India is a country with diverse cultures. Customs and traditions vary from region to region. Yet, of course, some commonality does exist in the social structure, which is an unifying force. Let us try to understand the various social formations that provide the unifying force as well as distinct characteristics to the Indian society.
Social Structure of India
- Caste system – The social structure is based upon the caste system. The society is divided into four major castes- the Brahmans, Kashtriyas, Vaisyas and the Sudras. The Brahmans are the priests and are considered to be the uppermost caste. The Kshatriyas are the warriors, Vaisyas are the business class, the merchants and the Sudras are the working class. Inter-caste marriages are not permitted as a rule, although now it has become quite common in the urban areas. Untouchability continues to be practiced. The Dalits are treated as untouchables as they do the menial jobs of removing the night soil or cleaning the streets. The Constitution does not permit the practice of untouchability and those practising it can be persecuted. Now of course, with growing urbanization, the caste system is becoming obsolete.
- Family – The family as a unit is given much importance. Divorces as a rule are not very common or appreciated. Couples prefer adjusting rather than breaking up a marriage. Since children are given much importance, divorces are generally shunned. The family system nurtures the well-being of the children. Nowadays, in the urban set-up due to modernization, preference is being given to divorce as a solution to settle an unhappy marriage. But on the whole, people like to retain the family unit.
- Women – Historically, women have played a significant role in the social and political structure of India. In the ancient times, women enjoyed much freedom, but with advent of the Muslims the purdah system came into vogue in the northern part of India. In many regions, women remain very submissive, although with the improved education levels, women have become more assertive.
- Men – In the Indian society, a man is considered to be the bread-earner and shoulders the responsibility of the family. He is very dominating by nature and prefers to rule over his women.
- Patriarchal setup – India is mostly a patriarchal set-up, with the father having control over the family unit. The man controls the reins of the family unit. He is the head of the family. The eldest male member has much say in the matters of the family.
- Matriarchal setup – In Kerala, in the south of India, the woman of the house is the dominant force. She decides the issues of the family.
- Marriage – This is an important social obligation which most Indians adhere to. It is given much importance by society. Marriages are generally arranged, but now many are choosing their own partners in urban areas. Children born outside marriage are looked down upon. Marriages are conducted with elaborate rituals and much money is spent on this occasion.
- Birth – This is an occasion for rejoicing. Ceremonies and rituals are held to celebrate the occasion. The birth of male child is looked up to. In some areas, the birth of a girl is looked down upon.
- Death – This is also an important occasion in the family system. Death is considered to be inevitable. Ceremonies are held on this occasion and even after the death of a person, yearly rituals are held in remembrance of them.
Thus, Indian society is very complex, but yet remains intact as people follow certain guidelines laid down by the society. They prefer not to deviate from it.