urbanisation in India.

6.2.1 Demographic Dimensions

In simple words, the process of urbanisation denotes population growth of the
cities and towns. Sociologically, it also denotes the spread of urban way of life
to the country-side. Thus, the process of urbanisation has demographic as well
as social dimensions. In present times, with the spread of industrialisation, the
process of urbanisation has received unprecedented momentum all over the
world and more specifically in the third world countries. It is predicated, on
the basis of the current rates of urbanisation, that within a few decades the
urban population of the third world countries will grow twice that of the present
industrialised societies.


Growth of Urban Population and Metropolitan Cities

Though India is known as a country of villages the size of her urban population
is second largest in the world with 307 million (30.7 crores) of population
living in the urban areas. According to 2001 census 30.5% of Indian population

live in the urban areas. Over the years there have been a steady increase in the
urban population in India from 17.29% in 1951 to 30.05% in 2001. However,
there have been variations in the decennial growth rate of urban population
caused by various socio-economic and political factors. The broad picture of
urbanisation in India is given in table 1 below:


Table 1
Total Population and Urban Population in India

Towns Cities (UAs

(No.) with million+ population
population) (million)

(%of total)

growth rate
of urban
population (%)


















Source : Census of India (2001)

In ESO-2, Block 1, you have studied in details the patterns of urbanisation in

India. However, for further clarification you would be interested to know that:
(a) more than two-third of the urban population live in Urban- Agglomerations
(UA), i.e., cities having a population greater than one million (see table 2); (b)
the patterns of urbanisation have been very uneven in India (see table 3); (c)
though there are several positive sides of urbanisation, the process has been
accompanied by several urban problems.
Table 2
Distribution of Urban Population, 2001
India/State/Union Territory



% of Urban

Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Tamil Nadu
Daman & Diu





Structure in Tranistion I

West Bangal
Andhra Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh
Jammu & Kashmir
Dadra & Nagar Haveli
Arunachal Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh




Source : Census of India, Government of India Press, New Delhi.


Table 3

1951 1961 1971 1981 1991

4.67 5.98
2.97 4.15
1.43 2.36
1.54 1.95
Hyderabad 1.13 1.25
Jaipur M. Corp.
Ludhiana M. Corp.



rate in

Decennial Decennial Decennial Decennial

rate in
rate in
rate in
rate in


9.19 10.86
8.23 12.56
















Note : Data refers to the entire urban agglomeration around each city except
for Jaipur, Ludhiana, Agra and Meerut.
Source : Census of India, 2001, Government of India Press, New Delhi.

Visakhapatnam has shown the highest rate of growth, i.e., 73.9 per cent followed
by Hyderabad (67.9 per cent), Ludhiana (66.7 per cent), Surat (66.0 per cent),
Lucknow (65.7 per cent) and Bhopal (55.8 per cent) during 1981-91.


iii) Recent Trends

In brief, the demographic trends reveal that although the proportion of urban
population in India is relatively less, yet in terms of absolute numbers, Indias
urban population is more than the total population of several developed
countries. It is projected that at the beginning of the twenty-first century as
many as 32 crores of people will be living in urban centres in India.
The rapid growth of urban population in the third world countries has led to
the availability of public utilities becoming scarce. In India, such a situation in
big cities has made it very difficult for the local administration to cope with the
increasing population and arrive at any enduring solution. In social science, this
has led to formulation of the controversial notion of over-urbanisation. In order
to ameliorate the fast deteriorating conditions of urban living systematic urban
policy and effective measures, urban renewal have become inevitable in India
and all other third world countries.

6.2.2 Social Dimensions

The process of urbanisation has to be explained both in demographic and social
contexts. In demographic sense, the term urbanisation is largely used to explain
the process of urban growth. In this sense, it refers to the proportion of a total
population living in cities and towns at a given point of time. In sociology, the
term urbanisation is also used to denote a distinct way of life, which emerges in
cities due to their large, dense and hetrogeneous population. Such a life is
distinct from the life and activities of the people living in villages. In this section,
we shall discuss the social aspects of urbanisation. Let us begin with the
formulation of Louis Wirth.

Urbanism as a Way of Life

Louis Wirths formulation of urbanism as a way of life explains that the city,
characterised by a relatively large, dense and permanent settlement of socially
heterogeneous individuals, gives rise to various kinds of social relationships
and patterns of behaviour among the city-dwellers. Further, Louis Wirth also
argues that the city effects are wider than city itself. Thus, the city draws the
surrounding villages and even remote communities into its orbit. In other words,
urbanism as a way of life is not peculiar to city-dwellers alone as the influences
of the city (i.e., impact of urbanisation) stretch far behind its administrative
boundaries. In brief, urbanisation in its demographic sense refers to the trends
of growth of the urban population. In societal context and in its sociological
sense it also denotes a distinct way of life typically associated with living in the
city and the process of transforming rural ways of life into urban ones.

Primary and Secondary Urbanisation

Robert Redfield and Milton Singer elaborate the role of cities in the light of the
impact of urban growth and urbanisation on a culture. They describe the city as
a centre of cultural innovation, diffusion and progress. They have classified the
process of urbanisation into two categories:


Structure in Tranistion I

a) Primary urbanisation, and

b) Secondary urbanisation.
According to them, the trend of primary urbanisation is to coordinate political,
economic, educational, intellectual and aesthetic activities to the norms provided
by Great Tradition. The process of secondary urbanisation works in the industrial
phase of the city, and is characterised by heterogenetic development. Thus, the
effects of secondary urbanisation are those of disintegration. They opine that:
the general consequence of secondary urbanisation is the weakening of
suppression of the local and traditional cultures by states of mind that are
incongruent with those local cultures. The first type carries forward the regional
tradition, and the city becomes its epi-centre, the second type bring external
elements to the city.
iii) Changing Social and Economic Institutions
Urbanisation has its bearing on social relationships in community living. The
relationships of community-living tend to become impersonal, formal, goaloriented, contractual and transitory. With urbanisation, transformation of
economic activities from the agricultural sector to the non-agricultural sector
takes place, and the proportion of population engaged in secondary and tertiary
sectors of activities increases with division of labour and specialisation of work.
Further, the process of urbanisation also leads to breakdown in the functioning
of traditional institutions and patterns of behaviour and of social control. It
leads to a situation of continuity and change in the sense that the traditional
forms often continue to persist, but their functions undergo major re-adaptations
in the face of urbanisation. As pointed out by Yogendra Singh, many new
roles, often rational and modern in orientation, are added on to the traditional
institutional forms. In India, the traditional institutions like caste, joint family
and neighbourhood, etc., offer ample evidence of such continuity and change
in cities.
Urban growth coupled with industrial development induces rural-urban
migration whereby the cities of bigger size, offering opportunities of improving
life, tend to overflow with the rural migrants. On the one hand, such migration
accelerates the pace of urbanisation and, on the other, it creates excessive
population pressure on the existing public utilities with the result that cities
suffer from the problems of slums, crime, unemployment, urban poverty,
pollution, congestion, ill-health and several deviant social activities. In this
context, it is essential to know the various facets of over-urbanisation and urban
problems in India.
Check Your Progress 1

According to the 2001 Census, what percentage of the total population

live in the urban areas?




Who among the following sociologists formulated the concept of

urbanism as a way of life?

Emile Durkheim


Karl Marx


Max Weber


Louis Wirth


iii) In the process of urbanisation, the relationships of community living tend

to become











Many scholars have tried to explain the social problems of urban India in terms
of over-urbanisation. It would be interesting to know the meaning and
dimensions of urbanisation and their applicability in the Indian context.

6.3.1 Over-urbanisation
Over-urbanisation in one sense implies excessive urbanisation in relation to
employment growth. It also means that the urban population has grown to such
a large size that the cities fail to ensure a decent way of life to the urbandwellers on account of excessive population pressure on civic amenities, housing,
etc. In the Indian context, the idea of over-urbanisation has been advanced on
the grounds that (a) there is an imbalance between the levels of industrialisation
and urbanisation in India, (b) the process of urbanisation takes away a lions
share of resources and, thus, impinges upon the rate of economic growth of
society, (c) the availability of civic amenities and facilities is so poor that these
have now reached a point of break-down and become almost incapable of bearing
further growing urban pressures.
Contrary to the idea of over-urbanisation, several scholars have stressed that
India does not suffer from the problem of over-urbanisation. In order to support
this argument, it has been pointed out that the trends of industrial-urban growth
in India conform to similar trends in as many as 80 per cent of the developing
societies. Secondly, it has also been argued that with the rise of urbanisation in
India diversification of economy providing for new opportunities of employment
have also considerably increased. This has also led to a rise in the levels of the
income of the urban-dwellers.
The analysis offered by the Institute of Urban Affairs does not support the idea
that rapid urbanisation in India is causing a distortion in the allocation of
resources between urban and rural areas, and thereby negatively affecting the
pace of economic development. In other words, the urban problems in India
area not a result of over-urbanisation but are largely due to lack of effective
urban policy governing the patterns of urbanisation. Let us now turn to some
of the major problems of urbanisation in India.


Structure in Tranistion I

6.3.2 Inadequate Housing

The rapid growth of population in cities has given rise to numerous social
problems among which the problem of housing is the most distressing. In fact,
a vast majority of urban population live under conditions of poor shelter and
in highly congested spaces. It is estimated that nearly 70 per cent of population
in big cities live in sub-standard houses, which they call their homes. Special
mention may be made here of the old houses, which are deteriorating in the
sense that they are unserved, overcrowded and dilapidated. Usually, such
decaying houses are found in the middle of most of the cities. Similarly, there
are hundreds of such people who are living in cities as pavement-dwellers,
without any kind of shelter at all.

Problems of Urbanisation


The available statistics show that in India more than half of the urban households
occupy a single room, with an average occupancy per room of 4.4 persons. In
Greater Bombay, as many as 77 per cent of the households with an average of
5.3 persons live in one room, and many others are forced to sleep on the
pavements at night. The conditions of other big cities and others are forced to
sleep on the pavements at night. The conditions of other big cities and

industrially growing towns are believed to be equally disturbing. It is estimated

that more than 3 lakh persons in Delhi are without a shelter of their own.


In order to solve the problem of urban housing, systematic efforts are being
made through various programmes of urban development. Among these efforts,
special mention may be made of the schemes of subsidised housing for
economically weaker sections and the schemes of slum-clearance and
improvement. These schemes are relevant and beneficial to the urban poor.

6.3.3 Unsafe and Insufficient Water Supply

Availability of water for domestic use constitutes one of the basic civic
amenities. Unfortunately, in the cities of the third world countries including
India there are only a few urban dwellers, who enjoy this amenity on a regular
and satisfactory basis. Nearly 30 per cent of the urban population in India is
deprived of safe drinking water facility. Largely, the municipal pipes and
handpumps are the major sources of procuring water in towns and cities. But
in most of the cities, specially the rapidly growing ones, the slum-dwellers
have to suffer acute problems in procuring water for domestic use. Several
systematic studies have brought out the plight of the slum-dwellers in this
regard. Not only have they to wait for long hours at the water-tap but many a
times fights and unpleasant disputes for the sake of drinking water arise owning
to the heavy rush of the slum-dwellers to procure water before it stops running
through the water tap every day. In some cases, it was found that more than a
hundred families depended exclusively on one water tap. The problem of regular
water supply in smaller cities and towns too is assuming an accute form with
rapid and unmanageable stream of urbanisation.

6.3.4 Inefficient and Inadequate Transport

The lack of efficient transport facility is yet another major problem which has
become, almost in all big cities, a headache for the local authorities. In fact, an
efficient and well-knit network of transport facilities is essentially required for
the movements of the city-dwellers between their residence and place of work
and to the central business area. It also facilitates the movements of the daily
commuters, who depend upon the city for their earning without living there
permanently. The narrow roads and streets, their poor conditions, on the one
hand, and, on the other, numerous vehicles, public-buses, rickshaws, twowheelers, cars, bullock-carts, trucks and bicycles, all plying together create a
unique scene of traffic congestion and traffic jams practically in every part of
the city, more so in the central business area and other important zones of the
city. The problem of transport in the wake of rapid urbanisation has become so
serious that any effort to check it hardly yields a permanent solution. In the old
and pre-industrial areas of the city, narrow roads and still narrower residential
streets hardly offer any scope for efficient transport facilities. Moreover,
whatever little transport network is seen in the cities, that too has become a
major source of environmental pollution due to traffic jams and poor conditions
of vehicles.

6.3.5 Pollution
The recent trends of industrial urban growth in India and several third world
countries have created a very serious problem of pollution threatening the health
and happiness of human beings. The problem of pollution is so different from
many other problems that common people hardly comprehend its seriousness
although everyone slowly and continuously becomes the victim of ill-effects.


Structure in Tranistion I

Margaret Mead observed that pollution is one of the greatest problems by

modern industrial urban civilisation.
The problem of pollution is becoming increasingly acute with the rise of
urbanisation on account of the following reasons:

Indiscriminate growth of industrial and chemical plants in spite of the

efforts through legal measures to check such growth.
Pre-industrial structure of cities with narrow streets and roads, which have
become defective and inefficient in regulating traffic.
High-rise buildings, representing vertical growth of cities, ultimately
causing high density of population, congestion on roads and pollution.
Lack of effective and systematic use pattern on account of scarce land
and its commercial speculation.

Today, in India, Bombay (now Mumbai) and Calcutta (now Kolkata) belong
to the category of worlds very densely populated cities. The situation of other
class I cities is also equally worse. Some years ago, R.S.Kamat carried out a
study in Bombay with a view to compare the health of 4000 persons living in
the Chembur and Lalbaugh areas of pollution with posh areas of Khar. He
found that the inhabitants of the Chembur and Lalbaugh areas had shown high
incidence of diseases like asthma, allergy, T.B., burning of eyes and cancer,
etc., whereas the inhabitants of the Khar area showed much less. Similarly,
under the auspices of K.E.M. Hospital, Bombay, a study was conducted a few
years ago. It revealed that nearly 16 per cent of the textile workers in Bombay
were suffering from respiratory diseases. In Calcutta, it was found that almost
60 per cent of the population was suffering from respiratory problems due to
polluted environment. One of the studies on slums in Kanpur has revealed that
more than 55 per cent children were suffering from T.B., because of dirt, filth
and pollution in and around slums. Laster Brown, Cristopher Flavin and their
colleagues in the World Watch Institute, based in Washington D.C. and engaged
in environmental research, have recently said that air pollution has assumed
such alarming proportions in several cities and rural areas around the world
that merely breathing the air in Bombay is now equivalent to smoking ten
cigarettes a day.


One of the greatest sources of pollution in cities is ever-increasing traffic. The

vehicles plying on the congested roads release smoke, carbondioxide, nitrogen
oxide, hydrocarbon, aldehydes and Ieadoxide, etc. J.N. Dae of Jawaharlal Nehru
University conducted a study in Bombay and Delhi, and found that the means
of transportation plying in these metropolises released 70 per cent carbon
monoxide, 40 per cent hydrocarbon and 30 to 40 per cent other pollutants
along with smoke and fumes, causing serious environmental pollution affecting
the health of the city-dwellers. According to the report of the National Policy
Committee of the Planning Commission (1978), there were more than nine
lakhs and 50 thousand vehicles in the four metropolises Calcutta, Bombay,
Delhi and Madras (now Chennai). This figure has possibly reached to over 20
lakh vehicles by now. In addition to all these vehicles, the industries, factories,
slums, and the high density of population are equally responsible sources is
also found as a major source of pollution. The availability of liquid petroleum
gas has not yet reached a large section of the population, hence, a majority of
people still depend upon traditional fuel for cooking purposes. It is estimated
that till the end of 1988 the facility of LPG become available only in 805
urban centres covering about 11 million households.



Do You Know 1
Availability of Electricity, Safe Drinking Water, Sanitation and Health
Infrastructure (1997-98)
Type of facility

Percentage of households
Rural Urban





Safe drinking water




Electricity and safe drinking water




Safe drinking water and toilet




Electricity and toilet




All the three facilities




None of the three facilities




Beds per 10,000 population in

Public hospitals




Source : World Development Indicators, World Bank, 2001.

Do You Know 2
Air Pollution Levels in various Cities 1998

Total suspended
(Microgrammes per
cubic metre)

(microgrammes per
cubic metre)

(microgrammes per
cubic metre








































Source : World Development Indicators, 2001, World Bank, 2001.


Structure in Tranistion I

Do You Know 3
Delhi Slums - the Reality
Delhi has seen a swelling of its population from 2 million in 1947 to over 13
million today. The government has been unable to meet the infrastructure
and social challenges that have arisen from this growth, and shanty towns
have emerged as a response. For those living in shanties the outlook is bleak.
Record show:
1. 1500 shanty colonies in Delhi over 3 million people.
2. The average population density in a shanty town is 300,000 people per
square kilometer.
3. An average dwelling houses 6-8 people, yet measures 6ft (2mt) 8ft (2.5
4. The under-five mortality rate is 149 per 1000 live births.
5. 1 water pump on average serves 1000 people.
6. Many slums have no facilities. Where latrines are provided, the average
is 1 latrine per 27 households.
7. 40 per cent of children are severely malnourished in Delhi, about 40,000
children are labourers, 30,000 assist in shops, another 30,000 work in
teashops and 20,000 in auto repair shops.
8. 100,000 children are part-time or full-time domestic helps.
9. 75 per cent of men and 90 per cent of women living in shanties are
Source : <http://www.asha-india.org/slumsreality.asp>

6.3.6 Environmental Decay

Added to all these demographic and technological sources of pollution, the
human factor involved in causing environmental decay needs attention. The
apathy of the city-dwellers and industrialists towards cleanliness of the
environment, lack of seriousness on the part of local civic authorities in
maintaining environmental standards, stronghold of the vested interest groups
on available land, poor maintenance of public utilities, such as, latrines,
drainage, dustbins, water-taps and bathrooms, etc., contribute to the
environmental pollution so much that many parts of the city become the living
examples of dirt and filth. At times, it is seen that even the hospitals and gardens
are also very poorly maintained from the standpoint of cleanliness. With the
ever-increasing pace of urbanisation and resultant population pressure on the
available land and public utilities the environmental pollution in cities has
now become a great challenge to the health and happiness of the urban people.
The fast deteriorating conditions of urban living can only be ameliorated through
systematic programmes flowing from a well-conceived and effective rational
policy on environment as well as emergence of a serious awareness among the
city dwellers and commuters for pollution control.

Check Your Progress 3



What are the major features of over-urbanisation in India? Answer in

about six lines.


Write a short note, in about six lines, on the housing problems in the
Indian urban areas.

iii) What are the main reasons for the increase in the pollution problems in
urban areas?



In the wake of rapid urbanisation, slums in cities have become an almost

inevitable and necessary evil.

6.4.1 Slum Population

The figures relating to urban population living in slums are not accurately
available, nevertheless it is commonly accepted that nearly one-fifth of the
total urban population in India lies in slums. According to the statistics provided
by the Seventh Plan document, nearly 10 per cent (or 3 crore of the total 16
crore) of the urban population in India live in slums. The Task Force on Housing
and Urban Development, appointed by the Planning Commission of India,
estimated nearly 23 per cent or over 3 crore 60 lakh persons as the urben slum-


Structure in Tranistion I

dwellers in India. The proportion of the slum-dwellers increase with the size
of the urban population. Cities with less than one lakh population have 17.5
per cent; cities with the population between one lakh and ten lakhs have 21.5
per cent, and cities having more than ten lakhs of population have 35.5 per
cent slum-dwellers in the total population. In the case of Calcutta and Bombay,
it is estimated that 43.86 lakhs and 41.26 lakhs, respectively lived in slums, in
the year 1990. The four metropolitan centres, Calcutta, Bombay Delhi and
Madras, have around 50 per cent of the total population living in slums by
now. A similar situation prevails in African and Latin American countries.

6.4.2 Emergence of Slums

The National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi, has recorded that the
emergence of slums is essentially the product of three forces:

demographic dynamism of a city attracting more people from the rural

areas offering greater potential for employment;


its incapacity to meet the rising demand for housing; and


the existing urban land policies, which prohibit the access of the poor to
the urban land market.

It is further observed that the urban poor are left with no choice but to make or
take shelter illegally on any available piece of land. Sometimes a slum is the
consequence of blight in the old parts of the city. At times, a slum is inherited in
the form of an old village or a haphazardly growing locality within the extended
territorial limits of a town.
The magnitude of the problem of slums is alarming. The Government of India,
for purposes of the implementation of various schemes relating to urban
development, has defined a slum area as follows: A slum area means any area
where such dwellings predominate, which by reason of dilapidation,
overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design of buildings, narrowness and faulty
arrangement of street, lack of ventilation, lack of sanitation facilities, inadequacy
of open spaces and community facilities or any combination of these factors,
are detrimental to safety, health or morale. These slum areas are also referred
to as the blighted area; renewal area; deteriorated area, gray area; lower
class neighbourhood; lower income area; etc. In India, these areas are also
known as Jeropadpatti; Juggi Jhounpadi; Bastee; Akatas and Cherri, in
regional vocabularies.
Michael Harington says that in the face of rapid industrial-urban growth in the
technologically advanced and capitalistic country like the United States of
America also there are such slums, which at times are referred to as the other
Box 1 : Characteristics of Slums
The physical aspects and general conditions of the slums are by and large the same
everywhere. The foremost characteristics of slums can be briefly enumerated in the
following manner:

1) Dilapidated and poor houses in slums are made of poor design and scrap
materials. These are often raised on unauthorised land.

2) High density of population and housing leads to over-crowding and congestion;

one room is often used for all practical purposes of domesticating living. In
Bombay and in many other big cities, it can be seen that in the slum areas one
room tenement with 100 sq.f. to 150 sq.f. of space is occupied by more than 10


3) Lack of public utilities and facilities, such as, drainage, sanitation, water taps,
electric light, health centres, common latrines and public parks, etc., are widely
observable characteristics of slums.
4) The slum-dwellers are functionally integrated with the mainstream of the city
life, yet the high incidence of deviant behaviour such as crime, juvenile
delinquency, prostitution, drug use, beggary, illegitimacy, illicit distilling of
liquor, gambling and other social evils are associated with slum areas. It does
not mean that all those residing in slums are necessarily associated with such
deviant behaviour. The slum areas, socially and physically provide greater
opportunity for such kinds of deviant behaviour.
5) Slums have a culture of their own, which Marshall Clinard has termed as a
way of life. It is said to be largely a synthesis of the culture of the lower class
and of that which Lewis has referred to as the culture of poverty.
6) Though the slum-dwellers are functionally integrated to the city life, apathy
and social isolation characterise a slum. It means that largely slums are subject
to neglect and apathy of the larger community. These areas are looked down
upon and considered inferior. Such a reaction from the larger community renders
slums into social isolation, detached from the city as a whole. Under these
circumstances, the slum-dwellers find it almost impossible to improve these
conditions through their own efforts.

Slums are dilapidated and overcrowded areas with lack of adequate public
utilities, yet their existence in the city does serve a purpose, especially for the
urban poor and migrants coming for some job opportunities in the city. It is in
slums that poor people like industrial workers, casual labourers, hawkers, petty
shopkeepers, vegetable-sellers and several others offering useful services to
the city find a place to stay. These poor people belonging to different castes,
religions, regions and languages live together even amidst extreme poor
conditions. At times, these slums play a very vital role in orienting the new
migrants to the city environment. In other words, the slum-dwellers, by
providing social comfort and support to the new migrants, help them to adjust
to the conditions of city-living and finally integrate themselves with the
mainstream of city life.
In India, the slums are usually classified into the following three categories:
(1) the old building which have become dilapidated and deteriorated in course
of time; (2) the slums which are characterised by poor and inadequate housing
conditions, constructed legally around mills and factories, (3) the slums which
illegally come up in different parts of the city through unauthorised occupation
of open land.
Activity 1
Visit a slum area, preferably of your home town. Try to find out, either through
observation or through interaction, the major problems faced by these slumdwellers. After the collection of information is over, try to develop a note on the
Problems of Slum-dwellers in My Home Town in about two pages. If possible,
discuss your note with the coordinator and the co-learners of your Study Centre.


Structure in Tranistion I




The rapid urbanisation over the last few decades in India (and elsewhere in the
third world countries) has latently led to rise in several problems. In fact, in
the modern developed societies, these problems came into existence since the
emergence of industrialisation during the 18th century. Today, the developing
societies are acquiring the characteristics of the developed societies even in
crime, juvenile delinquency, rape, murder, prostitution, gambling, suicide and
alcoholism. Moreover, the unprecedented pace of urbanization, causing high
density of population and conditions of urban anonymity, have given rise to
socio-psychological problems of adjustment, especially in the case of the
migrants to the city of their destination. Here, we shall briefly look into the
problems of crime, isolation and maladjustment.

6.5.1 Crime
The metropolises and the big cities provide greater environmental opportunities
for committing crimes and acts of juvenile delinquency. The rate of crime is
very high in cities compared to the rural and tribal areas. With the rise of
urbanisation, the rate of crime gets further accentuated as the opportunities of
success through socially legitimate means remain scarce as against the number
of aspirants. Moreover, urban anonymity in a way encourages resorting to
unlawful activities, as the traditional agencies of social control and law and
order become noticeably weak. Under these conditions of urban living, crimes
such as theft, burglary, kidnapping and abduction, murder, rape, cheating,
criminal breach of trust, gambling, prostitution, alcoholism and counterfeiting,
etc., have become almost routine affairs in most cities, especially the million
cities. Further, in all big cities the criminal gangs indulging in organised crimes
have become a grave social problem. These criminal gangs have their network
stretching beyond a given city, spread over more than one city. At times, these
gangs are so resourceful that, even when caught by the police, they easily
succeed in escaping punishment.
Modern research points out that the great amount of crime in modern urban
centers reflects the inability of the urban community to integrate all its members
and to control those who resist integration. Crime and city are thus casually
connected. Scholars pointed out that the urbanisation of rural areas and an
increase in crime go hand in hand. Several years ago it was found that among
the rural areas and an increase in crime go hand in hand. Several years ago it
was found that among the rural inmates in an Iowa performatory in the USA
characteristics associated with an urban way of life played a significant role in
their criminal behaviour.


Compared to western societies, the rate of crime in urban India is low;

nevertheless, the problem of crime is becoming grave in all big cities in India.
The most significant reasons for this deteriorating situation lie in an
unprecedented rate of population growth of these cities, widespread economic
insecurities, and decline in the management of law and order. In 1974, out of
the total crimes reported all over the country, more than 12 per cent crimes
were committed in eight big cities Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Kanpur,
Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Bangalore. The accompanying table shows some

details about the crimes reported under the Indian Penal Code in the eight
major cities, in 1979.


The Crime reported in eight Indian cities under IPC in 1979


Number of Crimes

Rate of crime per

lakh & population




























Source: Drawn from Hand Book on Social Welfare Statistics 1981, Govt. of India, Ministry
of Social Welfare, New Delhi.

The national capital, Delhi, continued to be the crime capital of the country,
recording a crime rate that is more than double the national average among the
metropolitan cities. During 2002, Delhis crime rate was put at 385.8 per lakh
of population, much higher than the national average of 172.3.
While the crime rate of Chennai stood at 113.5 per lakh of population, Kolkata
reported at an even lower rate of 90.6 and Mumbai at 177 was slightly above
the national average.
The highest crime rate among large urban centres was reported in Bhopal
(740.9), followed by Vijayawada at 666, Indore 626 and Jaipur 524.
Activity 2
Read any national daily for at least 30 days to classify the crimes reported from
various cities in India.

In Western societies, the unskilled labour is identified with the blue collar
shirts and the office-going people with the white collar. Generally, people
think that the blue collar has close links with crime. It has, however, been
found that wrong behaviour is not limited to this group, and even persons
associated with clean dress commit objectionable behaviour that at times goes
unnoticed. The white-collar crimes, which are committed largely by violating
the rules and regulations of trade, business or profession during the conduct of
these activities also become widespread, especially in cities which are the
victims of rapid urbanisation. Usually, individuals and groups resorting to the
white-collar crimes enjoy power, prestige and clandestine relations with the
authorities due to their professional or business activities. On account of such
social connections, many among them find it easier to escape punishment even
if the consequences of their unlawful activities are grave in the larger interests
of society.

Structure in Tranistion I

6.5.2 Isolation
Social interaction with others is a basis of all forms of social relationships and
social groupings. It plays a very vital and meaningful role in all forms of social
life: rural, urban or tribal. In smaller communities, such interactions in different
aspects of life provide for personal and intimate social relationships, whereas
in the cities due to the large, and heterogeneous population, the possibilities of
such relationships are considerably minimised. With the rise of urbanisation,
a city-dweller, while living amidst a sea of fellow city-dwellers, is detached
from them socially . In other words, a city-dweller is physically in proximity
with others in different walks of life, but socially he is under conditions of
relative isolation, if not absolute isolation. Socially, isolated persons are rarely
found in village communities. In the city, people are usually unable to make
intimate and emotionally strong relationships. This tendency goes on increasing
as the city grows in the face of rapid population growth. Older people, the
migrants who are still strangers in the city, people who are unable to get along
with others, socially rejected persons and persons who do not find people of
their liking often feel acute isolation even amidst thousands of the urbandwellers.
The rapid growth of urban population leads to greater divisions of labour and
specialisation of work which, in turn, creates interdependence among
individuals participating in a given economic activity. Such an interdependence
is partial and restricted only up to the fulfillment of a given fraction or a portion
of the total activity. Thus, there is extremely limited scope for sharing a totality
of experiences and social life. The heterogeneity of population, especially in
matters of social status, caste, class, religion, income, occupation, etc., creates
partial isolation under which, as K. Dais says, integrity of particular groups is
reinforced by maintaining social distance (avoidance) toward other groups.
Residential segregation is one of the manifestations of partial isolation in cities.
In a broad perspective, Kingsley Davis observes that partial isolation, whatever
its specific form, tends to be associated with the individuals positions and to
be expressed in the rights and duties of these positions. It implies that between
individuals of different status there is a difference of ends. It is, therefore, one
of the means by which societies are organised. Some mutual avoidance, social
distance, and ethnocentrism emerge. A similar, by and large, prevails in the
face of rapid urbanisation.

6.5.3 Maladjustment


The process of urbanisation adds to the complexities of city - life. It generates

and strengthens the forces of social change, leading to new social reality and
inevitable pressures of conformity. As the process of urbanisation accelerates,
the city life tends to be rapidly characterised by cultural diversities, socioeconomic inequalities, competition, conflict and several other manifestations
of complexities of social reality. The fact of social mobility also affects the
life of the city-dwellers. In a way, all these social forces impose a functional
adjustment on the part of the city-dwellers to lead a peaceful and fuller life.
However, all the city-dwellers are not fortunate enough to satisfactorily adjust
to the diverse challenges of a growing city. For example, in the field of economic
activities, even in a rapidly growing city, the number of opportunities for
successful adjustment are smaller than the number of competitors. In such a

situation, several among those, who are the losers, fail to suitably adjust to the
reality, and become victims of frustration, inferiority complex and loss of a
meaningful integration with the totality of city-life. All such failures give rise
to the problem of maladjustment. Similarly, even among the successful ones,
many fail to conform to the new situations, and become maladjusted.


The problem of maladjustment becomes all the more acute in the case of those
city-dwellers, who are relatively recent migrants. They, in fact, present cases
of Marginal Mana concept developed by Robert E.Park and later elaborated
upon by Everett V.Stonequist. The marginal-man, in simple words, is said to
be one who is in the process of changing from one culture to another. Some
scholars have also used the term transitional man in the sense that the
individual in question is in the process of assimilation with the culture of the
place of his destination. Further, a marginal man suffers from the problems of
maladjustment precisely because he feels lost amidst the pressures of two
cultures, as he cannot completely change from one cultural system to another.
On the one hand, he tends to retain some traits of his cultural past and, at the
same time, he is forced to acquire the traits of new culture. In such a situation,
he experiences internal conflicts, intense anxiety and socio-psychological
tensions, which often tend to enhance the incidence of maladjustment.
Apart from these adverse consequences of urbanisation, it is also found that
various forms of social disorganisation are associated with the rapid growth of
cities. Special mention may be made here of family, kinship and community
disorganisation endangering the cohesive and integrated social life. These forms
of social disorganisation are reflected through the disruption of mutually
expected roles and obligations in the wake of unequal rates of social change in
different aspects of city-life. In the case of the family, the increasing rate of
divorce and break down of jointness in the joint-family are indicative of
dissociative and break down of jointness in the joint-family are indicative of
dissociative implications of urbanisation. The withering away of kinship
obligations provide similar examples. In like manner, the enormous expansion
of the city area and the increasing pressure of its heterogeneous population
raise several problems and lessens the normative integration of the city. The
net result, as observed by William Foot Whyte, is that a large, heterogeneous,
and widely dispersed population faces many new problems for which solutions
do not exist in the culture of that society.

6.5.4 Efforts to Curb Undesirable Consequences

The increasing proportion of these evil consequences of urbanisation has led
to some systematic efforts for effectively curbing their incidence. These efforts
include legislative measures for the removal of urban poverty and
unemployment as well as measures of slum clearance and urban community
development programmes. From the Sixth Five Year Plan onwards, special
attention is being paid to the socio-economic development of small towns and
cities to divert the flow of the rural migrants. It is hoped that, with the rise of
new opportunities of employment in towns and small cities, the metropolitan
centres will be relieved of further increase in the pressure of excessive
population, which has by now made it almost impossible for the civic authorities
to ensure efficient and adequate supply of public utilities to the citizens.
In addition to these planned efforts, social legislation relating to suppression
of immoral traffic in women and girls, prevention of beggary, prevention of


Structure in Tranistion I

alcoholism and drug abuses, correctional programmes for criminals and juvenile
delinquents, and rehabilitation schemes for deviant persons under the
programmes of social defence are equally significant steps taken towards the
amelioration of these problems of urban living. In Section 6.7, you will come
to know about the policy of the State specifically addressed to the solution of
several urban problems so as to make urban living a decent way of life.
Check Your Progress 3
Tick the correct answer.

Crime is usually


Higher in rural than in urban areas

Higher in big cities than in rural areas
Similar in rural and urban areas
Lower in metropolitan cities than in small towns

Compared to the Western societies, the crime rate in urban India is


no different

iii) Tick the correct statements


A city-dweller is usually socially far detached from his fellow citydwellers while living in the sea of humanity.
Socially isolated persons are often found in villages.
A city-dweller is usually unable to make intimate and emotionally
strong relationship with his fellow dwellers.
Rapid growth of urban population leads to greater division of labour.

iv) The concept of the marginal-man is developed by




Robert E.Park
Robert Redfield.
Louis Wirth.
Louis Dumont


In India, it is now recognised that urbanisation is not a trivial aspect of the

processes of economic development and social change. This has led to a demand
that there ought to be a national policy statement on urbanisation, as it is true
in matters of industrial development, population growth, and education. Several
reasons account for the lack of national policy on urbanisation, foremost among
which have been the issues of overwhelming concern for self-sufficiency of
villages and the inclusion of urbanisation in the state subjects of our
Constitution. However, in our efforts of planned development, the five year
plans do reflect the general policies being followed for the management of the
urban problems, which are assuming massive proportion due to unprecedented
rise in the rate of urbanisation. It should be noted here that, by and large, the

emphasis of these efforts has been towards the amelioration of the conditions
of the poor and the lower income groups. A brief appraisal of the efforts to
solve the problem of housing, sanitation and water supply, along with several
other problems of urban development, is presented here.


We have seen that one of the grave problems of urbanisation has been acute
shortage of housing facilities in cities. This problem has reached almost a
breaking point in the case of the metropolitan cities. In order to meet this
problem, planned efforts are made in the following two directions:

Social legislations relating to urban land and housing;


Programmes of slum clearance and construction of new houses.

Let us see what has been done under these heads to solve the problem of urban

6.6.1 Social Legislation Relating to Urban Land and Housing

The Constitution gives the fundamental right of the freedom of movement to
every citizen of India, but does not guarantee the right of housing to either the
urban-dwellers or the village people. In our Constitution the responsibility of
urban development and related welfare programmes has been assigned to the
state governments. The social legislation governing rent and sale of land and
houses include the following two important enactments:

Rent Control Act (RCA), 1948, and


Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act (ULCRA) 1976.


The Rent Control Act, 1948

The Rent Control Act was enacted with a view to control and regulate the rent
of the houses. It was first enacted in the then Bombay State, in 1948, and later
on in several other states. The Rent Control Act also protects the tenants from
the atrocities of the house-owner, especially in the sense that the owner of a
house can neither force the tenant to vacate house, nor can he raise the rent of
the house at his own will. Further, the Rent Control Act also imposes the
responsibility of repairs of the house on the owner rather than on the tenant
living in it.
Systematic studies evaluating the impact of the Rent Control Act have revealed
that the Act has not been able to bring about a solution to the problem of urban
housing in the desired direction. Kiran Wadhavas study reveals that the said
Act has hardly been able to make any noticeable progress in solving the problem
of urban housing, and its need continues to be equally significant even today.
In fact, there have been some latent consequences of this Act, adding to the
already acute problem of housing. The owners are now not eager to rent out
the house, as it will never come back in their possession due to the conditions
of the Rent Control Act. Similarly, now people do not like to build houses
with a view to earn rent. All such calculations ultimately add to the scarcity of
houses. It is also observed that the owners hardly show any interest in the
repair of houses, which have already been rented out, simply because all such
expenses are finally going to be a burden on them alone, without any possibility
of raising the rent. Owing to such apathetic attitude of the owners towards


Structure in Tranistion I

timely repairs, a large number of buildings in cities have deteriorated and

become dangerous for living.
The ill-effects of the Rent Control Act are not systematically recognised and
in order to put a curb on such effects the Ministry of Urban Development has
taken some serious steps. In 1987, The National Commission on Urbanisation
was appointed under the auspices of the Ministry of Urban Development,
Government of India. The Commission also went into the details of the Rent
Control Act, and recognised the seriousness of the adverse effects of the Act.
In its interim report, the National Commission on Urbanisation made several
recommendations relating to the amendments in the terms and conditions of
the existing Rent Control Act relating (1) the continuation of the protection of
the interests of the existing tenants, (2) the inclusion of the possibility of raising
rent, (3) the separation of the rules the regulations of renting houses for
commercial purposes from houses to be rented for residential purposes, (4) the
provisions of providing incentives to build new houses, etc. It is believed that
the inclusion of these amendments, while not necessarily solving the acute
problem that has been growing over the years, will certainly lessen the adverse
effects of the existing Rent Control Act.

Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act , 1976

The second important step relating to the management of urban land is the
enactment of the Urban Land Ceiling Act of 1976. This Act has the following
three fundamental objectives:

Redistribution of land,


Prevention of speculation in land, and


Regulation of construction on vacant land.

Under the provisions of this Act, the excess land, i.e., land excluding the
prescribed size of the available plot, can be procured by the local authorities or
the state government for wider public interests. Usually, the excess land under
this Act is procured for the construction of houses for the urban poor and the
low income groups. Moreover, this Act imposes restrictions on the sale of
excess land so as to curb speculation in urban land.
Critics have pointed out that despite the existence of this Act the prices of land
in every city have reached far beyond the capacity of common-man and
speculation in land is flourishing almost unchecked. Moreover, the land
procured for construction of houses for the urban poor and other public utilities
is also negligible in size. In several cases, the owners of excess land have been
successful in escaping the demands of the Land Ceiling Act through corrupt
practices and use of their political connections.

6.6.2 Programmes of Slum Clearance and Construction of

New Houses


We have seen that, in the face of rapid urban growth, a large section of urban
population is living in slums and suffering from acute shortage of houses,
water-supply, sanitation and other public facilities. These urban problems have
assumed massive proportion, warranting social legislation and special attention
in our national planning. Following from these efforts, one of significant

programmes is the slum clearance scheme and programme of construction of

new houses for the urban poor and the low income groups. Under this scheme,
low cost houses, equipped with latrine, bathroom, water-tap, sanitation and
drainage facilities, are made available to the poor people, who can afford to
pay a token amount as rent from their meagre earnings. Moreover, under the
scheme of slum clearance an entire area inhabitated by economically and
socially weaker sections is provided with these common utilities to be shared
by all. These programmes under the slum clearance scheme are subsidised to
provide assistance to the state governments for construction of one crore and
40 lakh new houses at the rate of Rs.5000 per house for the benefit of the
urban poor and the low and middle income groups. In addition, the state
governments and the local bodies of the cities also provide necessary funds for
execution of such projects. It should, however, be noted that the voluntary
agencies have still lagged behind in taking up the activities of slum clearance
and construction of houses for the poor people.


The following schemes have been executed in several cities with financial and
other support from the state governments and local bodies for the construction
of new houses:

In 1952, a scheme for the construction of houses for the industrial workers
came into existence.


A scheme was introduced, in 1954, for the construction of houses for the
low income groups.


Since the implementation of the Second Five Year Plan (1956), the scheme
of slum clearance and improvement came into existence on a regular basis.


The Life Insurance Corporation of India started giving loans since the
Second Five Year Plan to the middle-income groups for the construction
of houses.


Since the Fifth Five Year Plan, the programme of building houses for the
higher-income groups were taken on hand with the objective that profit
earned through such projects will be diverted for the construction of houses
for the urban poor and the low-income groups. Special instructions were
issued to the Housing Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) in this

However, systematic studies have revealed that most of the advantages of these
schemes have been taken away by the middle and high income groups. The
plight of the urban-poor has more or less remained the same.
One of the greatest obstacles in effective implementation of the slum-clearance
programme has been lack of adequate funds. The issue received significant
attention in the Seventh Five Year Plan. It led to the establishment of a National
Housing Bank (NHB) with an assistance of Rs.100 crores from the Central
government. It is proposed that the following shall be the objective of the
National Housing Bank:

To provide a national body for financing the programmes only for the
construction of houses.


To raise the sources for procuring finance for the construction of houses
and make effective use of all such sources.


Structure in Tranistion I


To raise financial institutions at local and regional levels for advancing

loans for construction of houses and institutions giving loans for other


To establish meaningful links between financial institutions advancing

loans for construction of houses and institutions giving loans for other

All these efforts are made with a hope that conditions of the slum-dwellers
and the urban poor can be suitably improved so that they can also lead a fuller
urban life free from dirt, disease and pollution.

6.6.3 The Five-Year Plans

The policy of decentralisation in our national planning has lately been found
useful in matters of urban development also. In the First Five Year Plan no
special attention was paid to the solution of urban problems. Yet, it did recognise
the acute shortage of housing and steep rise in land prices in big cities. By the
end of the First Five Year Plan several institutional set-ups to ease this problem
came into existence. For example, a new ministry of works and housing was
first established and later renamed as the Ministry of Urban Affairs. The
National Building Organisation was established to design low cost housing.
Steps were taken to train personnel in town planning. The Second Five Year
Plan emphasised the need for planned development of cities and towns, and
advocated an integrated approach to rural and urban planning in a regional
framework. During this plan, The Urban Development Authority came into
existence, and a master plan was prepared for the first time for the development
of Delhi. This was a major step in urban planning and its implementation,
which was later followed in the case of other big cities in several states.
The Third and Fourth Five Year Plans laid emphasis on town planning for
which the responsibility was shifted from the Centre to the states. A model
town-planning Act was prepared in 1957 by the Town and Country Planning
Organisation in Delhi, and this led to the enactment of laws in other states.
The Third Five Year Plan extended financial support for the preparation of
master plans for the development of cities and towns in the states. As a result
of such efforts, nearly 400 master plans were prepared. Moreover, the Third
Plan also initiated urban community development schemes in selected cities
as an experimental scheme to solve social and human problems associated
with urban slums. The Fourth Plan recognised the need of financing urban
development schemes. It was during this plan period that an agency Housing
and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) came into existence to
provide funds for the metropolitan authorities, State Housing Boards and other
urban institutions for the construction of houses in urban areas. The Fifth Plan
document, in a separate chapter on urban and regional planning, laid down the
following objectives of its urbanisation policy: (a) to augment civic services
in the urban centres, (b) to tackle the problems of the metropolitan cities on a
regional basis, (c) to promote the development of small towns and new urban
centres, (d) to assist inter-state projects for the metropolitan projects, and (e)
to support industrial townships under government undertakings.

The Sixth Plan also had a special chapter on urban problems but greater
emphasis was given to the problem of housing both urban and rural areas. In
this plan, necessary attention was drawn, for the first time, to regional variations

in the levels of urban development. It should also be mentioned here that,

during the Sixth Plan, provisions were made to develop adequate infrastructural
and other facilities at the small, medium and intermediate towns so as to make
them growth centres in promoting rural development. Further, 200 towns
were to be identified for integrated development of water supply schemes in
550 towns, and sewerage projects in 110 towns in the country.


Thus, the Sixth Plan recognised the problems of basic needs of the urbandwellers and took some concrete steps towards amelioration of their conditions.
The Seventh Plan, on the one hand, stressed the need for integrated development
of small and medium towns and, on the other, minimising the growth of the
metropolitan cities. To attain this objective, special incentives are offered for
the establishment of industries in small and medium towns. It also advocates
for greater financial support to local bodies by the state governments. In terms
of institutional set up, the Seventh Plan recommended the establishment of the
National Urban Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation, to provide
capital for the development of infrastructure in small and medium towns. Apart
from these steps, the emphasis on housing for the urban poor and the low
income groups, integrated development and provisions for promotion of basic
amenities for the urban-dwellers are continued in the Seventh Plan and proposed
draft of the Eighth Five Year Plan.
In brief, although the Five Year Plans do not as yet exhibit any comprehensive
policy on Indias urbanisation and urban problem, there are obviously certain
aspects which have received greater attention to ameliorate the conditions of
the urban-dwellers. Special mention may be made of (a) finance for housing,
(b) slum clearance and improvement, (c) town water supply and sewerage, (d)
urban transporation, and (e) the preparation of master plans for the development
of cities, especially bigger ones.
Check Your Progress 4

What are the major objectives of the Rent Control Act, 1948? Answer in
about five lines.


Write a short note on the social legislation on the urban land in India. Use
about six lines to answer.


Structure in Tranistion I

iv) What are the major features of the Slum Clearance Programme in India?
Answer in about seven lines.



Urbanisation refers to a social process. In demographic sense, it exhibits the

proportion of the urban population to the total population of a society. In
sociological sense, it also refers to a way of life typically associated with the
city. The haphazard and steep rise in the population of big cities has led to the
notion of over-urbanisation in India, which, in the societal context, is not true.
Even today only less than one-third of the total population of India lives in
towns and cities.
The industrial-urban India has given birth to several social problems among
which the problems of slums, crimes, housing, pollution and inadequate public
utilities have become grave. In the absence of a national policy on urbanisation,
the matters of urban planning and development remain largely confined to the
efforts of the state governments. The schemes of slum clearance and housing
for the urban poor and the low-income groups are in a way addressed to the
solution of these problems. The five year plans have also made significant
efforts through making provisions of financial support to several programmes
of urban renewal.




Marginal man

: A marginal man is one, who has not been

able to give up the traits of his cultural past,
nor has been able to assimilate with the
new culture. Thus, he is a man in transition,
placed between two cultures.

Million city

: A city with a population over ten lakhs.


: A term describing the process of excessive

growth population in cities (mainly
through migration) in relation to
employment and other facilities available
in them.

Primary urbanisation

: A process of coordinating the activities of

local tradition to the norms provided by
the Great Tradition.


: Broadly speaking, it is a locality

characterised by inadequate and
deteriorated housing, deficient public
utilities, overcrowding and cogestion and
usually inhabited by the poor and socially
heterogeneous people.


: A process in demographic sense, which

refers to the proportion of a total
population living in towns and cities. In
sociological sense, it refers to a way of life
associated with living in the city.

White-collar crime

: It refers to malpractices employed during

the conduct of any profession, business or

Secondary urbanisation

: A process of heterogenetic development

associated with the industrial phase of the




Institute of Urban Affairs. 1988. State of Indias Urbanisation, Institute of

Urban Affairs : New Delhi.
Rao, M.S.A (ed.) 1974. Urban Sociology in India. Orient Longman : New


Check Your Progress 1




iii) c)
Check Your Progress 2

The main features of over-urbanisation in India are as follows:

a) There is a seeming imbalance between the levels of industrialisation
and urbanisation in India. (b) The process of urbanisation takes away a
large share of national resources and, thus, impinges upon the rate of
economic growth in society. (c) There has been excessive population
pressure on the civic amenities and housing.


It is estimated that nearly 70% of the urban population in India live in

sub-standard houses. Here, more than half of the urban households occupy
only a single room with an average occupancy per room of 4.4 persons.
Besides, there are a large number of homeless persons. Only in Delhi
there are more than three lakh homeless persons.

iii) (a) Indiscriminate growth of industrial and chemical plants. (b) Preindustrial structure of cities with narrow streets of roads. (c) High-rise of
buildings with high density of population, congestion on roads and
pollution. (d) Lack of effective measure for systematic use of land.


Structure in Tranistion I

Check Your Progress 3





iii) a), c), d)

iv) a)
Check Your Progress 4

The main objectives of this law are to (a) regulate the rent of the house,
(b) protect the tenant from the atrocities of the houseowners, (c) make the
landowner responsible to undertake the repair of the house regularly.


The Urban Land Ceiling Act, 1976, covers on broad aspect of urban land
management. This Act has three fundamental objectives : (a) distribution
of surplus land, (b) prevention of speculation in land, (c) Regulation of
construction on vacant land. However, despite the provisions of this Act,
the price of urban land has gone beyond the reach of the common man,
and speculation in land is also flourishing without being checked.

iii) Under this scheme, low cost houses equipped with latrine, bathroom, water
tap, sanitation and drainage facilities are made available to the poor people,
who can pay a token amount as rent from their income. These schemes are
subsidised by the government. However, one of the greatest obstacles for
the speedy implementation of this programme has been that of adequate
funds. The Seventh Five Year Plan has given emphasis on the issue of slum









Family : Definition and Types




Social Processes Affecting Family Structure




Change in the Family Structure : A Perspective


Change in the Joint Family System


Change in the Rural Family System



Factors Responsible for Change

Impact of the Breakdown of the Joint Family

Change in the Urban Family System


Family in the Urban Setting

Direction of Change
Some Emerging Trends


Let Us Sum Up


Key Words


Further Readings

7.10 Answers to Check Your Progress



In this Unit, we shall discuss the changing family patterns in India. After going
through this unit, you should be able to:

describe a family;

discuss its various types;

explain the factors responsible for change in the family system;

examine the changes in the traditional joint family system; and

analyse the changes in the rural and urban family system in India.



In the previous Units of this Block, we introduced you the various dimensions
of social demography, migration and urbanisation in India. In this Unit, we
shall discuss the changing family structure in India. This Unit begins with a
short discussion on the definition and types of the family. Industrialisation,
urbanisation and modernisation are the important social forces affecting the
traditional family structure in India. We discuss these factors briefly and


Structure in Tranistion I

describe a perspective to understand the change in the family structure in Section

7.3. In Section 7.4, we discuss the change taking place in the traditional joint
family system in India. The change in the rural family and the impact of the
breakdown of the rural joint family are discussed in this Section. Change in
the urban family system and its various facets are examined in section 7.6



In Unit No. 6. Block 2 of ESO-02, we discussed in detail the institution of the

family in India. There we discussed the continuum between the nuclear and
the joint family. In this Unit, we shall discuss the form and direction of changes
in the family system in India. To begin with, let us study the definition and
types of family.

7.2.1 Definition
Ordinarily, a family, particularly an elementary family, can be defined as a
social group consisting of father, mother and their children. But in view of the
variety as found in the constituents of a family, this definition in rather
inadequate. Bohannan (1963), in his definition of the family, emphasised the
functional as well as the structural roles of family. According to him, a family,
contains people who are linked by sexual and affinal relationships as well as
those linked by descent who are linked by secondary relationships, that is, by
chains of primary relationships.
Box 1. Characteristics of Family
For a comprehensive understanding of what the family stands for today, William
J. Goode (1989) suggests the following characteristics:
a) At least two adult persons of opposite sex reside together.
b) They engage in some kind of division of labour i.e., they both do not perform
exactly the same tasks.
c) They engage in many types of economic and social exchanges, i.e., they do
things for one another.
d) They share many things in common, such as food, sex, residence, and both
goods and social activities.
e) The adults have parental relations with their children, as their children have
filial relations with them; the parents have some authority over their children
and both share with one another, while also assuming some obligation for
protection, cooperation, and nurturance.
f) There are sibling relations among the children themselves, with a range of
obligations to share, protect, and help one another.

Individuals are likely to create various kinds of relations with each other but,
if their continuing social relations exhibit some or all of the role patterns noted
here, in all probability they would be viewed as the family.

7.2.2 Types of Family


On the basis of the composition of the family, three distinct types of family
organisation emerge.


Nuclear Family

Changing Family Structure

The most basic among the families is called natal or nuclear or elementary, or
simple family, which consists of a married man and woman and their offspring.
In specific cases, sometimes one or more additional persons are found to reside
with them. Over a period of time, the structure of a family changes. Often
additional members, viz., an aged parent or parents or unmarried brother or
sisters may come to like with the members of a nuclear family. It may lead to
the development of varieties of nuclear families. While discussing the nature
of the joint family in India, Pauline Kolenda (1987) has discussed additions/
modifications in the nuclear family structure. She gives the following
compositional categories :

Nuclear family refers to a couple with or without children.


Supplemented nuclear family indicates a nuclear family plus one or

more unmarried, separated, or widowed relatives of the parents other than
their unmarried children.

iii) Sub nuclear family is identified as a fragment of a former nuclear family,

for instance, a widow/widower with his/her unmarried children or siblings
(unmarried) or widowed or separated or divorced) living together.
iv) Single person household

Supplemented sub nuclear family refers to a group of relatives, members

of a formerly complete nuclear family along with some other unmarried,
divorced or widowed relatives who were not member of the nuclear family.
For instance, a widow and her unmarried children may be living together
with her widowed mother-in-law.

In the Indian context, it is easy to find all these types of family. However, in
terms of societal norms and values, these types relate to the joint family system
(cf. ESO-02, Unit 6)
Nuclear families are often combined, like atoms in a molecule, into larger
aggregates. Although such families are generally referred to as composite forms
of family, on the basis of their structural characteristics they can be differentiated
into two distinct types; like i) polygamous family and ii) family.

Polygamous Family

A polygamous family ordinarily consists of two or more nuclear families

conjoined by plural marriage. These types of families are statistically very few
in number in general. There are basically two types of polygamous family
based on the forms of marriage, viz., polygyny, i.e., one husband with more
than one wife at a time, and polyandry, i.e., one wife with more than one
husband at the same time.

Extended Family

An extended family consists of two or more nuclear families affiliated through

the extension of parent-child relationship and relationship of married siblings.
The former can be designated as a vertically extended family, whereas the
latter would be referred to as a horizontally extended family. In a typical
patriarchal extended family, there lives an elderly person with his son and


Structure in Tranistion I

wife and their unmarried children. You may be interested to know what
constitutes the jointness in the joint family. Usually, the jointness is depicted
in a number of factors, viz., commensality (eating together from the same
kitchen), common residence, joint ownership of property, cooperation and
common sentiments, common ritual bonds, etc. You may also be interested to
know who constitute the joint family. It is the kin relationships. Hence Pauline
Kolenda (1987) points out the following types of the joint family in India:

Collateral Joint Family comprises two or more married couples between

whom there is a sibling bond.


Supplemented Collateral Joint Family is a collateral joint family along

with unmarried, divorced and widowed relatives.

iii) Lineal Joint Family consists of two couples, between whom there is a
lineal link, like between a parent and her married sons or between a parent
and his married daughter.
iv) Supplemented Lineal Joint Family is a lineal joint family together with
unmarried, divorced or widowed relatives, who do not belong to either of
the lineally linked nuclear families.

Lineal Collateral Joint Family consists of three or more couples linked

lineally and collaterally. For example, a family consisting of the parents
and their two or more married sons together with unmarried children of
the couples.

vi) Supplemented Lineal Collateral Joint Family consists of the members

of a lineal collateral joint family plus unmarried, widowed, separated
relatives who belong to none of the nuclear families (lineally and
collaterally linked), for example, the fathers widowed sister or brother or
an unmarried nephew of the father.
This discussion should have given you a broad picture of the existing family
structure in India. In this Unit, we shall discuss the changing family structure.
Before we introduce ourselves to this discussion, let us know the social factors
that affect the family structure. In the following section, we shall discuss these
factors. Before that you must complete this check your progress exercise.
Check Your Progress 1



Which one of the following is not a characteristic of the family?


At least two adult persons of opposite sex reside together.


These persons engage in some kind of division of labour.


They engage in many types of economic and social exchanges.


None of the above.

In a polyandrous family there..


is a wife with more than one husband at the same time.

is a husband with more than one wife at the same time.
is one husband and one wife at the same time.
is a married couple without children.




Changing Family Structure

An extended family can be

only vertically extended.
only horizontally extended.
both vertically and horizontally extended
none of the above.



A host of inter-related factors, viz., economic, educational, legal and

demographic like population growth, migration and urbanisation, etc., have
been affecting the structure of the family in India. We shall take care of these
factors while discussing the changes, in the following sections. Here, let us
discuss the broad processes of industrialisation, urbanisation and modernisation
as factors affecting the family structure.







Nuclearisation of Joint Family

7.3.1 Industrialisation
There are innumerable published accounts demonstrating that changes have
taken place in the structure of the family due to exposures to the forces of
industrialisation. Nuclearisation of the family is considered as the outcome of
its impact. Such an interpretation presupposes existence of non-nuclear family


Structure in Tranistion I

structure in such societies. Empirical evidence sometimes does not support

this position. Further, industrial establishments have their own requirements
of human groups for their efficient functioning. As a result, people are migrating
to industrial areas, and various kinds of family units have been formed adding
extra-ordinary variety to the overall situation. It is, nevertheless, important to
note down in this context that despite definite visible trends in the changing
structure of the family due to industrialisation, it is not yet possible to establish
any one-to-one relationship.

7.3.2 Urbanisation
In most of the discussions on impact of urbanisation on the family structure,
one specific observation is fairly common: that, due to the influence of
urbanisation, the joint family structure is under severe stress, and in many
cases it has developed a tendency toward nuclearisation. When there is no
disagreement on the authenticity of such a tendency, the traditional ideal joint
family was perhaps not the exclusive type before such influence came into
existence. Nevertheless, various accounts demonstrate how both nuclear and
joint structures have evolved innumerable varieties due to the influence of

7.3.3 Modernisation
Both industrialisation and urbanisation are considered as the major contributing
factors toward modernisation. In fact, modernisation as a social-psychological
attribute can be in operation independent of industrialisation and urbanisation.
With the passage of time, through exposures to the forces of modernisation,
family structure underwent multiple changes almost leading to an endless
variety. There are instances too, where family structure has become simpler
due to its impact. There are also contrary instances indicating consequent
complexity in family structure.

7.3.4 Change in the Family Structure : A Perspective

One of the important features of the family studies in India has been concerned
with the question of whether the joint family system is disintegrating, and a
new nuclear type of family pattern is emerging. It seems almost unrealistic,
Augustine points out, that we think of a dichotomy between the joint and
nuclear family. This is especially true given the rapidity of social change, which
has swept our country. In the context of industrialisation, urbanisation and
social change, it is very difficult to think of a dichotomy between the joint and
the nuclear family in India. In the present contexts, these typologies are not
mutually exclusive. Social change is an inevitable social process, which can
be defined as observable transformations in social relationships. This
transformation is most evident in the family system. However, because of
structures of our traditionality, these transformations are not easily observable
(Augustine 1982:2).


Against this backdrop, to understand the dimensions of changes taking place

in Indian family system, the concept of transitionality may be used. This
concept, according to Augustine, has two dimensions : retrospective and
prospective. The retrospective dimension implies the traditional past of our
family and social system, while the prospective one denotes the direction in

which change is taking place in our family system. Transitionality is thus an

attempt to discern the crux of the emergent forms of family (Augustine 1982:3).

Changing Family Structure

Keeping in mind this perspective, we shall examine the emerging trends of

change in the family system in contemporary India. However, at the outset,
we are to make it explicit that, within the given space, it would not be possible
for us to document the changes individually taking place in the family system
of various castes or ethnic groups spread over diversified socio-cultural regions
of this country. Hence for your broad understanding, we shall concentrate on
three broad areas of our enquiry : change in the traditional extended family,
rural family and urban family. Let us begin with change in the traditional
extended family. Before that complete this activity.
Activity 1
Try to know the past 40 years history of your family from some elderly member.
It may have undergone significant changes over the years. List down the factors
responsible for changes in your family. Write a note on these changes of about 2
pages. If possible, discuss your findings with the Counsellor and the students at
your Study Centre. You should find it sociologically interesting.



The extended family in India is known as joint family. The ideals of the joint
family are highly valued throughout the country, especially among the Hindus.
However, studies conducted in several parts of the country show that the joint
family system in India is undergoing a process of structural transformation
due to the process of modernisation, industrialisation and urbanisation. But
the fact remains that the values and attitudes of the Indian society have favoured
the joint family tradition for centuries, and these are still favoured. Many
scholars have viewed the transformation in the joint family system in terms of
the concept of the family cycle.
A nuclear family develops into a joint family after the marriage of a son; that
is with the coming in of a daughter in-law. Hence the process of fission and
fusion take place in the family system due to various reasons. In most parts of
India , where patriarchal families exist, sons are expected to stay together with
the parents till the siblings of the family are married. After this they tend to
separate. Thus the process of fission takes place, and the joint family is broken
into relatively smaller number of units - sometimes into nuclear units. Nicholas,
on the basis of his study in rural West Bengal, concludes that if a joint family
between a father and his married sons divides, a joint family among brothers
rarely survives. The father seems to be the keystone of the joint family structure.
Despite the solidarity among the male siblings, after the fathers death, many
forces tend to break the joint family into separate hearths, even though at times
the property may be held in common (Cf. Ishwaran, 1982 : 8).
I.P. Desai, in his famous work, Some Aspects of Family in Mahuva (1964),
points out that in Gujarat a residentially nuclear group is embedded in social,
cultural and other non-social environments, which are not the same as those in
the societies of the West . He defines the structure of a family in terms of
ones orientation to action. When action is oriented towards the husband, wife
and children , the family can be categorised as a nuclear unit; and when the
action is oriented towards a wider group, it is defined as a joint family. To


Structure in Tranistion I

him, through the nuclear family does exist in India, it is, however, not the
prevalent pattern. In his sampling, only 7% of the households considered nuclear
family as desirable, while around 60% considered jointness as desirable.
Significantly, elements of jointness were found among all religious groups.
Their greater degree was available among the business and the agricultural
castes. It is important to note that property was an important factor behind the
jointness. Kapadia also found that though most families are nuclear, they are
actually joint in operation. These families maintain their connections through
mutual cooperation and rights and obligations other than those of property. To
him, not the common hearth, but mutual ties, obligations and rights, etc., have
been the major elements of jointness in the contemporary functionally joint
family in India (Kapadia 1959 : 250).
In his study of a village in South India, Ishwaran (1982) found that 43.76%
nuclear (elementary) families and 56.24% were extended (joint) families. The
villagers attach a wealth of meaning to the term jointness and in their opinion
one either belongs to the joint family or depends upon the extended kin. In
fact, the isolated independent elementary family does not exist for them, and
indeed its actual existence is largely superficial due to heavy reliance upon the
extended kin group. The extended family is the ideal family, reinforced by
religious, social, economic and other ideological forces. He concludes that
even though the nuclear families are on the increase, perhaps because of the
greater geographical and social mobility found in a society being modernised,
these families cannot live in isolation without active cooperation and contact
with the extended kin (Ishwaran 1982 : 20)
There is no denying the fact that the trend of modernisation has been dominant
in India. However, the physical separation does not speak for the departure
from the spirit of jointness of the family structure. The sense of effective
cooperation in need, and obligation to each other, have remained prevalent
among the family members in spite of being separated from the erstwhile joint
family. Hence, we are required to understand not only the manifestation of
nuclearisation of the family structure in India, but also the latent spirit of
cooperation and prevalence of common values and sentiments among the family
members. The extent of cooperation and the prevalence of common values
and sentiments may vary in the rural and urban areas. We shall discuss the
patterns of change in the rural and urban family structure, separately, in the
following sections.
Check Your Progress 2

Write a note, in about six lines, on the fission in the traditional joint family
system in India.




How can you define the structure of a family in terms of ones orientation
towards action. Answer in about five lines.

Changing Family Structure




Scholars have identified the joint family as typical of rural India. These families
are exposed to various forces, viz., land reforms, education, mass media, new
technology, new development strategies, urbanisation, industrialisation,
modernisation, and so on. These above-mentioned forces are found to exercise
tremendous influence on the contemporary family systems in rural India. Let
us examine these forces in detail.

7.5.1 Factors Responsible for Change

There are various factors affecting the family structure in rural India. We shall
discuss some of these factors here.

Land Reforms

Earlier, the members of the joint family normally lived together due to common
ancestral property, which was vast in size. Land reforms imposed ceiling
restriction on the landholdings. In many cases, the heads of the family resorted
to theoretical partition of the family by dividing the land among the sons in
order to avoid the law of the land ceiling. During their life-time the sons live
under his tutelage, if he was powerful; otherwise, sons gradually began to live
separately during their parents life-time. Thus the theoretical partition hastens
formal partition, and sows the seeds for separate living (Lakshminarayana,
1982 : 44). Again, in many cases, real partition has taken place in the joint
family, immediately after the implementation of the land ceiling laws.

Education and Gainful Employment

Education, industrialisation and urbanisation have opened the scope for gainful
employment to the villagers outside the village. Initially, a few members of
the joint family move to the city for education. After successful completion of
education, most of them join service or opt for other avenues of employment
in the urban areas. They get married and start living with their wives and
children. Gradually, such separate units become the nuclear families. However,
the members of these nuclear units keep on cooperating with the other members
of their natal family on most occasions.
iii) Economic Difficulties in Rural Areas
The rural development strategies in India, aimed to eradicate poverty and
unemployment, enhance a higher standard of life and economic development
with social justice to the rural people. However, in reality these have generated


Structure in Tranistion I

regional imbalances, sharpened class inequality, and have adversely economic

and social life of the lower strata of the rural people. In the backward areas,
people face enormous hardship to earn a livelihood. Hence, people of these
areas are pushed to migrate to the urban areas. This migration has affected the
family structure. Initially men alone migrate. Then they bring their family and
gradually become residentially separated from their natal home.
iv) Growing Individuals
A high sense of individualism is also growing among section of the villagers.
Penetration of the mass media (viz., the newspapers, the T.V., the radio), formal
education, consumerist culture and market forces have helped individualism
grow at a faster rate than ever. The rural people and the members of the rural
joint family have started believing more in their individuality. In the past, the
size of the family was relatively big. The kinship network was large and
obligations were more. It was imperative that relatives were given shelter.
Today, every individual strives to improve his/her standard of living and
enhance his/her status in the community outside the purview of the family and
the kingroup. This is possible if the individual has lesser commitments and
fewer obligations (Lakshminarayan 1982 : 46). This situation grows at a faster
rate immediately after the marriage of the sons and coming of the daughtersin-law. Many times value conflicts between an educated individualistic
daughter-in-law and old mother-in-law lead to the break down in the joint
family system.

7.5.2 Impact of the Breakdown of the Joint Family

The transition in the rural family structure has certain significant impacts on
the status and role of the family members. One impact is that of the diminishing
authority of the patriarch of the joint family. In a joint family, traditionally,
authority rests on the eldest male member of the family. Once the family splits
into several units, new authority centres emerge there, with the respective eldest
male member as the head of each nuclear unit. Authority is also challenged
frequently by the educated and the individualistic young generations.
Youngmen exposed to modern ideas of freedom and individualism show
resentment to the traditional authority (Ibid.).
After the split in a joint family, women, who earlier had no say in the family
affairs, also emerge as mistresses of the nuclear households with enormous
responsibility. In this process of transition, the oldest woman also tend to lose
their authority. Many of young women also challenge the dominating attitudes
of the mothers-in-law. Similarly, many of the traditional mothers-in-law also
face an uneasy situation due to growing disproportionate individualism among
the daughters-in-law.


With the breakdown of the joint family system, the aged, widow, widower and
other dependents in the family face severe problems. The joint family system
provides security to these people. After the breakdown of this family system,
they are left to