• Social Structure: It is the organised pattern of the inter-related rights and obligations of persons and groups in a system of interaction as seen in terms of statuses, roles, institutions governed by social norms and values.
  • Jajmani System : It is an age-old social institution that refers to the inter-caste and inter-family social, economic, political and ritual ties prevalent in villages
  • Varna :The Varna distributes social groups into four categories, all over India. It is a model of social and ritual hierarchy of caste groups. These are fourBrahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. The Varna provides a cultural idiom to the caste system
  • Village Exogamy and ‘Gotra’ Exogamy : Exogamy means marrying outside the group. Village exogamy refers to the tradition of prohibiting marriage within the village in North India. Similarly, ‘gotra’ exogamy prohibits marriage within one’s own gotra (clan).
  • Secularisation : The process by which religions or sacred values are replaced by scientific and rational values
  • Division of Labour : A concept referring to different people performing different functions according to the criteria of age, sex, knowledge, skill, etc
  • Social mobility: refers to the process by which individuals or groups move from one social status to another in the social hierarchy. Social mobility can be either upward or downward. Upward social mobility is one where the individual or group moves from a lower status in the hierarchy to the upper. Downward mobility is when a person or group moves from a higher status to a lower one in the hierarchy
  • Social Stratification: It is the process of differential ranking where a society is divided in segments and these segments are hierarchically ranked



  • Multi-ethnic society– Indian society is multi-ethnic in nature due to co-existence of wide variety of racial groups in India. India is home to almost all the racial profiles prevalent in the world
  • Multilingual society– Across the length and breadth of the country, more than 1600 languages are spoken. Among them the major languages are Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali etc.
  • 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 during one’s lifetime.
  • Patriarchal society– Indian society is largely a patriarchal society where men tend to enjoy greater status than women . However, some tribal societies are matrilineal societies where women have the dominant decision making power.
  • Unity in diversity– This is an inherent feature of Indian society. Diversity in India exists at various levels in different forms. However, beneath this diversity, there is fundamental unity in social institutions and practices.
  • 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. Due to the spread of education and technological advances, modern thinking among Indians has increased. However, the family life is still bound by traditional value and belief systems.
  • 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. Indian society is largely possess spiritual orientations. However due to increased Westernisation, materialistic tendencies have also become quite visible.
  • 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.
  • Blood and kinship ties– Blood relations and kinship ties enjoy a stronghold over other social relationships. They continue to govern the political and economic spheres of life.



1.Social Structure

  • Human world is composed of individuals. Individuals interact with one another for the fulfilment of their needs. In this process, they occupy certain status and roles in social life with accompanying rights and obligations. Their social behaviour is patterned and gets associated with certain norms and values, which provide them guidance in social interaction.
  • There emerge various social units, such as groups, community, associations and institutions in society as a product of social intercourse in human life.
  • In this scenario, social structure is conceived as the pattern of inter-related statuses and roles found in a society, constituting a relatively stable set of social relations. It is the organised pattern of the inter-related rights and obligations of persons and groups in a system of interaction.


2.Rural Social Structure in India

  1. Family in Rural India
  • Broadly speaking there are two types of family: (a) nuclear family consisting of husband, wife and unmarried children, and (b) joint or extended family comprising a few more kins than the nuclear type
  • Rural family works as the unit of economic, cultural, religious, and political activities. Collectivity of the family is emphasized in social life, and feelings of individualism and personal freedom are very limited.
  • Marriage is considered an inter-familial matter rather than an inter-personal affair. It is governed by rules of kinship
  • It has been observed that with the changes in the larger society, the structure and function of joint family in India are undergoing a reconciliatory pattern of change. However the traditional world-view of the joint family still prevails.
  1. Lineage and Kinship
  • Within the village, a group of families tracing descent from a common ancestor with knowledge of all the links constitute a lineage; and the children of the same generation behave as brothers and sisters. They form a unit for celebrating major ritual events
  • the word Kul is used to describe these units. Usually these families live in closeness and a guest of one (e.g. a son-in-law) could be treated as such in all these families. These bonds of families may go back to 3 to 7 generations. People do not marry within this group
  • With regard to rules of marriage there are some differences between the north and south India.
    • In the South a family tries to strengthen existing kin ties through marriage, while in the North a family tends to affiliate with a separate set of people to whom it is not already linked. This is witnessed in the prevalence of the rules of village exogamy and ‘gotra’ exogamy in the North but not in the South.
    • In the North, nobody is permitted to marry in his/her own village. Marriage alliances are concluded with the people from other villages belonging to similar caste. But no such proscriptions exist in the South.
    • Further, in the North one cannot marry within his/her own gotra. On the contrary, cross cousin marriage i.e., marriage between the children of brother and sister, is preferred in the South. Thus, there is a centrifugal tendency in North India, i.e., the direction of marriage is outward or away from the group. In contrast in South India we find a centripetal tendency in making marriage alliances and building kinship ties. In other words, marriages take place inwardly or within the group.
  1. Caste groups
  • Caste : People usually marry within the caste or sub-caste. Members of a caste trace their origin from a common ancestor. So characteristics of caste includes :
    1. it is an endogamous group;
    2. it has a common ancestor
    3. Occupation is in some ways connected with caste, but not to the extent of prescribing it
    4. In case of the caste-based society as a whole, each group is assigned a particular place on the social ladder. This arrangement reflects the hierarchy of castes
  • Sub-caste :
    1. A sub-caste is considered a smaller unit within a caste
    2. the groups are endogamous
    3. it has some mechanisms like panchayats to regulate the behaviour of members in the traditional setting
  • Changes in the Caste System: Some important changes have taken place in the caste system in rural areas in the contemporary period due to the new forces of industrialisation, urbanisation, politicisation, modern education and legal system, land reforms, development programmes and government policy of positive discrimination in favour of the lower castes
    • Occupational association of caste has marginally changed in rural areas. Brahmins may still work as priests. In addition, they have taken to agriculture. Landowning dominant castes belonging to both upper and middle rung of caste hierarchy generally work as supervisory farmers. Other non-landowning lower castes, including small and marginal peasants, work as wage labourers in agriculture. Artisan castes, namely, carpenters and iron-smith continue with their traditional occupations. However, migration to urban areas has enabled individuals from all castes including untouchables to enter into non-traditional occupations in industry, trade and commerce, and services.
    • Further, inter-caste marriage is almost non-existent in rural areas. Inter-caste restrictions on food, drink and smoking continue but to a lesser degree because of the presence of tea stalls in villages which are patronised by nearly all castes.
    • The hold of untouchability has lessened.
    • Distinction in dress has become more a matter of income than caste affiliation. In traditional India, the upper castes were also upper classes but it is not absolutely true today because now new occupational opportunities to gain income have developed in villages. People migrate to cities and bring money back to their villages. This has changed the traditional social structure
  1. Rural power structure
  • There is a change in rural power structure in the period since Independence, which has led to some changes in inter-caste relationship.
  • The Brahmins have lost their traditional dominance in South India. Kamma and Reddi in Andhra, Lingayat and Okkaliga in Karnataka, and Ahir, Jat and Kurmi in North India have emerged as the new dominant castes at local and regional levels through acquisition of economic and political power.
  • Some traditional backward castes e.g. Nadar, Vanniyar of Tamil Nadu and Mahar of Maharashtra also have improved their social status
  1. Agrarian class structure
  • Three main classes in agrarian setup includes :
    • the landowners (zamindars),
    • the tenants and
    • The agricultural labourers.
  • Changes in rural class structure post independence due to various measures like land reforms , rural development programme etc is as follows :
    • It led to the decline of feudal and customary types of tenancies. It was replaced by a more exploitative and insecure lease arrangement.
    • It gave rise to a new commercial based rich peasant class who were part owners and part tenants. They had resource and enterprise to carry out commercial agriculture.
    • It led to the decline of feudal landlord class and another class of commercial farmers emerged for whom agriculture was a business. The term “absentee landlordism” is used for such class . It includes elites living in cities but owning large chunk of land in countryside ( thus absent from countryside) and leased out agricultural land rather than self-cultivating it .
  1. The Jajmani System
  • A very important feature of traditional village life in India is the ‘jajmani’ system.The term ‘jajman’ refers to the patron or recipient of specialised services and the term ‘jajmani’ refers to the whole relationship.
  • Under this system some castes are patrons and others are serving castes. The serving castes offer their services to the landowning upper and intermediate caste and in turn are paid both in cash and kind. The patron castes are the landowning dominant castes, e.g., Rajput, Bhumihar, Jat in the North, and Kamma, Lingayat and Reddi in Andhra Pradesh and Patel in Gujarat. The service castes comprise Brahmin (priest), barber, carpenter, blacksmith, water-carrier, leatherworker etc.
  • It has been observed that the jajmani system has weakened over the years due to market forces, increased urban contact, migration, education and social and political awareness on the part of the service castes.



1.Main features of Urban Life

  • Formality and Impersonality of Human Relationships : Large size of urban areas prevents intimate and face-to-face contacts among all the members in the community. In urban communities, people interact with each other for limited and specialised purposes, for example, teachers and students in a classroom, buyers and sellers in a store and doctors and patients in clinics. they are not usually concerned with all aspects of a person’s life
  • Rationality : With the impersonal nature of urban relationships, the urban orientations tend to be utilitarian. That is, people then enter into relationships, after calculating potential gains from these associations rather than for the intrinsic satisfaction of association. Here relationships are generally of contractual kind where profit and loss are carefully evaluated. Once the contract is over, the relationship between the people tends to end, as for example, in having the services of a trained nurse for a sick person, or entering into a contract with an agency to advertise your product, etc.
  • Secularism : Heterogeneity of physical such as racial, social and cultural elements in urban life results in routine exposure to divergent life styles and values. People become more tolerant of differences as they become accustomed to seeing others very different from themselves. This rational and tolerant attitude produces secular orientations in life
  • Increased Specialisation and Division of Labour: Cities are based on specialization/super specialization of Labour. Doctors have become cardio radiologists & neurosurgeons, Engineers have traversed into AI, Big Data and IT, Teachers teach only a certain subject. Increased specialization in cities have faded the barriers of castes, religion and gender. People are now known from their skills and specialization in particular profession rather than from their castes.
  • Decline in the Functions of Family : Many of the educational, recreational and other functions, performed within a rural joint family context, are taken over by other institutions such as schools, clubs and other voluntary organisations in the urban social context. In urban society there is generally a clear demarcation between the home and place of work, which is not always found in rural society.

2.Family, Marriage and Kinship in Urban India

  • It is usually assumed that the process of urbanisation leads to a decline in family size, weakening of family ties and break up of joint family system into nuclear families. However joint families are found in urban areas as well
  • Some of the changes, which call attention to the gradual modification of the family structure in urban India, are:
    1. diminishing size of the family, owing to the increasing awareness of family planning measures,
    2. reduction in functions of family as a result of relegation of certain educational, recreational and other functions previously performed by families to other institutions, and
    3. relative equality in regard to status and rights of women, as a consequence of more and more women seeking employment resulting in economic independence of women
  • The phenomenon of inter-caste, inter-communal and inter-regional marriage, no matter how infrequent, in cities points to the changing attitudes of the urban individual.
  • Similarly one can see the change in the selection pattern too. In selection for their bride, a higher proportion of men from urban middle class background tends to favour urban educated, preferably working girls. Thus, the non-traditionality as regards bride selection is found largely in urban areas.
  • There has also been some evidence of increase in age at marriage in urban areas.
  • Simplification of rituals at marriages and incidence of court marriages in the cities reveal a gradual separation of the institution of marriage from its sacred religious complex.
  • Still there is a general preference for arranged marriages, marriages within one’s caste group and dowry. The increasing incidence of dowry deaths as they are called, clearly shows the increasing emphasis on Urban Social Structure dowry both in terms of cash and goods like coloured television sets, cars etc. In this regard, value of the college-educated urban youth of India has increased in the matrimonial ‘market’

3.Caste in Urban India

  • Caste system exists in cities. But there are significant organisational changes in the way it exists in cities.
  • Due to the introduction of modern industry, growth of professions and the emergence of new occupational categories there has emerged a new class structure along with new status groups.
  • Due to the impact of democracy and the electoral system adopted by India, the power axis, i.e. distribution of power and the formation of different kinds of elites, has changed from the traditional system.
  • In respect of the change in the distribution of power, we find that in preBritish India, upper caste was also the upper class. It would seem that now with education and new types of occupations this correlation of caste and class is no longer the case. The establishment of caste association in order to help their caste fellows in terms of educational and occupational opportunities, political power, etc. again reveals the vitality of caste system.
  • The most powerful role that caste identity is playing in contemporary period is in politics which governs the power dimension. The need to gain power through the modern political System has forced leaders to mobilise people of not only one’s immediate sub caste but also the wider caste group itself. Caste provides a ready made identity and people align themselves along with the caste lines even in urban areas.
  • Certain aspects of behaviour associated with caste ideology have now almost disappeared in the urban context. The rules of commensality have very little meaning in the urban context where one may not know or may ignore the caste identity of one’s neighbours, friends, servants, etc. The frequency of inter-caste, inter-region marriages have increased with the young people coming more in contact with each other in urban areas



A) The Types of Families

  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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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. It is an autonomous unit. There is no control of the elders because newlyweds crate a separate residence for themselves which is independent of elders. It is also known as primary family
    • 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. The eldest male member is the head of the family. It is characterized by common residence, common kitchen, commensality, sharing of property, performance of ritual bonds, reciprocal obligations and sentiments.
    • Extended family consists of father, mother, their sons and their wife, unmarried daughters, grandchildren, grandfather, grandmother, uncles, aunts, their children and so on. This type of family found to exist in rural community or agrarian economy
  1. 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. In other words in this type of family power or authority is vested in the hands of eldest male member of the family who is supposed to be the father. He exercises absolute power or authority over the other members of family. He owns family property. After his death authority transferred to the eldest son of family. In this family descent is known through father line. In this type of family wife after marriage come to reside in his husband’s house. Joint family system among the Hindus is a fine example of patriarchal family.
    • Matriarchal family: This type of family is just opposite of patriarchal family. In this family power or authority rests on the eldest female member of the family especially the wife or mother. She enjoy absolute power or authority over other members of the family. She owns all the family property. In this family descent is known through the mother. Headship is transferred from mother to the eldest daughter. Husband remain subordinate to his wife in a matriarchal family. This type of family is found among the Nayars of Kerala and among the Garo and Khasi tribes of Assam.
  1. Family on the basis of descent:
    • Patrilineal family: The family in which descent or ancestry is determined through father line and continues through father it is known as patrilineal family. The property and family name is also inherited through father line. The patrilineal family is also patrilocal and patriarchal in nature.
    • Matrilineal family: Matrilineal family is just opposite of the patrilineal family. The family in which descent is determined through mother line or continues through mother it is known as Matrilineal family. The property and family name is also inherited through mother line. This right transferred from mother to daughter. A woman is the ancestor of family. The Matrilineal family is Matrilocal and Matriarchal in nature. This type of family found among the Nayars of Kerala and among tribals like Garos and Khasis.


B) Joint Family in India

  1. What Constitutes Jointness?
    1. Commensality: Most of the studies of joint family use commensality (eating together) as a defining criterion. The joint family is the hearth group; members cook and eat food from the same kitchen.
    2. Common Residence: the joint family as the residential family group by means of common residence.
    3. Joint Ownership of Property: Some scholars have regarded joint ownership of property or coparcenary as the essence of jointness, irrespective of the type of residence and commensality. In legal terms, this is the most crucial factor used for defining a joint family.
    4. The ritual bonds of a joint family are considered to be an important component of jointness. A joint family, thus, is bound together by periodic propitiation of the dead ancestors. The members perform a ‘shraddha’ ceremony in which the senior male member of the joint family propitiates his dead father’s or mother’s spirit, offering it the ‘pinda’ (balls of cooked rice) on behalf of all the member
  1. Factors of Change and Process of Disintegration of the Joint Family
    • Economic Factors: attracted by the employment opportunities and facilities available in cities, youngsters are leaving their traditional occupations and moving to cities. This means residential separation from their ancestral home leading to disintegration of joint families .
    • Educational Factors: Educated young men not only desired to postpone their marriage to a much later age than what was prescribed by family tradition, but also wanted to marry women with same educational background. Educated women (especially college educated) were expected to have a different kind of influence on family matters than uneducated or less educated women. There preference is for small nuclear families.
    • Urbanisation: The process of urbanisation has also affected the pattern of family life in India. It denotes the movement of people from rural to urban areas and a shift from agricultural to non-agricultural occupations. It also implies the adoption of an urban way of life. Urban life reflects increased density of population, heterogeneity of population, diversification and increased specialisation of occupations, complex division of labour. It also includes increased availability of educational and health facilities. Limited availability of living space, impersonality and anonymity also characterise urban life.
    • Other factors : The other factors which have been held responsible for encouraging smaller units are i) opportunities for higher education ii) heightened ambitions iii) increased occupational mobility iv) growing sense of individuality (i.e., thinking in terms of individual needs and ambitions rather than in terms of kinship needs and larger familial requirements)
  1. Factors of Change Leading to Reinforcement of the Joint Family.
    • If there is one cohesive, cementing force at the heart of traditional Indian society — a single, powerful strand which for centuries, has woven the tapestry of our rich, social fabric replete with diversity, into a whole — it is our family system.
    • Care of children-Joint family system are preferred when both parents are employed, grandparents or other members like aunts helps and take care of children. Children also gets to live with close family members rather than spending time in a crèche or play school will immensely contribute towards imbibing the qualities of tolerance, patience, democratic attitude to accept others views, sports man ship spirit, a crucial factor to the overall personality development of an individual.
    • Employment opportunities– Both the partners are well educated and wants to pursue their professional dreams and also earn to support the high standards of living they have imagined for themselves and their children. This has led to Busy schedule for both parents and a tendency to live in joint families where not only the expenses are shared but also the children are taken care of by the elderlies.
    • High cost of living In cities-Living in joint families in a single property also prevent unusual expenses like rent/ mortgage. High rents and property prices in Urban agglomerations have re-joined many families back to the traditional joint families. Joint families take advantage of the stages of life philosophy (more on this later) and rely more on working men and women to fund the family so that the children can learn and the grandparents can enjoy their time.


C)Some of the major changes in the Indian family system

  • Changes in family: Family which was a principal unit of production has been transformed in the consumption unit. 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.
  • Factory employment: It has freed young adults from direct dependence upon their families. This functional independence of the youngsters has weakened the authority of the head of the house hold over those earning members. In many cities even women too joined men in working outside the families on salary basis.
  • Influence of urbanization: Various sociologists have revealed that the city life is more favourable to small nuclear families than to big joint families. Thus, urban living weakens joint family pattern and strengthens nuclear family patterns.
  • 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. Even other legislations such as the Widow Remarriage Act, 1856, Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Hindu succession Act, 1956, all have modified inter personal relations within the family, the composition of the family and the stability of the joint family.
  • Changes in marriage system: Changes in the age of marriage, freedom in mate-selection and change in the attitude towards marriage has diminished marriage is not very much considered a religious affair but only a social ceremony. Modern marriage does not symbolize the superior authority of the family head over other members.
  • 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. New economic role provided a new position in society and especially with respect to men


D)Emerging Patterns of Family Living

  • Today there are varied patterns of family living. In urban areas both male and female members of the family may go for gainful employment outside the home.
  • In some families the parents of the husband may live with his wife and children. While in some others, members of the wife’s family may be living with the couple and their children.
  • With both the husband and the wife going outside the home for gainful employment and with the absence or limited availability of child care facilities, presence of kin members to look after the home and children comes handy for the smooth functioning of the household. Those working couples who prefer to live in nuclear families and who fear or resist interference from kin members, try to organise their household with professional help from outside the family (like cooks, maid servants, crèches).
  • Aged parents, who formerly used to look towards their eldest son or other sons for support in old age, are now adjusting themselves to the new demands of family life by making economic provisions for their old age. Even within a city parents and married sons may reside separately.
  • Another trend in family life in India is that girls are prepared to support their parent or parents in old age, and it is not impossible to find a widowed mother or parents staying with a married daughter (mainly, in the absence of sons) to help her to manage the household. Measures have been provided at the legal level to ensure that dependant old parents are looked after by a daughter if she is self-reliant even after her marriage. Bilateral kinship relations are more and more recognised and accepted today in many nuclear households in the cities.



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.




The caste system in India is mainly associated with Hinduism and has governed the Hindu society for thousands of years. Some of the features of caste system in India include the following:

  • 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.
  • Hierarchy: It indicates that various castes are categorized according to their purity and impurity of occupations. Just like a ladder, castes are ranked from higher to lower positions. Pure caste is ranked at the top and impure is ranked at the bottom.
  • Civil and religious disabilities: These comprise of restrictions based on contact, dress, speech, rituals etc. and are placed on every caste group. It was done in order to maintain purity of specific caste groups. Example, lower caste groups had no access to wells, they were restricted from entering temples etc.
  • Endogamy: Members of a particular caste have to marry within their caste only. Intercaste marriages are prohibited. However, in urban areas, the phenomenon of intercaste marriage is increasing.
  • Untouchability: It is the practice of ostracizing a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom. Untouchability was a corollary of the caste system, wherein the untouchables (those belonging to the lowest caste groups) were deemed impure and polluted.
  • 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. E.g. Scheduled Caste groups are given 15% reservation in government services and educational institutions.

·        Called Caste in English

·        May denote entire varna or subdivision of varna

·        It is endogamous group within ascribed status


·        It is exogamous group within Jati.

·        It denotes decent from common ansecstors in distant past.

·        One marries in One’s JAti but outside one’s Gotra

Kula ·        Represents a lineage with 5-6 generation depth


A)Caste and Social Mobility

  • Social mobility refers to the process by which individuals or groups move from one social status to another in the social hierarchy. Social mobility can be either upward or downward. Upward social mobility is one where the individual or group moves from a lower status in the hierarchy to the upper. Downward mobility is when a person or group moves from a higher status to a lower one in the hierarchy.
  • Caste has been considered to be a closed system of stratification. However, in reality no system can be absolutely closed. In fact, social mobility has always been present within the caste system Caste mobility as a process of social and cultural change has been explained by Srinivas in his concept of Sanskritization.
  • The widespread social and cultural process called Sanskritization is a process where a low Hindu caste change its customs, rites, rituals ideology and way of life in the direction of high and frequently twice-born castes. This has paved the way for mobility to occur within the caste system. With the advent of the British, the opening up of frontiers by means of roads, and railways and economic opportunities cutting across caste barriers increased the process of caste mobility
  • Besides Sanskritization, another major agent of social change was Westernisation. Westernisation includes the influences, which swept over India during the British rule bringing in the ideologies of secularism, egalitarianism and democracy. The new opportunities in education, economy and polity were in theory caste free and open to all. No one could be denied access to them by reason of birth in a particular caste, sect or religion

B)Caste and the Ritual Sphere

  • The notions of hierarchical gradation of caste groups drawing legitimacy from religion and the concept of purity and pollution have changed with the passing of time.
  • The structural distance between various castes, as you are already aware of, has been defined in terms of purity and pollution.
  • Corresponding to the caste hierarchy are hierarchies in food, traditional caste occupation, and styles of life. Endogamy and social restraints regarding commensality and free interaction between different castes in the local caste hierarchy were clearly defined and ritualised.
  • The pattern related to who will eat with whom, who will give kaccha food (i.e. food cooked in water) to whom, and who will receive it, who will give only pacca food to whom, and so on.
  • Thus, interaction between castes was highly ritualised prior to the impact of Westernisation. During the last few decades, as a result of the forces of modernisation, the ideology of caste has become less pervasive in an individual’s day to day life.
  • Caste rituals have become increasingly a personal affair, rather than public due to changed circumstances of living, forces of industrialisation, and urbanisation.

C)Caste and the Economic Sphere

  • The ideology of caste prescribed specific occupations for specific caste groups, which had a specific place in the social hierarchy. The vocations of the upper castes were considered to be the most prestigious while the occupations of the lower castes, especially the untouchables were considered to be polluting and defiling.
  • The advent of the British saw new economic opportunities flowing out, and reaching the masses. The opening up of plantations, development of towns and cities laid the basis for economic development, which intruded into the functioning of the caste system. T
  • he growth of money economy enabled economic relations to be governed by market conditions as opposed to inherited status.
  • The Jajmani system, which was a hereditary patron-client relationship, with the worker traditionally tied to his master, lost most of its insularity. Market economy, daily wages, and hired labour eroded steadily into the functioning of the traditional jajmani 
  • Another important way in which we can see the continuity of caste is that when the new forces of socio-economic, political and educational changes came, it was the already powerful, wealthy upper castes, such as the Brahmans, Rajputs and the Vaishyas who benefited initially from these changes. The Brahman sections responded first to English education and therefore, benefited from political and administrative power.
  • The same pattern is visible in the commercial sector too. The great business houses like Birlas, Dalmias, etc., belonged to the traditional commercial castes. In banking the castes like the Chettiars of South established themselves in the modern systems of banking and commerce which was an extension of their traditional occupation

D)Changes in the Caste system

  • Trends for inter-caste marriage: Purity of blood was one of the main aim of the caste system. As a result, inter-caste marriages were socially forbidden. Due to economic and social necessities, inter-caste marriages on western lines are being performed at increased frequency
  • Challenge to orthodoxy: Orthodox practices of the caste system such as child marriage, ban on widow re-marriage, ban on conversion, insensitiveness of superior class towards the low caste people are being challenged in the wake of urbanization.
  • New food habits: Due to frequent mixing of the people at meetings, conferences, seminars etc., food habits have changed. Moreover, people have adapted to new social norms such as eating at the same table, accepting food prepared by low caste people without any reservations etc.
  • Changes in occupation: Occupational mobility has become the new feature. Leaving behind their traditional roles, Brahmins have become traders whereas Vaishyas have joined teaching and so on.
  • Improvement in the position of lower caste: Due to steps initiated by the government, position of lower castes have improved economically as well as socially

E)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., westernization has brought occupational changes cutting across the caste barriers.
  • 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. For instances, in the urban areas, castes are gradually becoming classes. The emergence of middle class with a rational outlook and goal orientation is a testimony to the fact.
  • Industrialisation and urbanisation: With the growth of industrial towns and cities, migration has spiralled up. Unlike the source regions, destination areas witness fewer adherences to caste rules.
  • 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. Dalit politics is one such example, where Dalits are trying to assert their identities and have become successful in capturing power in various states.
  • Legislative measures: A variety of social legislations have been introduced in the post independence era which aim to safeguard the interests of the down-trodden, to eradicate untouchability and to facilitate the social and economic development of the depressed castes. For instance, Untouchability (offences) Act, 1955 provided for punishment against the practice of untouchability.

F)Caste Associations

  • Caste associations are defined as “para-communities which enable members of castes to pursue social mobility, political power, and economic advantage”. Caste associations resemble in many ways the voluntary associations or interest groups found in industrially advanced societies.
  • However, caste associations or para communities are distinct in many respects from voluntary associations; as well as from natural associations like caste out of which they have developed. The caste associations are more like the voluntary associations at the organisational level than the traditional caste structures. It has offices, membership, incipient bureaucratisation and legislative process that can be seen through conferences, delegates, and resolutions.
  • But, unlike the voluntary associations, caste associations are characterised by a shared sense of culture, character and status, which gives it solidarity not found in voluntary associations.
  • The functions of caste associations are diverse
    • To promote the social, material and general welfare of the Nadars
    • To take practical measures for the social, moral, and intellectual advancement of the Nadars.
    • To start schools and colleges for imparting western education to Nadar children and to help poor but deserving pupils belonging to the community with scholarships, books, fees, etc.
    • To encourage and promote commercial and industrial enterprise among the members of the community
  • We see that the paracommunities or caste associations contribute to fundamental structural and cultural change in Indian society by providing an adaptive institution in which both the traditional as well as modern features of society can meet and fuse

G)Can Caste Exist in the Future in India?

  • A small section of Indian population, comprising the educated elites, probably powerful but numerically insignificant, desires that caste system ought to go. For a vast majority of the Indian population, especially the Hindus envisaging a social system without caste is impossible.
  • Caste is part of their social identity and existence. The joint family and caste system provide the individual in our society some of the benefits, which a welfare state provides in the industrially advanced countries. Caste stands for a certain amount of cultural homogeneity.
  • However, it has its evil and exploitative side which has not been perceived by the majority of the people, especially the upper castes. It is essential to remember that nothing effective can be achieved unless and until the people themselves are made to realise the unjust nature of caste system.
  • The principle of caste is so firmly entrenched in our political and social life that everyone including the political leader appears to have accepted tacitly these very principles. The coming of modern means of communication has increased the ‘horizontal stretch of caste’. Far-flung caste groups are able to interact and communicate with each other and find commonalties and shared interests to form clusters and this has resulted in the increase of caste solidarity within a region.
  • One effect of universal adult franchise is the strengthening of caste consciousness. Political parties are at pains to select candidates who have a social base, usually drawn from the locally dominant caste groups.
  • It is obvious that the eradication of caste is a distant reality, despite the indications to the contrary. As long as caste performs the functions of a welfare state in India and provides for the common bonds of kinship ties, political groups and alliances, it can be assured of a continued existence in modern India.



error: Content is protected !!
  • Sign up
Lost your password? Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.
Cart Item Removed. Undo
  • No products in the cart.
%d bloggers like this: