• 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
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