Salient features of Indian Society

Salient features of Indian Society

This article deals with Salient features of Indian Society’ . This is part of our series on ‘Society’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here.

What is Society ?

  • Society can be defined as network of social relationships due to interaction between it’s members .
  • There are 4 attributes of any society
    • Definite territory : there should be definite geographical territory .
    • Progeny : Source of membership through reproduction .
    • Composite Culture .
    • Independence : It can’t be sub entity of larger entity .
  • India is state with multiple societies / nations in it . Indian society is amalgamation of many societies
    • India is one state but multiple nations .
    • Sri Lanka is one state with two nations .
    • Japan is single state with single nation .
    • Korea is two states with one nation .
  • Change in society can be studied wrt following
    • Endogenous Changes : From within the system  like Buddhism, Jainism, Bhakti etc.
    • Exogenous Changes : From outside the system like  Islam, Christianity, British Rule , Globalisation etc .

Characteristics of Indian Society

  1. Multiethnic society : Indian society is multiethnic in nature due to co-existence of wide variety of racial groups.
  2. Multilingual society : Across the country, more than 1600 languages are spoken.
  3. Multi-class society : Indian society  is segmented into multiple classes. This division can be on the basis of birth as well as financial and social achievements .
  4. Patriarchal society : Indian society is largely a patriarchal society where men tend to enjoy greater status than women . However, some tribal societies are matriarchal as well.
  5. Unity in diversity : Various diversities exist in India . But beneath this diversity, there is fundamental unity  .
  6. Co-existence of traditionalism and modernity : Traditionalism is upholding  of core values. Whereas modernity refers to questioning the tradition and moving towards rational thinking, social and technological progress. Due to the spread of education, modern thinking among Indians has increased. However, the family life is still bound by traditional value and belief systems.
  7. Balance between Individualism and collectivism :  Individualism is an outlook that stresses human independence, self-reliance and liberty. Whereas collectivism is the practice of giving a group priority over each individual in it. 
  8. Blood and kinship ties : Blood relations and kinship ties enjoy a stronghold over other social relationships. 
  9. Caste System  is intrinsic part of Indian society.
  10. Joint Family : Since time immemorial, Indians prefer to live in Joint families.
  11. Marriage : Mostly monogamy is practiced , but at some places polygamy is also practiced .

Salient Features of Indian Society

Salient features of Indian Society

1 . Caste System

Refer separate Chapter – CLICK HERE.

2. Joint Family

  • A family in which
    • People live together with all family members up to 2nd generation,
    • Members  have no individual identity,
    • Decision making power lie exclusively with the eldest male member of the family .

is called a joint family.

  • Importance of Joint family is understood by the Indians since time immemorial.
  • What constitutes jointness in the family ?
    • Common residence
    • Commensality (inter dining)
    • Common ownership of property
    • Rights and obligations
    • Ritual bonds  : Periodic Propitiation of dead ancestors
    • Blood relations (filial (father-son) and fraternal (between siblings)) are more important than marriage (conjugal) relations .

Advantage of Joint Families

  • Provides Social insurance to the members .
  • Division of work: Workload either domestic or business is divided between the members.
  • Sharing resources with the cousins and sisters  minimize the expenses on children.
  • Development of feeling of camaraderie between cousins.
  • Social Security: weaker members of the family – such as the elders or children – are taken care off by  other members.
  • Joint Families are more disciplined because head of the big family becomes virtually its patriarch .
  • Women members can work too as grandparents and other members are there to look after children.
  • Agency of social control => members don’t indulge in antisocial activities .

Disadvantages of Joint Family

  • Creates parasites who love to feed on other’s income.
  • Low status of woman as blood relations are more important than conjugal relations .
  • Prostitution of personality : Children are forced not to show their real personality but behave according to expectations of others .
  • Joint families are ‘arena of contradiction and conflict.’
  • Agent of cultural reproduction : in Joint families, obsolete  values like patriarchy don’t change .
  • Joint families have high fertility rate as an extra child doesn’t become a financial liability .
  • It leads to encroachment on privacy as there is no privacy in Joint Family.

From Joint Families to Nuclear Families

But despite its many advantages , silent changes have been taking place => old joint family system have been disintegrating and  nuclear families are coming up .


  • Migration : Post LPG Reforms, people are migrating towards cosmopolitans for jobs  .
  • Spread of female education : educated girl cant reconcile with husband’s mother &  force to set up independent establishment.
  • Disparity in the income of brothers – brother with decent income usually separates .
  • Influence of urbanization  : Various sociologists have revealed that the city life is more favourable to small nuclear families than to big joint families
  • Western value system : Individualistic values have been inculcated .

We are moving towards Functional Joint Family

  • Many Sociologists are of the view that we are not moving towards nuclear family but  Functional Joint Family .
  • According to sociologist IP Desai , Functional Joint family is  family where although the members of family are living separately,  individual gives importance to fulfilment of obligation towards kin especially parents.   
  • Although person lives in city but he keeps on sending money to parents .

3. Marriage Systems

Marriage is a relationship, which is socially approved and sanctioned by custom and law. It is also a set of cultural mechanisms which ensure the continuation of the family.

Marriage has a large variety of forms

1 . Polygamy vs Monogamy

Monogamy Monogamy restricts the individual to one spouse at a time. Man can have only one wife .
Woman can have only one husband.  
Polygamy Polygamy denotes marriage to more than one mate at one time .
It takes various forms
1. Polygyny : One husband with two or more wives .
2. Polyandry : One wife with two or more husbands . Usually where economic conditions are harsh, polyandry may be one response of society, as single male cannot support a wife and children.
Even where polygamy is permitted, in actual practice, monogamy is more widely prevalent.

2 . Patrilocal vs Matrilocal vs Neolocal

Patrilocal The family in which after marriage wife comes to reside in the family of her husband is known as patrilocal family.
Matrilocal The family in which after marriage husband comes to reside in the family of her wife is known as matrilocal family
Neolocal After marriage newly married couple establish a new family independent of their parents and settled at a new place.

3 . Endogamy vs Exogamy

Endogamy Endogamy requires an individual to marry within a culturally defined group . Eg: caste, religion etc.
Exogamy Exogamy requires the individual to marry outside of his/her own group.

In India, village exogamy is practiced in certain parts of north India. Village exogamy ensured that daughters were married into families from villages far away from home. This arrangement ensured smooth transition and adjustment of the bride into the affinal home without interference of her kinsmen. The geographical distance plus the unequal relationship in the patrilineal system ensured that married daughters did not get to see their parents too often.

4. Patriarchy

  • Patriarchy is social system in which woman is suppressed .
  • It is not a constant concept since the nature of subjugation of woman varies  .  Brahmanical Patriarchy, Tribal Patriarchy and Dalit Patriarchy  are different from each other.

Structures of Patriarchy

  • Family : first lessons of Patriarchy are learned in a family  .
  • Patriarchal construction of the Knowledge System ( media , education institution etc. .)
  • Symbolism
  • Religion : Patriarchy is legitimized by religion . Eg : Manu Smriti .
  • Caste System : Caste purity needs controlling the sexuality of woman  .

Question UPSC : How is patriarchy impacting the position of middle class working woman ?

  • Dual Burden /Second Shift : Due to patriarchy, working women are facing double exploitation because they are forced to do the household work even after job.
  • Glass Ceiling Effect : Not promoted to higher positions .
  • Workplace Violence including sexual violence .
  • Wage Gap : Women including paid lesser for same work .

5. Cultural Lag

  • Term Cultural Lag was coined  by famous sociologist W.F. Ogburn .
  • Every group has two type of values
    • Core Value
    • Peripheral Values
  • According to the concept of Cultural Lag
    • Whenever change comes at peripheral values, it is accepted by the group.
    • But when change comes at Core Values, it is not easily accepted .
    • This phenomenon will create  anxiety because in such a situation group is neither traditional nor fully modern .
    • Eg : People have accepted educating the girl child but they have not given up Patriarchal Mindset  .

Changes in Indian Society

  • From Joint family to Nuclear and Functional Joint families : Already discussed above.
  • Change in marriage system
    1. Legislative measures like child marriage Restraint Act, 1929, and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 have increased the minimum age of marriage.
    2. Freedom in mate selection which was earlier selected by the family.
    3. To fulfil career and individual  ambitions , distance marriages” “delayed marriages” and  “long have become  a common feature.
    4. Cases of divorce and desertion have also increased.
  • Status of women in the family  has improved  as they have become more educated and started working, thus along with other male members in the family ,they also now have a say in family issues.
  • Women are given  right  in the  ancestral property and a legal right to share property along with male members,  after the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 was amended in 2005 .

NCERT : Impact of colonisation  on Indian Society

History is full of examples of annexation . But, there is  difference between empires of pre-capitalist and  capitalist times.

  • Change in land ownership – Impacted the old agrarian ties . Eg : In Permanent Settlement , Zamindars were made sole proprietors with no rights even to Khudkashts .
  • Forest Laws & Tribals : Tribals were exploited and their rights on minor produce taken away
  • Criminalisation of Tribes via Criminal Tribes Act .
  • Policy of Divide and Rule : Colonialists divided  Indian society based on Religion. 
  • Forced Movement of Population on large scale : Eg :
    • Workers from Bihar & Jharkhand moved to Assam to work on  tea plantations.
    • Indentured labourers send to   Africa and Americas  .
  • Deindustrialisation & Ruralisation led to movement of artisans to agriculture .
  • Exoteric Secular knowledge : Brahmin monopoly over education ended + Dalits also got access to knowledge
  • English replaced Persian as official language : Muslims suffered and Hindus who adapted to change rapidly increased their share in government jobs. 

Previous Year UPSC GS Mains Questions

  1. The life cycle of a joint family depends on economic factors rather than social values. Discuss.
  2. Describe any four cultural elements of diversity in India and rate their relative significance in building a national identity.
  3. In the context of the diversity of India, can it be said that the regions form cultural units rather than the States? Give reasons with examples for your view point. 
  4. The spirit of tolerance and love is not only an interesting feature of Indian society from very early times, but it is also playing an important part at the present. Elaborate.

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