Salient features of Indian Society

Last Updated: June 2023 (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 an important pillar of the GS-1 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.

Mark Twain on Indian Society - India is the cradle of the Human race

What is Society?

  • Society can be defined as the network of social relationships due to interaction between its 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 a sub-entity of a larger entity.
  • India is a state with multiple societies/nations in it. Indian society is an amalgamation of many societies 
    • India is one state with multiple nations.
    • Sri Lanka is one state with two nations.
    • Japan is a single state with a single nation.
    • Korea is two states with one nation.
Indian Society and 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, globalization etc. 

Characteristics of Indian Society

  1. Multiethnic society: Indian society is multiethnic due to the co-existence of many 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 based on birth as well as financial and social achievements.
  4. Accommodative Society: Throughout its history, India has witnessed numerous invasions by different empires and civilizations, including the Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Mauryans, Mughals, British, and others. But Indian society has accommodated and assimilated various cultures, traditions, and ideas brought by these invasions. 
  5. Patriarchal society: Indian society is primarily a patriarchal society where men enjoy greater status than women. However, some tribal societies are matriarchal as well.
  6. Unity in diversity: Various diversities exist in India. But beneath this diversity, there is fundamental unity.
  7. Co-existence of traditionalism and modernity: Traditionalism is upholding core values. In contrast, modernity refers to questioning the tradition and moving towards rational thinking and social and technological progress. Due to the spread of education, modern thinking among Indians has increased. However, family life is still bound by traditional values and belief systems.
  8. The balance between individualism and collectivism: Individualism is an outlook that stresses human independence, self-reliance and liberty. In contrast, collectivism is giving a group priority over each individual in it.  
  9. Blood and kinship ties: Blood relations and kinship ties enjoy a stronghold over other social relationships.  
  10. Caste System is an intrinsic part of Indian society. 
  11. Joint Family: Since time immemorial, Indians have preferred to live in Joint families. 
  12. Marriage: Mostly, monogamy is practised, but polygamy is also practised at some places. 

Salient Features of Indian Society

Salient features of Indian Society

1. Caste System

Refer separate Article- 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 lies exclusively with the eldest male member of the family. 

is called a joint family.

  • The Indians have understood the importance of the Joint family 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

  • It provides social insurance to the members.
  • Division of work: Workload, either domestic or business, is divided between the members.
  • Sharing resources with the cousins minimize the expenses on children.
  • It leads to the development of a feeling of camaraderie between cousins.
  • Social Security: Weaker family members – such as the elders or children – are taken care of by other members. 
  • Joint Families are more disciplined because the 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 doesn’t indulge in antisocial activities. 

Disadvantages of Joint Family

  • It creates parasites who love to feed on others’ income. 
  • The low status of women 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 the expectations of others.
  • Joint families are an ‘arena of contradiction and conflict.’
  • Agent of cultural reproduction: In Joint families, obsolete values like patriarchy don’t change. 
  • Joint families have a high fertility rate as an extra child doesn’t become a financial liability.
  • It leads to encroachment on privacy as a joint family has no privacy. 

Side Topic: Type of Families

Nuclear Family Consists of husband, wife, and unmarried children
Joint Family Consists of people living together up to 2nd generation
Blended Family Husband and wife with children from previous marriages live together
Single Parent Family When only one parent (male or female) provides care to the children due to reasons such as divorce, death etc.

From Joint Families to Nuclear Families

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

Reasons why Indians are moving towards Nuclear Families

  • Migration: Post-LPG Reforms, people are migrating towards cosmopolitans for jobs.
  • Spread of female education: educated girls can’t reconcile with husbands’ mothers & are forced to set up independent establishments. 
  • Disparity in the income of brothers:  Brothers with decent income usually separate.
  • Influence of urbanization: Various sociologists have revealed that city life is more favourable to small nuclear families than big joint families.  
  • Western value system: Individualistic values have been inculcated.

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, a Functional Joint family is a family where although the members of a family are living separately, the individual gives importance to the fulfilment of obligation towards kin, especially parents.   
  • Although a person lives in the city, he keeps sending money to his parents.

Side Topic: Female-Headed Households

Generally, in Indian Society, households are Male headed. But there are some situations when Females head the household

  1. Migration of males to the urban areas.
  2. Widowhood  
  3. Divorce

3. Marriage Systems

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

Marriage has a large variety of forms

1. Polygamy vs Monogamy

1.1 Monogamy

Monogamy restricts the individual to one spouse at a time

  • Man can have only one wife.
  • Woman can have only one husband.

1.2 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. Baigas and Gond Tribes in India practice Polygyny.
    2. Polyandry: One wife with two or more husbands. Usually, where economic conditions are harsh, polyandry may be one response of society, as a single male cannot support a wife and children. Toda, Khasa, Kota and Ladhaki Bota tribes in India practice Polyandry.
  • Even where polygamy is permitted, monogamy is more widely prevalent in actual practice.

2. Patrilocal vs Matrilocal vs Neolocal

2.1 Patrilocal

After marriage, the wife comes to reside in the family of her husband is known as the patrilocal marriage.

2.2 Matrilocal

The family in which after marriage husband comes to reside in the family of her wife is known as matrilocal family.

2.3 Neolocal

After marriage newly married couple establish a new family independent of their parents and settled in a new place.

3. Endogamy vs Exogamy

3.1 Endogamy

  • Endogamy requires an individual to marry within a culturally defined group. E.g., caste, religion etc. 

3.2 Exogamy

  • Exogamy requires the individual to marry outside of their group.

In India, village exogamy is practised in most north India so that daughters are married in distant places to ensure that they can’t interfere in the matters of her parents’ home and settle in her affinal home without interference.

Side Topic: Live-In Relationships

The trend of Live-In Relationships is increasing in India.

Reasons for increasing Live-In relationships in India

  • Penetration of modern education and ideas emanating from it like freedom, equality, autonomy, individualism etc.
  • Patriarchy associated with institutionalized marriages (like patrilocal residency, gender inequality, unequal division of labour between sexes, lack of agency over reproduction, etc.) makes some educated women choose Live-In relationships instead of marriage.
  • Legal and financial complications associated with marriages in case of splitting or divorces.
  • Increased labour force participation has made women economically independent to take decisions affecting their lives.
  • Career oriented and highly aspirational youngsters view legal institutionalized marriages and children as impediments to their career growth.
  • Impact of globalisation and westernization.
  • Inter-caste and interreligious marriages are still not accepted by society, forcing youth to prefer live-in relations.

The legality of Live-In Relationships

  • S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal: Supreme court has accepted live-in relationships under Article 21.
  • Justice Malimath Committee has recommended that live-in partners should be included in the definition of a wife.

4. Patriarchy

  • Patriarchy is a social system in which woman is suppressed.
  • It is not a constant concept since the nature of the subjugation of women 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. E.g., Manu Smriti.
  • Caste System: Caste purity needs to control the sexuality of the woman. 

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

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

5. Cultural Lag

Famous sociologist W.F. Ogburn coined the term Cultural Lag

Every group has two types 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 creates anxiety because the group is neither traditional nor fully modern in such a situation. 
  • E.g., 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 the marriage system
    1. Legislative measures like the 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” and “delayed marriages” have become common features. 
    4. Cases of divorce and desertion have also increased. 
  • The 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 the right to ancestral property and a legal right to share the property with male members after the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 was amended in 2005.

NCERT Topic: Impact of colonisation  on Indian Society

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

  • Change in land ownership: It impacted the old agrarian ties. E.g., 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 were taken away 
  • Criminalization of Tribes via Criminal Tribes Act.
  • The policy of Divide and Rule: Colonialists divided Indian society based on religion.  
  • Forced Movement of Population on a large scale: Eg : 
    • Workers from Bihar & Jharkhand moved to Assam to work on tea plantations. 
    • Indentured labourers send to Africa and the Americas.
    • Deindustrialization & ruralization led to the movement of artisans to agriculture.
  • Exoteric secular knowledge: Brahmin monopoly over education ended, and Dalits also got access to knowledge
  • English replaced Persian as the official language: Muslims suffered, and Hindus who adapted to change rapidly increased their government jobs.