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Salient features of indian society

Intro and characteristics

Indian society is an exemplification of multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-ideological constructs, which co-exist, at once striving to strike harmony and also to retain its individuality.

Characteristics of Indian Society

• Multi-ethnic society

• Multilingual society

• Multi-class society

• Patriarchal society

• Unity in diversity

Co-existence of traditionalism and modernity– Traditionalism is upholding or maintenance of core values. Whereas modernity refers to questioning the tradition and moving towards rational thinking, social, scientific and technological progress.

Balance between spiritualism and materialism– Spiritualism’s main focus is to promote an individual’s experience with God. Whereas materialism is a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values.

Balance between Individualism and collectivism– Individualism is a moral, political or social outlook that stresses human independence, self-reliance and liberty. Whereas collectivism is the practice of giving a group priority over each individual in it. There exists a fine balance between them in Indian society.

Features of Indian society:

Caste System

Caste can be defined as hereditary endogamous group, having a common name, common traditional occupation, common culture, relatively rigid in matters of mobility, distinctiveness of status and forming a single homogenous community.

 Some of the features of caste system in India include the following:

o Segmental division of society: It means that social stratification is largely based on caste. Membership to a caste group is acquired by birth, on the basis of which people are ranked in relative to other caste groups.

o Hierarchy: It indicates that various castes are categorized according to their purity and impurity of occupations.

o Civil and religious disabilities:  Example, lower caste groups had no access to wells, they were restricted from entering temples etc.

o Endogamy: Members of a particular caste have to marry within their caste only. Inter caste

marriages are prohibited.

o Untouchability: It is the practice of ostracizing a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom. 

o Manual scavenging: Manual scavenging eventually became a caste-based occupation, which involves the removal of untreated human excreta from bucket toilets or pit latrines. It has been officially abolished by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.

o Caste based violence in India: Increasing trend of caste based violence are related to instances of inter-caste marriage and assertion of basic rights by Dalits including land rights, freedom of expression, access to justice, access to education etc.

o Policy of caste based reservation: The system of caste-based reservation in India comprises of a series of affirmative action measures, such as reserving access to seats in the various legislatures, to government jobs, and to enrolment in higher educational institutions.

Changes in the Caste system

• Trends for inter-caste marriage:

• Challenges to orthodoxy.

• New food habits

• Changes in occupation

• Improvement in the position of lower caste

Factors Affecting the Changes in Caste System

Sanskritisation: Sanskritisation as a process of change is the mobility concerned with positional change in the caste system. By changing the customs and rituals such as by adopting vegetarianism and teetotalism, people belonging to the low castes are claiming a ‘higher’ position in the caste hierarchy.

Westernisation: Due to changes in the spheres of education, food habits, dressing sense, style of eating, manners etc.,

 • Modernisation: It is a process which primarily relies on scientific outlook, rational attitudes, high social mobility, mass mobilisation and specialisation in work. It has made caste system more flexible.

Industrialisation and urbanisation: With the growth of industrial towns and cities,migration has spiralled up

Democratic decentralisation: The reservation provided in the Panchayati Raj system has given the opportunity for the lower castes to empower themselves.

Caste and politics: They both are closely linked to each other. In fact, the link has led to an empowerment among the lower castes since they ventilate their feelings through elections and power lobby.

Legislative measures: A variety of social legislations have been introduced For instance, Untouchability (offences) Act, 1955 provided for punishment against the practice of untouchability.

Religious Pluralism:

Different Religious Groups in India

India is a secular country comprising various religions of the world, which are further subdivided into several sects and cults. Religion in India is characterized by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. The Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of four world religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.

Further, variants of Hinduism such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism, etc is practiced. Even in Islam, multiple variants such as Shia, Sunni tenets are followed. Animistic and naturistic religions are also followed by tribal groups. Thus, there is a plurality of multiple religions and each religion has individual salient tenets and associated festivals and customs.

Kinship, Marriage and Family:


Kinship system refers to a set of persons recognized as relatives either by virtue of a blood relationship or by virtue of a marriage relationship. These relationships are the result of social interaction and are recognized by society. It is supremely important in the primitive societies and extends its influence on almost all their activities – social, economic, political, religious, etc.

Types of Kinship

Affinal Kinship: The bond of marriage is called ‘affinal’ kinship. When a person marries, he establishes relationship not only with the girl whom he marries but also with a number of other people in the girl’s family and vice versa.

Consanguineous Kinship: The bond of blood is called consanguineous kinship. The consanguineous kin are related through blood whereas the affinal kin are related through marriage.

Regional differences regarding kinship systems and marriage in North and South India

North India: In North India, there are mostly patrilineal groups, with descent traced in the male line from father to son. Caste endogamy is strictly practiced. Further, marriage is prohibited within the same gotra or clan and village exogamy is commonly preferred.

South India: The Southern zone presents a very complicated pattern of kinship system and family organization. While there is dominance of patrilineal and patrilocal system, but simultaneously matrilineal (descent from maternal line) and matrilocal systems also exist. Rules of marriage also vary in South India.


Marriage is an important social institution. It 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. It is more or less a universal social institution in India.

Structural and functional changes in the marriage system

• Changes in the aim and purpose of marriage: In traditional societies the primary objective of marriage is ‘dharma’ or duty; especially among Hindus. But today the modern objective of marriage is more related to ‘life-long companionship’ between husband and wife.

• Changes in the form of marriage: Traditional forms of marriages like polygamy, polygyny are legally prohibited in India. Nowadays, mostly monogamous marriages are practiced.

• Change in the age of marriage: According to legal standards, the marriageable age for boy

and girl stands at 21 and 18 respectively

• Increase in divorce and desertion rates.

• Live in relationships: They are on a steady growth rate in India especially among the youth in metropolitan cities. The institution also has legal recognition as a three judge bench of SC in 2010 observed that a man and a woman living together without marriage cannot be construed as an offence and held that living together is a Right to Life and Liberty (Article 21). SC has also acknowledged that children born out of such relations are legitimate and have property rights of their parents under Section 16 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Family in Indian Society

The family is the basic unit of society. It is the first and the most immediate social environment to which a child is exposed. It is in the family a child learns language, the behavioral Patterns and social norms in his childhood.

 It exists in tribal, rural and urban communities and among the followers of all religious and cultures. It provides the most enduring relationship in one form or other.

Characteristics of Family

• Family is a basic, definite and enduring group.

• Family is formed by the relatively durable companionship of husband, wife who procreate children.

• Family may be limited to husband, wife or only the father and his children or only the mother and her children.

• Family is generally smaller in size companied to other social groups, organizations and associations.

• Family can also be large in size in which persons belonging to several generations may live together.

Types of family

1. On the basis of marriage:

Polygamous families may be described as families in which either spouse is allowed to have more than one spouse simultaneously.

Monogamous families are those families in which the marriage is limited to one spouse.

2. On the basis of residence:

Patrilocal family: The family in which after marriage wife comes to reside in the family of her husband is known as patrilocal family. The patrilocal family is also patriarchal and patrilineal in nature.

Matrilocal family: The family in which after marriage husband comes to reside in the family of her wife is known as matrilocal family. It is just opposite of patrilocal family. This type of family is also Matriarchal and Matrilineal in nature.

Bilocal family: In this type of family after marriage the married couple change their residence alternatively. Sometimes wife joins in her husband’s house while at some other times husband resides in wife’s house. That is why this type of family is also known as family of changing residence.

Neolocal family: After marriage when newly married couple establish a new family independent of their parents and settled at a new place this type of family is known as neolocal family.

3. On the basis of size and structure:

Nuclear Family: A nuclear family is a family which consists of husband, wife and their unmarried children. The size of nuclear family is very small.

Joint or Extended Family: It includes members of three to four generations. It is an extension of parent child relationship. This family is based on close blood ties. It is like the joint family of Hindu Society.

4. On the basis of Authority:

Patriarchal Family: The family in which all the power remains in the hands of patriarch or father is known as patriarchal family. He owns family property. After his death authority transferred to the eldest son of family

Matriarchal family: This type of family is just opposite of patriarchal family. This type of family is found among the Nayars of Kerala and among the Garo and Khasi tribes of Assam.

5. Family on the basis of descent:

Patrilineal family: The family in which descent or ancestry is determined through father

Matrilineal family: Matrilineal family is just opposite of the patrilineal family.

Functions of the family

• Primary function

o Production and rearing of the child

o Provision of home

o Instrument of culture transmission

o Agent of socialization

o Status ascribing function

o Agency of social control

• Secondary function

o Educational functions: Family provides the basis for the child’s formal learning. In spite of great changes, the family still gives the child his basic training in the social attitudes and habits important to adult participation in social life

o Religious functions: Family is a center for the religious training of the children

o Recreational functions: playing indoor games, dancing, singing, reading etc.

Structural and functional changes in the Indian family system

• Changes in family: Instead of all members working together in an integrated economic enterprise, a few male members go out of the home to earn the family’s living. These affected family relations.

• Influence of urbanization: Various sociologists have revealed that the city life is more favourable to small nuclear families than to big joint families.

• Legislative measures: Prohibition of early marriage and fixing the minimum age of marriage by the child marriage Restraint Act, 1929, and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 have lengthened the period of education.

• Changes in marriage system: Changes in the age of marriage, freedom in mate-selection

• Influence of western values: Values relating to modern science, rationalism, individualism, equality, free life, democracy, freedom of women etc. have exerted a tremendous change on the joint family system in India.

• Changes in the position of women: Main factor causing changes in the position of women in our society lie in her changing economic role.

Current status

Over the years, various sociologists have affirmed in their studies that the rise of nuclear families — consisting of a couple and their unmarried children — is consistent with rapid urbanization.

According to the 2001 census, out of 19.31 crore households, 9.98 crore or 51.7% were nuclear households.

 In the 2011 census, the share grew to 52.1% — 12.97 crore nuclear out of 24.88 crore households.

Joint families, meanwhile, fell substantially from 19.1% (3.69 crore) to 16.1% (4 crore) across India. In rural areas, the dip was sharper – from 20.1% to 16.8% – than in urban India where it fell from 16.5% to 14.6%. Thus, the declining share of urban nuclear families is attributed to increased migration as well as lack of housing.

Diversity in India

India is a plural society both in letter and spirit. It is rightly characterized by its unity and diversity. A grand synthesis of cultures, religions and languages of the people belonging to different castes and communities has upheld its unity and cohesiveness despite multiple foreign invasions.

National unity and integrity have been maintained even through sharp economic and social inequalities have obstructed the emergence of egalitarian social relations. The term ‘diversity’ emphasizes differences rather than inequalities. It means collective differences, that is, differences which mark off one group of people from another. These differences may be of any sort: biological, religious, linguistic etc.

Unity means integration. It is a social psychological condition. It connotes a sense of one-ness, a sense of we-ness. It stands for the bonds, which hold the members of a society together. Unity in diversity essentially means “unity without uniformity” and “diversity without fragmentation”.

 Various forms of diversity in India

• Religious diversity

• Linguistic diversity

• Racial diversity

• Caste diversity

• Cultural diversity

• Geographical diversity: dry deserts, evergreen forests, lofty mountains, perennial and non-perennial river systems, long coasts and fertile plains.

 Factors Leading to Unity Amidst Diversity in India

• Constitutional identity: The entire country is governed by one single Constitution.

• Religious co-existence: Religion tolerance is the unique feature of religions in India due to which multiple religions co-exist in India. Freedom of religion and religious practice is guaranteed by the Constitution itself. Moreover, there is no state religion and all religions are given equal preference by the state.

• Inter-State mobility: The Constitution guarantees freedom to move throughout the territory of India under Article 19 (1) (d).

• Other factors such as uniform pattern of law, penal code, administrative works (eg. All India services) too lead to uniformity in the criminal justice system, policy implementation etc.

• Economic integration: The Constitution of India secures the freedom of Trade, Commerce and Intercourse within the Territory of India under Article 301. Further, the Goods and Service Tax(GST) have paved way for ‘one country, one tax, one national market’, thus facilitating unity among different regions.

• Institution of pilgrimage and religious practices : In India, religion and spirituality have great significance. . From Badrinath and Kedarnath in the north to Rameshwaram in the south, Jagannath Puri in the east to Dwaraka in the west the religious shrines and holy rivers are spread throughout the length and breadth of the country

• Fairs and festivals: They also act as integrating factors as people from all parts of the country celebrate them as per their own local customs. Eg. Diwali is celebrated throughout by Hindus in the country, similarly Id and Christmas are celebrated by Muslims and Christians, respectively.

• Sports and Cinema: These are followed by millions in the country, thus, acting as a binding force across the length and breadth of India.

 Factors that threaten India’s unity

• Regionalism

• Divisive politics

• Development imbalance: Uneven pattern of socio-economic development, inadequate economic policies and consequent economic disparities can lead to backwardness of a region. For instance, due to economic backwardness of the North East region, several instances of separatist demands and secessionist tendencies have sprung up in the region.

• Ethnic differentiation and nativism: Ethnic differentiation has often led to clashes between different ethnic groups especially due to factors such as job competition, limited resources, threat to identity etc. E.g. frequent clashes between Bodos and Bengali speaking Muslims in Assam.

• Geographical isolation.

• Inter-religious conflicts

• Inter-state conflicts

• Influence of external factors

Problem is not of diversity per se, but the handling of diversity in India society. The problems of regionalism, communalism, ethnic conflicts etc. have arisen because the fruits of development haven’t been distributed equally or the cultures of some groups haven’t been accorded due recognition.

May 2024