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INDIAN SOCIETY : STRUCTURE AND CHANGE Unit-A (Introducing Indian Society) (i) Perspectives on the study of


Unit-A (Introducing Indian Society) (i) Perspectives on the study of Indian society:

(a) Indology (G.S. Ghurye)


Sociology as a discipline developed in Europe. Sociological perspectives like functionalism, positivism, conflictism etc. developed out of the experience and observation of European society.

As over the period other societies of Asia, America, Africa became the colony of the West, its uniqueness attracted the intellectuals of Europe.

Indian society was unique in many ways for the European scholars. Caste system, joint family, jajmani system, polytheism were some of the distinguished features of Indian society. Over the period, it was realized that the western perspective cannot be applied on Indian society because it is unique of its own kind.

Indology : Meaning/Definition

Indology is known as the science of Indian Society. The Indological perspective claims to understand Indian society through the concepts, theories, frameworks that are closely associated with Indian Civilization. It made a claim that Indian society is unique in structure, function and dynamics and cannot be associated with the European Society. Indology relies on book view and culture and denounces rigorous empirical investigation. Indology is both an approach to study the Indian Society and also an independent discipline with Indian Society as a subject matter. Indology demands inter-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary, and cross disciplinary approach. Indology is also older than Sociology. It is antique in its origin owing to 1784 by Sir William Jones of Calcutta.

Jones in 1784 established ‘Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal’ to understand Indian society through Indian perspective. It is beginning of Indology in India, which has been followed by several other scholars. They gave more importance to the culture of Indian society than to the empirical structure. Indology is a perspective which believes that the ancient text and mythologies present the real account or picture of Indian society. More ancient the text more original the account. In both European and Indian versions Indological studies comprise investigations of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, rituals, ceremonies and other related components of the Indian culture and civilization. (The mainstream of Indology, however, has been the


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creation of western scholars). They translated Vedas, Smritis, Upanishads in western languages and studied it so

creation of western scholars). They translated Vedas, Smritis, Upanishads in western languages and studied it so that Indian society can be understood.

In brief, Indology literally means a systematic study of Indian society and culture, and the sources of Indological studies are primarily classical texts, manuscripts, archaeological artefacts, and symbolic expressions. The aim of Indological studies is to gain a deeper understanding of the Indian culture.

[The Oriental Institute in Baroda was second important Indological centre in India founded in 1893 by Maharaja of Baroda. The major objective of the institute was to develop a well equipped library or rare and unpublished Manuscript and reference books on Oriental and Indological studies.]

Indological Approach

Within Indological studies, there are broadly two types of Indological approach.

  • (a) Indology or Indic studies

  • (b) Oriental studies or Orientalism

There are both commonalities and differences between Indology and Oriental studies. Indology is said to be the westerner’s labour of love for the Indian wisdom. And Orientalism emerged as the ideological need of the British Empire. Indology seems to offer a sympathetic and positive account of the Indian society and culture. This type of Indological writings have been enriched by William Jones, Wilkins, Colebrooke and Wilson in British India, Louis Renou and Bougle in France, and Anand K. Coomaraswamy, Joseph Campbell and Mirea Elliade in USA. Prominent Indian Indologists are G.S. Ghurye, B.K. Sarkar, Radhakamal Mukherjee, K.M. Kapadia, P.H. Prabha and Iravati Karve.

On the other hand, Orientalism presents a rather unsympathetic and negative account of the Indian society and culture. Oriental studies emerged to serve the need of the British Empire and other colonial powers of the West. Important exponent of this school (Orientalist writing about India) were Max Mueller, James Mill and William Archer, Max Weber, Karl Marx.

The Indological studies have sought to develop an empathic understanding of Indian culture. There is, however, a general tendency, among the Indologists, to exaggerate either the virtues of Indian culture or weakness of Indian culture.

The Orientalists see primarily the negative elements in Indian tradition and rationalizes the missionary activities as well as the British rule in India. These Indologists overemphasized Indian spiritualism and underemphasized the achievements in the realm of material culture and the practical wisdom of the common people of India.

The Western Indologists tried to malign the image of Indian society with the help of Indian text. They presented as if inequality, untouchability, low status of women, caste


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segregation, isolation were prevalent in India from its very beginning and western values and institutions can

segregation, isolation were prevalent in India from its very beginning and western values and institutions can correct the wrongs of Indian Society.

Against this orientalist approach, a National School of Indology developed, popularly known as Bombay School led by G.S. Ghurye, B.D. Sankar, Irawati Karve etc. The nationalist Indologists with the help of ancient text tried to portray the social structure and culture of Indian society which was being maligned by western Indologists.

Methodological Approach of G.S. Ghurye (Indological)

Ghurye stands as the commander in the Indian Sociological frontiers. He has often been acclaimed as the ‘father of Indian Sociology’. Ghurye was the first scholar, who had built up the entire first generation of Indian Sociologist in Post-independence period, almost single handedly. Ghurye backs the credits of being the founders of Indian Sociological Society and the Sociological Bulletin. Ghurye is often accredited as “Theoretical Pluralist” because he tried to study Indian Society and culture through multiple methods.

He relied on both the empirical and textual methods for studying Indian Society. Ghurye was initially influenced by the diffusionist approach of Anthropology and later on he switched to the study of Indian Social reality from Ontological and Anthropological perspective. Ghurye’s Indological Approach hovers around the study of Indian Culture and Social Structure drawing its substance from sanskritic literature base. He was more influenced by the writings of Indologists of Bhandarkan Institute of Bombay rather than the British writings established by Sir William Jones or Max Muller. So he is often said to be relying on indigenous Indology. Ghurye tried to make a judicious blending between the Indological and Sociological discipline.

G.S. Ghurye in his book ‘Caste and Races in India’ and Indian Sadhus’ explained that Indian society is a humanitarian and egalitarian society and based on mutual consensus; which was always maligned when foreigners settled down in India. In Ramayana, Ram ate Jhoote Ber of Shabri and Hanuman used to always sit around Ram. This shows that originally in Indian society, there was no untouchability and caste segregation. These practices were introduced in India by Aryans who were foreigners.

Western Indologists like Verrier Elwin believes that tribes were always isolated and never were part of mainstream society. He proposed the ‘policy of isolation’ for Indian tribes.

Ghurye believes that ‘tribes are backward Hindus’ hence it is important for them to be brought back in the Hindu fold. He gave the example of how Vanar Sena helped Ram and Nishad helped Ram in crossing river, which shows that they were always part of Indian society and he proposed ‘policy of assimilation’ for tribes.

Western Indologists portrayed Indian sadhus as orthodox, suspicious and reason of all evils in Indian society. G.S. Ghurye in his book ‘Indian Sadhus’, tried to prove that Indian sadhus have always been great contributor in the development of India. He gave


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the example of Rishi Dadhichi who had sacrificed his backbone to make the bow to kill

the example of Rishi Dadhichi who had sacrificed his backbone to make the bow to kill demons. He said that sadhus have always backed out Indian society in the period of crisis.

Western Indologists / Orientalists believed that the status of women has always been lower due to patriarchy. In Manusmriti, women are compared with animals and it is believed that more they are beaten it is better. Ghurye gave example of ‘Rigveda’ in which women have participated in public domain and the intellectuals like Maitreyi, Ghosha, Apala are some of the main women intellectuals.

Ghurye through his nationalist Indology tried to neutralize western Indologists who were portraying wrong picture of Indian society.

Recently, under the influence of Louis Dumont and Mackim Marriott, culturological writings on India have fruitfully utilized the insight of Indological approaches. All the major sociologists before independence were influenced by Indological approach. Even Srinivas had at times used Indological data to supplement his fieldwork.


  • - M.N. Srinivas criticized Indology by calling it a ‘text view’. He proposed ‘field view’ to understand Indian society.

  • - Yogendra Singh believed that though Indologists have taken the examples from the ancient texts but it is based on non-observable and non-empirical evidences. Empirical verification is important for establishment of any theory.

  • - Sociology seeks objectivity which lacks in Indology. It is more subjective interpretation than objective reality.

  • - As A.R. Desai said the ancient texts are literature that represents Brahminical view and cannot give real account of Indian society. He adds that, studying India from the lens of culture provides us no space to understand the real India that lives within inequality, diversity, dialectic and exploitation.


Indian society is considered as ‘cultural particularistic’ society which has attracted large number of scholars but Max Muller, Sir William Jones, Louis Dumont and other scholars realized that Indian society cannot be understood from the western perspective. But as Ghurye believed the western scholars have their hidden agenda of making a ground for missionaries, hence it is important to unmask their agenda. He proposed nationalist view which became very popular followed by B.G. Bhandarkar, Thakkar Bapa, etc. A.K. Saran said that though Ghurye’s explanation is compromise on the issue of objectivity but he gave befitting reply to the western Indologists.


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(b) Structural functionalism (M.N. Srinivas) STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISM PERSPECTIVE Structural Functionalism (M. N. Srinivas) Understanding Structural- Functionalism

(b) Structural functionalism (M.N. Srinivas)

STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISM PERSPECTIVE Structural Functionalism (M. N. Srinivas)

Understanding Structural- Functionalism

Structural-Functional approach in the study of society emerged from the writings of early thinkers like August Comte, Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim during the later part of 19 th century and became a predominant trend in sociology, social and cultural anthropology and other social sciences during the first half of 20 th century.

Functional approach to the study of phenomena emerged initially in biological sciences and later on adopted in other sciences and social sciences. The key points of the functionalist perspective may be summarized by a comparison drawn from biology. A biologist carries out the study of an organism, say human body, by analyzing various parts, such as brain, lungs, heart and liver. However if each part is examined in isolation, it will not reveal the entire working and maintenance of the part unless studied in relation to other parts comprising the whole organism. Functionalism as an approach adopts a similar view.

Functional approach to the study of society views society in terms of its constituent parts and their relationship with each other in order to maintain the society as a whole. Radcliffe-Brown defines function of any social institution in terms of the contribution it makes to the maintenance of the whole society.

Functionalism begins with the observation that behaviour in society is structured. Relationships between the members of society are organized in terms of rules or norms and hence patterned and recurrent. Values provide general guidelines for behaviour. The structure of the society may be seen as the sum total of normative behavior – sum total of social relationships, which are governed by norms.

According to Radcliffe-Brown, social structure refers to ‘person to person relationship institutionally defined’. The main parts of society, its institutions such as the family, the economy, the educational and political systems are major aspects of social structure. These parts of the social structure have their contribution to make for the maintenance and survival of the society. In other words, each part of social structure has a specific function to perform towards maintenance of the society.

From a functional perspective, society is regarded as a system. A system is an entity made up of interrelated parts which are interdependent. Changes in the functioning of any part will in some way, affect every other part and the system as a whole. These parts are


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integrated and collectively contribute towards the maintenance of the order and stability of the system. Functionalists

integrated and collectively contribute towards the maintenance of the order and stability of the system.

Functionalists believe in consensus, order and stability of the system. Unlike the evolutionists, the functionalists search for the origin of institutions in terms of the essential functions they perform.


The Structural-functional approach has been a predominant approach in the study of Indian society since the 1940s till the end of the 20 th century. Students of Indian society, both sociologists and social anthropologists, have undertaken extensive analysis of the caste and village systems in order to understand the unique nature the Indian society. Among the Indian scholars, M. N. Srinivas and S. C. Dube may be considered to be in the forefront of structural-functional approach in the study of Indian society.

The structural- functionalists view that the Indian society is made up of castes as significant parts that collectively constitute the social system. Castes form the units or the building blocks of Indian social structure since they have been enduring or lasting groups that determine the person to person institutionally defined relationship in the society.

Methodological Approach of Srinivas (Structural Functionalim)

Srinivas was basically interested not to understand the countrymen through the Western books or through sacred books and literature rather was interested to study them from direct observation and his field experiences. So he made an intensive study on the Coorgs. Srinivas studied mostly about the caste and religion to highlight the structural- functional aspects and the dynamics of caste system.

According to Srinivas there are basically two ways of understanding Indian society. Those are: ‘book view’ and ‘field view’. Book view is to understand the society from the books and literature available and is otherwise known as Indological approach. The other is ‘field view’, where understanding society from field work is considered as important.

M.N. Srinivas rejected the cultural or Indological view by calling it ‘text view’ and instead suggested ‘field view’. [M.N. Srinivas was disciple of G.S. Ghurye, A.R. Radcliff Brown and W.H. Rivers (diffusionist approach).] Srinivas believed that the western Indian sociological tradition is a cultural approach which do not portray complete picture of Indian Society. Rather they study unique institution like caste system, jajmani, polytheism, etc. but in the process of studying the unique institutions no one tried to understand Indian society as a whole.

He suggested that all the institutions or systems of society should be understood in the context of Indian society, how they contribute in the stability and continuity of society. M.N. Srinivas himself studied ‘Rampura village’ of Mysore and in his book ‘Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India’ (1952) presented Structural Functionalist view.


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- In 1948, the total population of Rampura was 1523 in which there were 19 Hindu
  • - In 1948, the total population of Rampura was 1523 in which there were 19 Hindu castes and Muslims were living together. Most of the castes were attached with their traditional occupations and there was clear cut hierarchy within the caste. There were very clear rules of endogamy, Commensal relation, and social interaction. All castes used to follow the taboos and prohibitions attached with them.

  • - The economy of Rampura was agriculture based in which there were two classes – landlords – generally upper castes and do not participate in agricultural activities. Peasants/agricultural workers – who were either share croppers or daily wage earners who generally belonged to lower caste.

  • - The relations between different castes were based on mutual interdependence and Brahmins and landlords used to provide their patronage and direction to the religious and community activities of village.

  • - In Rampura there were many castes like barbers, washerman, toddy trappers, oil pressers, etc. who used to follow their caste occupations and under the jajmani system they used to provide their goods and services to other castes.

  • - In Rampura, Brahmins and Vokkaliga were the upper caste who used to maintain law and order and justice.

  • - The festivals and cultural fairs in the village was a ground of meeting and revitalizing ‘we feeling’ in Rampura.

  • - In Rampura, initiation ceremonies, marriage, death, upnayan ceremonies were basis of consideration of solidarity of the community.

  • - All the castes exchanged their goods and services though jajmani system which kept them interdependent.

  • - Lower castes imitated upper caste oftenly (sanskritization) and in this process they gave up alcohol, polluted profession, non-vegetarianism, etc. to acquire social mobility.

  • - The festivals in the village helps to maintain the bonding otherwise society may degenerate.

With the above mentioned explanation, M.N. Srinivas tried to explain how different institutions practice and units of the society contribute in the maintenance of social structure of Rampura. M.N. Srinivas’ perception is based on cooperation, mutual dependence and harmony as the basis of Indian society and all the institutions perform their respective roles in this context.


  • - M.N. Srinivas presented ideal rosy picture of society. He totally ignored crime and deviance in society. He also ignored the suppression of lower castes by upper caste.


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- He ignored conflictist aspect of society because cooperation and conflict goes together. - Dominance and
  • - He ignored conflictist aspect of society because cooperation and conflict goes together.

  • - Dominance and competition are integral parts of rural social structure and in this process groupism, conflicts, tends all go together but M.N. Srinivas viewed as if there is nothing wrong in Indian society.

  • - M.N. Srinivas view is also called as Brahminical view in which he tried to portray upper caste as judicious and responsible for law and order in villages. But Oscar Lewis, Louis Dumont, etc. believes that upper caste exploits lower caste.

  • - A.R. Desai said, M.N. Srinivas tried to justify everything in Indian society, may it be superstition, evil practices, etc.

Conclusion - M.N. Srinivas is considered as pioneer sociologist in Indian sociology. He proposed ‘field view’ or village studies which later became very popular in sociology. Though as like other Structural Functionalists he ignored the dynamics of Indian society and its ‘emerging inherent contradictions’ (A.R. Desai) but simultaneously he is responsible for changing the perspective of sociological investigation which was going in India.

Later, his perspective was followed by S.C. Dube, B.R. Chauhan, Mackim Marriot, Milton Singer, etc and still Srinivas’ perspective is guiding Indian sociology.


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(c) Marxist sociology (A.R. Desai) Marxist Sociology (A.R. Desai) Marxist perspective of society is based on

(c) Marxist sociology (A.R. Desai)

Marxist Sociology (A.R. Desai)

Marxist perspective of society is based on two basic dimensions:


Economic interpretation of society i.e. economic determinism


Conflict between two classes

This perspective was applied by Marx to understand the European society and the nature of capitalist exploitation. There are very few sociologists who try to apply Marxian perspective on Indian society. A.R. Desai is the most prominent one to use it.

Methodological Approach of Desai (Marxist Sociology)

Desai’s sociological vision stands out for its differences with Indian social anthropology of the 1960s and 1970s. When the other Indian sociologists were concentrating on analyzing the micro (the village), Desai’s sociology studied the macro and the meso Capitalism, nationalism, classes, agrarian structure, the state and peasant movements among other things.

Desai’s Marxist sociology used the historical method to give specific meaning to the Marxist notion of structure and the various elements in its constitution in India such as feudalism, capitalism, the relationship between class and nation, peasants and working class, the post – colonial state and the rights of the deprived. Desai framed an interdisciplinary sociology in which there was very little differences between sociology and social science which used the method of participant observation and fieldwork to understand Indian social structure and capture the processes of change.

A.R. Desai is one among the Indian Sociologists who have constantly advocated and applied dialectical historical model in his sociological studies. Desai closely studied the works of Marx and Engel’s. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of the modern Marxist approach to empirical investigations involving bibliographical and field research.

Desai has consistently applied Marxist methods in his treatment of Indian social structure and its processes. He finds that the dominant sociological approaches in India are basically non-Marxist, and Marxist approach has been rejected on the pretext of being dogmatic, value-loaded and deterministic in nature. The relevant approach according to Desai, is the Marxist approach as it could help to study the government policies, as well as caste and class system into state apparatus and India’s political economy.

Desai rejected cultural perspective of Louis Dumont and G.S. Ghurye and also rejected structural perspective of M.N. Srinivas and S.C. Dube.

He believed that Indian society should also be studied through the ‘economic perspective’ developed by Marx. Before Desai, there was a tradition in Indian sociology to understand Indian society on the basis of caste, religion, festivals, rituals, etc. Desai, rejected this


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perspective and believed that economy is the infrastructure which determines all others aspects of the society.

perspective and believed that economy is the infrastructure which determines all others aspects of the society.

Hence, economic deterministic perspective is more practical than other perspective. He said that the total traditions, customs, values and ideals of Indian rural society develops around agriculture or economic. Hence, without understanding Indian economy the nature of Indian society cannot be understood. He is also known as the secular interpreter of Indian society.

A.R. Desai has applied Marxist perspective to understand the diverse aspects of Indian social reality. In his books ‘Social Background of Indian Nationalism’, ‘Peasant Struggle in India’, ‘India’s Path of Development’, he presented his perspective towards Indian society.

Desai in his book ‘Social Background of Indian Nationalism’ identified the economic reason of emergence of Indian nationalism. According to him, before British rule, Indian agriculture was a community affair. Ownership over land was based on community, ownership.

During British rule, capitalist economy in the form of colonialism was introduced in Indian society in the form of Ryotwari, Zamindari, Mahalwari, industrialization, urbanization etc. which gave birth to two economic classes:

  • (a) Exploiters – British industrialists, investors, officials and their Indian allies like Zamindars etc.

  • (b) Exploited – Outcome of new economy like Ryots, landless labourers, industrial workers, etc.














consciousness as in Europe against

the exploiters which emerged



form of



Desai believes that the economic exploitation gave birth to a new form of awareness which led to the organization of exploited like peasants, workers, labourers, etc. who organized themselves in the form of freedom struggle.

In his another book ‘Peasant Struggle in India’, he tried to understand the reason of peasant movement during colonial rule. According to him, during British rule, two economic classes emerged out of British economic policies.


Who were benefitted by the British policies and programmes – Industrialists,

landlords and other allies. 2) Who were the losers due to the progress and policies of colonial rules – Ryots, cottage industrialists, artisans, etc.


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He believes that those who were the losers due to the British economic policy formed a

He believes that those who were the losers due to the British economic policy formed a class (class-for-itself) against the benefiters, which ultimately overthrew the British regime which was nothing more than abolition of capitalism.

In other book “Indian Path of Development’ he explained that even after the independence, state remained in favour of the capitalists. He gave following examples in the favour of his logic:

  • - Why not all the property of the industrialists was confiscated or nationalized just after the freedom?

  • - Zamindari was abolished in 1951 whereas independence was achieved in 1947. Why the gap of four years?

  • - Why India opted for, mixed economy?

  • - Why right to property was made a fundamental right initially?

On the basis of above mentioned facts he accused national government for being soft towards the capitalist interest after independence, though government claimed to be a socialist. On the basis of above mentioned explanation it can be said that A.R. Desai’s perspective towards Indian society was largely Marxist, which was mainly economic interpretation of past, present and future of Indian society.

He applied Marxian perspective on Indian society in same manner the way Marx applied it on western society.


  • - Except A.R. Desai, economic determinism perspective was not used by any other prominent sociologists because they believed that Indian society was never guided by the economic forces. The factors like caste and religion were the core of Indian society, hence economic determinism view cannot be accepted as a dominant perspective of Indian society.

  • - Yogendra singh said that though A.R. Desai tried to give proper logic in the favour of his perspective but his perspective was not properly backed up by proper facts.

  • - M.N. Sirnivas rejected this perspective who believed that though the importance of economy cannot be denied but Indian society was always governed by tradition, caste and religion than economy. He questioned Desai that why always Vaishya Varna had control over economy but why not they controlled the religion and caste system.


A.R. Desai is one of the most prominent sociologist who applied Marxist perspective on Indian society. Though this perspective was not very much supported by other eminent sociologists because economic forces have never been dominant force in Indian society but the way A.R. Desai introduced economic perspective in Indian society, it was new of


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its kind and later influenced many other sociologists and historians like Yogendra Singh, T.K. Oommen, Sumit

its kind and later influenced many other sociologists and historians like Yogendra Singh, T.K. Oommen, Sumit Sarkar, etc.

Relevance of Marxist Approach

Desai views that Marxist paradigm is the most relevant framework that can help in comprehending properly the transformation that is taking place in the Indian Society and its various sub-systems. The Marxist approach helps one to

raise relevant questions to conduct the researches in the right direction,

enables to formulate adequate hypothesis,

assists to evolve proper concepts,

adopt and combine research techniques, and





locate central tendencies of transformation with its major



The Marxist approach is to understand any society and change in it. According to Marx “Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or by anything one likes”. Men begin to distinguish themselves when they produce the means of subsistence. Because in producing the means of subsistence they produce the material life.

The Marxist approach demands from everyone to understand social reality, to be clear about the nature of means of production, the techno- economic division of labor and social relations of production.

Marxist approach considers property relations as crucial because they shape the purpose, nature, direction and objectives underlying the production.

In Marxist approach “History is a shank” of all well conducted studies of man and society. It demands that a specific society should be studied as a changing system comprised of contradictory forces some of which sustain and others which change that society.

In short, the Marxist approach gives central importance to property structure in analyzing any society. It provides historical location and specification of all social phenomenon. The Marxist approach, in contrast to other sociological approach exhibits one distinguishing feature i.e. the importance given to the “mode of production of material life”.


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