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Approach:

  1. Introduction
  2. State how globalisation has encouraged consumerist culture.
  3. Give reference to Sanskritization.
  4. Now state how such culture is transforming India’s social dynamics, especially caste.
  5. Conclusion

In India, the loudly printed Armani t-shirts, energetic socializing inside McDonald’s restaurants are no longer a surprise. After all, since the early 1990s — amid liberalization, a burgeoning middle-class, and a demographic youth bulge — consumerism has well and truly taken off inside Indian metropolises.

In other words, material wealth serves a purpose beyond financial security and prosperity — it’s also a prominent social marker. It does seem that the instrumental value attached to affluence in India is particularly notable. According to the 2013 Ipsos Global Trends Survey, 58% of Indians measure success on the basis of what they own — the global average was 34%.

Of course materialism is not solely an Indian phenomenon. Yet, conspicuous consumption today, and particularly that of Western trademarks, may offer a unique insight into how India’s social dynamics may have evolved, and adapted, as the nation has globalized.

Sanskritization, a term popularized by the Indian sociologist M.N. Srinivas in the 1950s, described how lower caste Indians achieved social uplift. Srinivas found that untouchables and servants would attempt to mirror the rituals, ideology, and way of life of the upper castes, including the priestly top-ranking Brahmins. That seems fitting, since the caste system was, and is, crudely a social order based on the level of ritual purity. The aim for lower castes ultimately was to mimic the religiosity of the upper social strata, including their diet, clothing, and customs, in order to stake claims to a higher-ranking social position.

India’s rapid globalization has been the true driver behind the Western consumerist dynamics. Until the 1990s, India was largely an isolated nation. It was only in 1991 that India adopted liberalization policies — which deregulated the private sector and lowered trade and investment barriers. That transformation was meteoric. With the new funds and global business activity, growing Internet access, and international media penetration alongside it, Indian society became increasingly exposed to new brands, cultures, and ideals.

The effects were almost immediate. India’s nouveau riche began to adopt a more cosmopolitan, and Western tinge to their food, clothing, and lifestyle appetites. Fast-food has become a billion dollar industry, while the number of shopping malls has grown exponentially. Bollywood film plots now lead with more liberal and youth-based storylines, ahead of the conservative and family-centric plots of the early 1990s.

Though inequality has amplified and remained pervasive at the same time, overall opportunities to gain some economic foothold have greatly expanded through more prosperous outlets for entrepreneurial endeavors, the global outsourcing industry, and international trade. So, while caste identity is still relevant, class mobility is now increasingly salient in India.

The relative improvement in economic mobility that arrived with India’s connection into the global capitalist model, may have also gone hand-in-hand with the declining importance of religiosity as a social symbol. It’s likely been displaced by a more secular value-system, which creates social uplift through material accumulation. Meanwhile, the intense desire to achieve social uplift means traditional Indian brands and customs are increasingly considered outmoded.

And certainly, marketing of Western consumer vogues have a strong critical mass for take-off given India’s roughly 350 million 10-to-24 year-olds — the world’s largest youth population. A 2011 Poll showed that an indicative 74% of Indians were brand-conscious, compared with 26% in the United States. A notable proportion of this is likely to be driven by the status symbolism of brands.

The globalization of the ideals of liberty, equality, and prosperity, while a boon to overall human progress, has fomented societal angst. Now, 75 years after independence, India faces its own multi-layered spiritual crisis. “The society that has emerged in post-liberalization India… is one consumed both by euphoria and dread.”

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