1. Salient features of Indian Society

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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.

What is Indian Society?

People of India do not have a common religion, race, language etc. The
only thing that people in India share together is the identity of being
Indian and the values prescribed under the constitution.

Dynamic and Syncretic:

The present Indian society is the culmination of long drawn process
involving both assimilation and accommodation. While many tribes have
over the years lost their indigenous culture as a result of assimilation into
the Hindu society, many new practices have emerged from contact of
different cultures. 

Traditionalism with modernity:

While after globalization a visible shift can be seen towards modern
values such, Indian society has not failed to protect and preserve its
traditional values and norms and has even endeavored to spread them
across the world.

Unity in Diversity:

When India got independent many political thinkers had commented that
number of days of Indian democracy are numbered since society as
diverse as India will ultimately have to make way for small homogeneous
independent states. There are:

(1) About 6 major religions More than 1500 spoken languages.

(2) 5 major racial groups Number of sects within the religion.

Caste and Class:

  • The Indian society mostly Hindus (80%) divided under the rigid caste
    system based on the ascriptive values, a system which has permeated
    even in other religions like Islam as well.

  • The system originated from the varna systems has created social stratification a major source of privileges and disabilities.

  • At the same time economic reforms have created flourishing urban areas (31% population) where people are stratified based on class (achievements such as income) rather than their social identity.


  • Patriarchy is family or social system where final decision-making power vests in the male head.

  • As a result of its women usually are relegate to the status of second-class citizens are subjected to various disabilities.

  • Although many social groups are matrilineal as well such as in
    Meghalaya and Kerala, patriarchy is near universal.

  • The system can be found in nearly every society.

  • It leads to gender discrimination and socio-eco deprivation of women.

The system reflects in the following:

  • Lower sex ratio and female foeticide.

  • Malnutrition (nearly 50% women in India are anemic as per NFHS), high MMR.

Rural and Agrarian:

About 70% of the population in India resides in the rural areas and almost half the population is engages in agriculture as a major source of livelihood. It is usually said that heart of India lies in its villages proved by the statistics as well as the culture of rural areas.

Mutual Respect and Tolerance:

Indian society has survived despite its diversity because of the accommodative values of mutual respect and tolerance that have existed here from the very early times. These values were only strengthened with time as more and more invaders made India their home leading to mixing and co-existence on many different cultures.

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.

Civil and religious disabilities:  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. Inter caste marriages are prohibited.

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

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.

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.

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

  1. Trends for inter-caste marriage:
  2. Challenges to orthodoxy.
  3. New food habits
  4. Changes in occupation
  5. 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

  • Production and rearing of the child

  • Provision of home

  • Instrument of culture transmission

  • Agent of socialization

  • Status ascribing function

  • Agency of social control

  • Secondary function

  • 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.

  • Religious Functions: Family is a center for the religious training of the children.

  • 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 crores) to 16.1% (4 crores) 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.

Practice the Following Questions-

Q-1 How does patriarchy impact the position of a middle-class working
woman in India? (UPSC 2014).

Q-2 The distinctive features of its culture and its uniqueness are the
precious possession of the Indian society. Discuss. (Mock Ques)

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