Social Institutions

Write a note on Social Institutions and elaborate with a focus on any two of them.

A social institution is a complex, integrated set of social norms organized around the preservation of a basic societal value. It is not to be confused with the term “institution” as used very loosely when referring to churches, hospitals, jails, and many other things as institutions.

The term “institution” refers to normative systems that operate in five basic areas of life, which may be designated as the primary institutions. (1) In determining Kinship; (2) in providing for the legitimate use of power; (3) in regulating the distribution of goods and services; (4) in transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next; and (5) in regulating our relation to the supernatural. In shorthand form, or as concepts, these five basic institutions are called the family, government, economy, education and religion.


he five primary institutions are found among all human groups. They need not always be distinct from one another and are often interrelated yet they are more or less universal in nature. Their universality indicates that they are deeply rooted in human nature and that they are essential in the development and maintenance of orders. According to the functionalist school, there are certain minimum tasks that must be performed by these social institutions in all human groups, unless these tasks are performed adequately, the group will cease to exist.

  1. Family:

The family forms the basic unit of social organization. The family has been seen as a universal social institution an inevitable part of human society.

According to Burgess and Lock the family is a group of persons united by ties of marriage, blood or adoption constituting a single household interacting with each other in their respective social role of husband and wife, mother and father, brother and sister creating a common culture.

G.P Murdock defines the family as a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship and one or more children own or adopted of the sexually co-habiting adults.

Nimkoff says that family is a more or less durable association of husband and wife with or without child or of a man or woman alone with children.

According to Maclver family is a group defined by sex relationships sufficiently precise and enduring to provide for the procreation and upbringing of children.

Kingsley Davis describes family as a group of persons whose relations to one another are based upon consanguinity and who are therefore kin to one another.

Malinowski opined that the family is the institution within which the cultural traditions of a society are handed over to a newer generation. This indispensable function could not be filled unless the relations to parents and children were relations reciprocally of authority and respect.

According to Talcott Parsons families are factories which produce human personalities.

The main characteristics of a family are:

Universality: There is no human society in which some form of the family does not appear. Malinowski writes the typical family a group consisting of mother, father and their progeny is found in all communities,savage,barbarians and civilized. The irresistible sex need, the urge for reproduction and the common economic needs have contributed to this universality.

Emotional basis: The family is grounded in emotions and sentiments. It is based on our impulses of mating, procreation, maternal devotion, fraternal love and parental care. It is built upon sentiments of love, affection, sympathy, cooperation and friendship.

Limited size: The family is smaller in size. As a primary group its size is necessarily limited. It is a smallest social unit.

Formative influence: The family welds an environment which surrounds trains and educates the child. It shapes the personality and moulds the character of its members. It emotionally conditions the child.

Nuclear position in the social structure: The family is the nucleus of all other social organizations. The whole social structure is built of family units.

Responsibility of the members: The members of the family has certain responsibilities, duties and obligations. Maclver points out that in times of crisis men may work and fight and die for their country but they toil for their families all their lives.

Social regulation: The family is guarded both by social taboos and by legal regulations. The society takes precaution to safeguard this organization from any possible breakdown.

The different types and forms of family are:

On the basis of marriage: Family has been classified into three major types:

  • Polygamous or polygynous family

  • Polyandrous family

  • Monogamous family

On the basis of the nature of residence family can be classified into three main forms.

  • Family of matrilocal residence

  • Family of patrilocal residence

  • Family of changing residence

On the basis of ancestry or descent family can be classified into two main types

  • Matrilineal family

  • Patrilineal family

On the basis of size or structure and the depth of generations family can be classified into two main types.

  • Nuclear or the single unit family

  • Joint family

On the basis of the nature of relations among the family members the family can be classified into two main types.

  • The conjugal family which consists of adult members among there exists sex relationship.

  • Consanguine family which consists of members among whom there exists blood relationship- brother and sister, father and son etc

  1. Religion

At the simplest level religion is the belief in the power of supernatural. These beliefs are present in all the societies and variations seem endless. A belief in the supernatural almost always incorporates the idea that supernatural forces have some influence or control upon the world. The first indication of a possible belief in the supernatural dates from about 60,000 years ago. Archaeological evidences reveal that Neanderthal man buried his dead with stone tools and jewellery.

Religion is often defined as people’s organized response to the supernatural although several movements which deny or ignore supernatural concerns have belief and ritual systems which resemble those based on the supernatural. However these theories about the origin of religion can only be based on speculation and debate.

Though religion is a universal phenomenon it is understood differently by different people.

On religion, opinions differ from the great religious leader down to an ordinary man. There is no consensus about the nature of religion. Sociologists are yet to find a satisfactory explanation of religion.

Durkheim in his The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life defines religion as a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things that is to say things set apart and forbidden.

James G Frazer in his The Golden Bough considered religion a belief in powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life.

Maclver and Page have defined religion as we understand the term, implies a relationship not merely between man and man but also between man and some higher power.

According to Ogburn religion is an attitude towards superhuman powers.Max Muller defines religion as a mental faculty or disposition which enables man to apprehend the infinite.

To answer the question how did religion begin – two main theories animism and naturism were advanced. The early sociologists, adhering to evolutionary framework, advocated that societies passed through different stages of development and from simplicity to complexity is the nature of social progress.

Characteristics of religion

Religion, as a social institution, is made up by many complex parts. Religion is established and continued by a group of individuals who develop a set of common beliefs and morals as well as practices and reverence for the same things. These parts are very important to the establishment and the continuation of the religion.

One of the most interesting things about religion is the fact that it takes place in groups. A religion is not practiced only by a single individual. In order for a religion to take flight, two or more people must interact and share some common beliefs with each person playing an integral role in the development of the religion. During this interaction, group norms and a hierarchy of people are established. The members of this group must be able to identify with the whole.

At the core of any all religions are their beliefs. These beliefs are accepted by the members of the religion and are considered sacred. There are beliefs that make up the structure of the religion and are very important. There are some beliefs that are not as important and may change over time.

The practices of the group are also very important to religion. Patterns of practices that become norms and prescribed rites are known as rituals. A ritual can be any type of ceremony or event of the religious group, even just gathering regularly for Sunday dinners. The members of the religion are the ones that give these rituals their meaning. The complexity of individual rituals ranges greatly from simplistic to elaborate. Rituals take many forms, but all are important to the religion.

Each religion has its own set of morals. These moral beliefs are established by the group and modify the behaviors of all the individuals in the group. Usually, these are set and not up for debate; however, some of these beliefs can change slowly over time. Examples of moral beliefs are the rules set out by the Book of Leviticus in the Jewish Bible and the Eightfold Path in Buddhism.

A religion also revolves around religious respect for or the veneration of certain things. Religion separates things that are sacred and things that are profane. Two different spheres emerge: the sacred sphere and the profane sphere. The profane is the mundane or secular world that is not devoted to a holy or religious purpose. Likewise, there are things that pertain to or are connected directly to the religious beliefs, which are called sacred. Sacred also involves anything that is greater than ourselves that is considered higher or supernatural. The sacred takes place outside of our world and is not subject to the laws of the natural world.

  1. Discuss the theoretical contribution of Karl Marx or Functionalism or Conflict.

Functionalist analysts have a long history in sociology. Functionalists thought started from Auguste Comte (1798-1857), and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903). It was developed further by Emile Durkeim, Talcott Parsons, refined by R. K. Merton etc. Functionalism views society as a system that is a set of interconnected parts which together form a whole. The basic unit of analysis is society and its various parts are understood primarily in terms of their relationship to the whole. Thus social institutions such as family and religion are analyzed as a part of the social system rather than as isolated units. In a particular, they are understood with reference to the contribution they make to the system as a whole. The basic needs or necessary conditions of existence are called functional prerequisites.

functionalism is a sociological paradigm which addresses what social functions various elements of the social system perform in regard to the entire system. Social structures are stressed and placed at the center of analysis, and social functions are deduced from these structures. It was developed in the United States by sociologist Talcott Parsons. It was developed, independently, in the United Kingdom by the students of social anthropologists Bronisław Malinowski and Alfred Radcliffe-Brown. Functionalism is most often associated with sociology and sociocultural anthropology.

Structural functionalism is built upon twin emphases: application of the scientific method to the objective social world and use of an analogy between the individual organism and society.

The emphasis on scientific method leads to the assertion that one can study the social world in the same ways as one studies the physical world. Thus, Functionalists see the social world as “objectively real,” as observable with such techniques as social surveys and interviews. They believe that rules and regulations help organize relationships between members of society. Values provide general guidelines for behavior in terms of roles and norms. These institutions of society such as the family, religion, the economy, the educational and political systems, are major aspects of the social structure. Institutions are made up of interconnected roles or inter-related norms. For example, inter-connected roles in the institution of the family are of wife, mother, husband, father, son, brother, sister and daughter.

The theory is based around a number of key concepts. First, society is viewed as a system – a collection of interdependent parts, with a tendency toward equilibrium. Second, there are functional requirements that must be met in a society for its survival (such as reproduction of the population). Third, phenomena are seen to exist because they serve a function The emphasis on scientific method leads to the assertion that one can study the social world in the same ways as one studies the physical world. Thus, Functionalists see the social world as “objectively real,” as observable with such techniques as social surveys and interviews. They believe that rules and regulations help organize relationships between members of society. Values provide general guidelines for behavior in terms of roles and norms.

Functionalists believe that one can compare society to a living organism, in that both a society and an organism are made up of interdependent working parts (organs) and systems that must function together in order for the greater body to function. Functionalist sociologists say that the different parts of society e.g. the family, education, religion, law and order, media etc. have to be seen in terms of the contribution that they make to the functioning of the whole of society. This ‘organic analogy’ sees the different parts of society working together to form a social system in the same way that the different parts of an organism form a cohesive functioning entity.

Prominent theorists are Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, Robert Parsons, etc.

Section II

    1. Critically evaluate the caste system in India.

  • Varna, Caste, and Other Divisions

  • Although many other nations are characterized by social inequality, perhaps nowhere else in the world has inequality been so elaborately constructed as in the Indian institution of caste. Caste has long existed in India, but in the modern period it has been severely criticized by both Indian and foreign observers. Although some educated Indians tell non-Indians that caste has been abolished or that “no one pays attention to caste anymore,” such statements do not reflect reality.

  • Caste has undergone significant change since independence, but it still involves hundreds of millions of people. In its preamble, India’s constitution forbids negative public discrimination on the basis of caste. However, caste ranking and caste-based interaction have occurred for centuries and will continue to do so well into the foreseeable future, more in the countryside than in urban settings and more in the realms of kinship and marriage than in less personal interactions.

  • Castes are ranked, named, endogamous (in-marrying) groups, membership in which is achieved by birth. There are thousands of castes and subcastes in India, and these large kinship-based groups are fundamental to South Asian social structure. Each caste is part of a locally based system of interdependence with other groups, involving occupational specialization, and is linked in complex ways with networks that stretch across regions and throughout the nation.

  • The word caste derives from the Portuguese casta, meaning breed, race, or kind. Among the Indian terms that are sometimes translated as caste are varna (see Glossary), jati (see Glossary), jat , biradri , and samaj . All of these terms refer to ranked groups of various sizes and breadth. Varna, or color, actually refers to large divisions that include various castes; the other terms include castes and subdivisions of castes sometimes called subcastes. (The Concept of Caste in India)

  • Many castes are traditionally associated with an occupation, such as high-ranking Brahmans; middle-ranking farmer and artisan groups, such as potters, barbers, and carpenters; and very low-ranking “Untouchable” leatherworkers, butchers, launderers, and latrine cleaners. There is some correlation between ritual rank on the caste hierarchy and economic prosperity. Members of higher-ranking castes tend, on the whole, to be more prosperous than members of lower-ranking castes. Many lower-caste people live in conditions of great poverty and social disadvantage.

  • (The Origin and Evolution Of Caste)According to the Rig Veda, sacred texts that date back to oral traditions of more than 3,000 years ago, progenitors of the four ranked varna (groups) sprang from various parts of the body of the primordial man, which Brahma created from clay (see The Vedas and Polytheism, ch. 3). Each group had a function in sustaining the life of society–the social body. Brahmans, or priests, were created from the mouth. They were to provide for the intellectual and spiritual needs of the community. Kshatriyas, warriors and rulers, were derived from the arms. Their role was to rule and to protect others. Vaishyas–landowners and merchants–sprang from the thighs, and were entrusted with the care of commerce and agriculture. Shudras–artisans and servants–came from the feet. Their task was to perform all manual labor.

  • Later conceptualized was a fifth category, “Untouchable” menials, relegated to carrying out very menial and polluting work related to bodily decay and dirt. (Untouchables, Harijans, Dalits) Since 1935 “Untouchables” have been known as Scheduled Castes, referring to their listing on government rosters, or schedules. They are also often called by Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi’s term Harijans, or “Children of God.” Although the term Untouchable appears in literature produced by these low-ranking castes, in the 1990s, many politically conscious members of these groups prefer to refer to themselves as Dalit, a Hindi word meaning oppressed or downtrodden. According to the 1991 census, there were 138 million Scheduled Caste members in India, approximately 16 percent of the total population.

  • The first four varnas apparently existed in the ancient Aryan society of northern India. Some historians say that these categories were originally somewhat fluid functional groups, not castes. A greater degree of fixity gradually developed, resulting in the complex ranking systems of medieval India that essentially continue in the late twentieth century.

  • Although a varna is not a caste, when directly asked for their caste affiliation, particularly when the questioner is a Westerner, many Indians will reply with a varna name. Pressed further, they may respond with a much more specific name of a caste, or jati , which falls within that varna . For example, a Brahman may specify that he is a member of a named caste group, such as a Jijotiya Brahman, or a Smartha Brahman, and so on. Within such castes, people may further belong to smaller subcaste categories and to specific clans and lineages. These finer designations are particularly relevant when marriages are being arranged and often appear in newspaper matrimonial advertisements.

  • Members of a caste are typically spread out over a region, with representatives living in hundreds of settlements. In any small village, there may be representatives of a few or even a score or more castes.

  • Numerous groups usually called tribes (often referred to as Scheduled Tribes) are also integrated into the caste system to varying degrees. Some tribes live separately from others–particularly in the far northeast and in the forested center of the country, where tribes are more like ethnic groups than castes. Some tribes are themselves divided into groups similar to subcastes. In regions where members of tribes live in peasant villages with nontribal peoples, they are usually considered members of separate castes ranking low on the hierarchical scale.

  • Inequalities among castes are considered by the Hindu faith to be part of the divinely ordained natural order and are expressed in terms of purity and pollution. Within a village, relative rank is most graphically expressed at a wedding or death feast, when all residents of the village are invited. At the home of a high-ranking caste member, food is prepared by a member of a caste from whom all can accept cooked food (usually by a Brahman). Diners are seated in lines; members of a single caste sit next to each other in a row, and members of other castes sit in perpendicular or parallel rows at some distance. Members of Dalit castes, such as Leatherworkers and Sweepers, may be seated far from the other diners–even out in an alley. Farther away, at the edge of the feeding area, a Sweeper may wait with a large basket to receive discarded leavings tossed in by other diners. Eating food contaminated by contact with the saliva of others not of the same family is considered far too polluting to be practiced by members of any other castes. Generally, feasts and ceremonies given by Dalits are not attended by higher-ranking castes.

  • Among Muslims, although status differences prevail, brotherhood may be stressed. A Muslim feast usually includes a cloth laid either on clean ground or on a table, with all Muslims, rich and poor, dining from plates placed on the same cloth. Muslims who wish to provide hospitality to observant Hindus, however, must make separate arrangements for a high-caste Hindu cook and ritually pure foods and dining area.

  • (Clean Castes and Unclean Castes)Castes that fall within the top four ranked varnas are sometimes referred to as the “clean castes,” with Dalits considered “unclean.” Castes of the top three ranked varnas are often designated “twice-born,” in reference to the ritual initiation undergone by male members, in which investiture with the Hindu sacred thread constitutes a kind of ritual rebirth. Non-Hindu castelike groups generally fall outside these designations.

  • (Caste System as Code Of Conduct/Caste based stereotypes)Each caste is believed by devout Hindus to have its own dharma, or divinely ordained code of proper conduct. Accordingly, there is often a high degree of tolerance for divergent lifestyles among different castes. Brahmans are usually expected to be nonviolent and spiritual, according with their traditional roles as vegetarian teetotaler priests. Kshatriyas are supposed to be strong, as fighters and rulers should be, with a taste for aggression, eating meat, and drinking alcohol. Vaishyas are stereotyped as adept businessmen, in accord with their traditional activities in commerce. Shudras are often described by others as tolerably pleasant but expectably somewhat base in behavior, whereas Dalits–especially Sweepers–are often regarded by others as followers of vulgar life-styles. Conversely, lower-caste people often view people of high rank as haughty and unfeeling.

  • (Stereotypes about Chastity of Women based Upon Caste)The chastity of women is strongly related to caste status. Generally, the higher ranking the caste, the more sexual control its women are expected to exhibit. Brahman brides should be virginal, faithful to one husband, and celibate in widowhood. By contrast, a Sweeper bride may or may not be a virgin, extramarital affairs may be tolerated, and, if widowed or divorced, the woman is encouraged to remarry. For the higher castes, such control of female sexuality helps ensure purity of lineage–of crucial importance to maintenance of high status. Among Muslims, too, high status is strongly correlated with female chastity.

  • (Role of Panchayats in Enforcing the Caste System)Within castes explicit standards are maintained. Transgressions may be dealt with by a caste council (panchayat– see Glossary), meeting periodically to adjudicate issues relevant to the caste. Such councils are usually formed of groups of elders, almost always males. Punishments such as fines and outcasting, either temporary or permanent, can be enforced. In rare cases, a person is excommunicated from the caste for gross infractions of caste rules. An example of such an infraction might be marrying or openly cohabiting with a mate of a caste lower than one’s own; such behavior would usually result in the higher-caste person dropping to the status of the lower-caste person.

  • Activities such as farming or trading can be carried out by anyone, but usually only members of the appropriate castes act as priests, barbers, potters, weavers, and other skilled artisans, whose occupational skills are handed down in families from one generation to another. As with other key features of Indian social structure, occupational specialization is believed to be in accord with the divinely ordained order of the universe.

  • (Validation Of castes System By Supernatural Explainations)The existence of rigid ranking is supernaturally validated through the idea of rebirth according to a person’s karma, the sum of an individual’s deeds in this life and in past lives. After death, a person’s life is judged by divine forces, and rebirth is assigned in a high or a low place, depending upon what is deserved. This supernatural sanction can never be neglected, because it brings a person to his or her position in the caste hierarchy, relevant to every transaction involving food or drink, speaking, or touching.

  • In past decades, Dalits in certain areas (especially in parts of the south) had to display extreme deference to high-status people, physically keeping their distance–lest their touch or even their shadow pollute others–wearing neither shoes nor any upper body covering (even for women) in the presence of the upper castes. The lowest-ranking had to jingle a little bell in warning of their polluting approach. In much of India, Dalits were prohibited from entering temples, using wells from which the “clean” castes drew their water, or even attending schools. In past centuries, dire punishments were prescribed for Dalits who read or even heard sacred texts.

  • Such degrading discrimination was made illegal under legislation passed during British rule and was protested against by preindependence reform movements led by Mahatma Gandhi and Bhimrao Ramji (B.R.) Ambedkar, a Dalit leader. Dalits agitated for the right to enter Hindu temples and to use village wells and effectively pressed for the enactment of stronger laws opposing disabilities imposed on them. After independence, Ambedkar almost singlehandedly wrote India’s constitution, including key provisions barring caste-based discrimination. Nonetheless, discriminatory treatment of Dalits remains a factor in daily life, especially in villages, as the end of the twentieth century approaches.

  • In modern times, as in the past, it is virtually impossible for an individual to raise his own status by falsely claiming to be a member of a higher-ranked caste. Such a ruse might work for a time in a place where the person is unknown, but no one would dine with or intermarry with such a person or his offspring until the claim was validated through kinship networks. Rising on the ritual hierarchy can only be achieved by a caste as a group, over a long period of time, principally by adopting behavior patterns of higher-ranked groups. This process, known as Sanskritization, has been described by M.N. Srinivas and others. An example of such behavior is that of some Leatherworker castes adopting a policy of not eating beef, in the hope that abstaining from the defiling practice of consuming the flesh of sacred bovines would enhance their castes’ status. Increased economic prosperity for much of a caste greatly aids in the process of improving rank.

  • In many parts of India, land is largely held by dominant castes–high-ranking owners of property–that economically exploit low-ranking landless laborers and poor artisans, all the while degrading them with ritual emphases on their so-called god-given inferior status. In the early 1990s, blatant subjugation of low-caste laborers in the northern state of Bihar and in eastern Uttar Pradesh was the subject of many news reports. In this region, scores of Dalits who have attempted to unite to protest low wages have been the victims of lynchings and mass killings by high-caste landowners and their hired assassins.

  • In 1991 the news magazine India Today reported that in an ostensibly prosperous village about 160 kilometers southeast of Delhi, when it became known that a rural Dalit laborer dared to have a love affair with the daughter of a high-caste landlord, the lovers and their Dalit go-between were tortured, publicly hanged, and burnt by agents of the girl’s family in the presence of some 500 villagers. A similar incident occurred in 1994, when a Dalit musician who had secretly married a woman of the Kurmi cultivating caste was beaten to death by outraged Kurmis, possibly instigated by the young woman’s family. The terrified bride was stripped and branded as punishment for her transgression. Dalit women also have been the victims of gang rapes by the police. Many other atrocities, as well as urban riots resulting in the deaths of Dalits, have occurred in recent years. Such extreme injustices are infrequent enough to be reported in outraged articles in the Indian press, while much more common daily discrimination and exploitation are considered virtually routine.

  • Changes in the Caste System

  • Despite many problems, the caste system has operated successfully for centuries, providing goods and services to India’s many millions of citizens. The system continues to operate, but changes are occurring. India’s constitution guarantees basic rights to all its citizens, including the right to equality and equal protection before the law. The practice of untouchability, as well as discrimination on the basis of caste, race, sex, or religion, has been legally abolished. All citizens have the right to vote, and political competition is lively. Voters from every stratum of society have formed interest groups, overlapping and crosscutting castes, creating an evolving new style of integrating Indian society.

  • Castes themselves, however, far from being abolished, have certain rights under Indian law. As described by anthropologist Owen M. Lynch and other scholars, in the expanding political arena caste groups are becoming more politicized and forced to compete with other interest groups for social and economic benefits. In the growing cities, traditional intercaste interdependencies are negligible.

  • Independent India has built on earlier British efforts to remedy problems suffered by Dalits by granting them some benefits of protective discrimination. Scheduled Castes are entitled to reserved electoral offices, reserved jobs in central and state governments, and special educational benefits. The constitution mandates that one-seventh of state and national legislative seats be reserved for members of Scheduled Castes in order to guarantee their voice in government. Reserving seats has proven useful because few, if any, Scheduled Caste candidates have ever been elected in nonreserved constituencies.

  • Educationally, Dalit students have benefited from scholarships, and Scheduled Caste literacy increased (from 10.3 percent in 1961 to 21.4 percent in 1981, the last year for which such figures are available), although not as rapidly as among the general population. Improved access to education has resulted in the emergence of a substantial group of educated Dalits able to take up white-collar occupations and fight for their rights.

  • There has been tremendous resistance among non-Dalits to this protective discrimination for the Scheduled Castes, who constitute some 16 percent of the total population, and efforts have been made to provide similar advantages to the so-called Backward Classes (see Glossary), who constitute an estimated 52 percent of the population. In August 1990, Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap (V.P.) Singh announced his intention to enforce the recommendations of the Backward Classes Commission (Mandal Commission–see Glossary), issued in December 1980 and largely ignored for a decade. The report, which urged special advantages for obtaining civil service positions and admission to higher education for the Backward Classes, resulted in riots and self-immolations and contributed to the fall of the prime minister. The upper castes have been particularly adamant against these policies because unemployment is a major problem in India, and many feel that they are being unjustly excluded from posts for which they are better qualified than lower-caste applicants.

  • As an act of protest, many Dalits have rejected Hinduism with its rigid ranking system. Following the example of their revered leader, Dr. Ambedkar, who converted to Buddhism four years before his death in 1956, millions of Dalits have embraced the faith of the Buddha (see Buddhism, ch. 3). Over the past few centuries, many Dalits have also converted to Christianity and have often by this means raised their socioeconomic status. However, Christians of Dalit origin still often suffer from discrimination by Christians–and others–of higher caste backgrounds.

  • Despite improvements in some aspects of Dalit status, 90 percent of them live in rural areas in the mid-1990s, where an increasing proportion–more than 50 percent–work as landless agricultural laborers. State and national governments have attempted to secure more just distribution of land by creating land ceilings and abolishing absentee landlordism, but evasive tactics by landowners have successfully prevented more than minimal redistribution of land to tenant farmers and laborers. In contemporary India, field hands face increased competition from tractors and harvesting machines. Similarly, artisans are being challenged by expanding commercial markets in mass-produced factory goods, undercutting traditional mutual obligations between patrons and clients. The spread of the Green Revolution has tended to increase the gap between the prosperous and the poor–most of whom are low-caste (see The Green Revolution, ch. 7).

  • The growth of urbanization (an estimated 26 percent of the population now lives in cities) is having a far-reaching effect on caste practices, not only in cities but in villages. Among anonymous crowds in urban public spaces and on public transportation, caste affiliations are unknown, and observance of purity and pollution rules is negligible. Distinctive caste costumes have all but vanished, and low-caste names have been modified, although castes remain endogamous, and access to employment often occurs through intracaste connections. Restrictions on interactions with other castes are becoming more relaxed, and, at the same time, observance of other pollution rules is declining–especially those concerning birth, death, and menstruation. Several growing Hindu sects draw members from many castes and regions, and communication between cities and villages is expanding dramatically. Kin in town and country visit one another frequently, and television programs available to huge numbers of villagers vividly portray new lifestyles. As new occupations open up in urban areas, the correlation of caste with occupation is declining.

  • Caste associations have expanded their areas of concern beyond traditional elite emulation and local politics into the wider political arenas of state and national politics. Finding power in numbers within India’s democratic system, caste groups are pulling together closely allied subcastes in their quest for political influence. In efforts to solidify caste bonds, some caste associations have organized marriage fairs where families can make matches for their children. Traditional hierarchical concerns are being minimized in favor of strengthening horizontal unity. Thus, while pollution observances are declining, caste consciousness is not.

  • Education and election to political office have advanced the status of many Dalits, but the overall picture remains one of great inequity. In recent decades, Dalit anger has been expressed in writings, demonstrations, strikes, and the activities of such groups as the Dalit Panthers, a radical political party demanding revolutionary change. A wider Dalit movement, including political parties, educational activities, self-help centers, and labor organizations, has spread to many areas of the country.

  • In a 1982 Dalit publication, Dilip Hiro wrote, “It is one of the great modern Indian tragedies and dangers that even well meaning Indians still find it so difficult to accept Untouchable mobility as being legitimate in fact as well as in theory. . . .” Still, against all odds, a small intelligentsia has worked for many years toward the goal of freeing India of caste consciousness.

  • Classes

  • In village India, where nearly 74 percent of the population resides, caste and class affiliations overlap. According to anthropologist Miriam Sharma, “Large landholders who employ hired labour are overwhelmingly from the upper castes, while the agricultural workers themselves come from the ranks of the lowest–predominantly Untouchable–castes.” She also points out that household-labor-using proprietors come from the ranks of the middle agricultural castes. Distribution of other resources and access to political control follow the same pattern of caste-cum-class distinctions. Although this congruence is strong, there is a tendency for class formation to occur despite the importance of caste, especially in the cities, but also in rural areas.

  • In an analysis of class formation in India, anthropologist Harold A. Gould points out that a three-level system of stratification is taking shape across rural India. He calls the three levels Forward Classes (higher castes), Backward Classes (middle and lower castes), and Harijans (very low castes). Members of these groups share common concerns because they stand in approximately the same relationship to land and production–that is, they are large-scale farmers, small-scale farmers, and landless laborers. Some of these groups are drawing together within regions across caste lines in order to work for political power and access to desirable resources. For example, since the late 1960s, some of the middle-ranking cultivating castes of northern India have increasingly cooperated in the political arena in order to advance their common agrarian and market-oriented interests. Their efforts have been spurred by competition with higher-caste landed elites.

  • In cities other groups have vested interests that crosscut caste boundaries, suggesting the possibility of forming classes in the future. These groups include prosperous industrialists and entrepreneurs, who have made successful efforts to push the central government toward a probusiness stance; bureaucrats, who depend upon higher education rather than land to preserve their positions as civil servants; political officeholders, who enjoy good salaries and perquisites of all kinds; and the military, who constitute one of the most powerful armed forces in the developing world (see Organization and Equipment of the Armed Forces, ch. 10).

  • Economically far below such groups are members of the menial underclass, which is taking shape in both villages and urban areas. As the privileged elites move ahead, low-ranking menial workers remain economically insecure. Were they to join together to mobilize politically across lines of class and religion in recognition of their common interests, Gould observes, they might find power in their sheer numbers.

  • India’s rapidly expanding economy has provided the basis for a fundamental change–the emergence of what eminent journalist Suman Dubey calls a “new vanguard” increasingly dictating India’s political and economic direction. This group is India’s new middle class–mobile, driven, consumer-oriented, and, to some extent, forward-looking. Hard to define precisely, it is not a single stratum of society, but straddles town and countryside, making its voice heard everywhere. It encompasses prosperous farmers, white-collar workers, business people, military personnel, and myriad others, all actively working toward a prosperous life. Ownership of cars, televisions, and other consumer goods, reasonable earnings, substantial savings, and educated children (often fluent in English) typify this diverse group. Many have ties to kinsmen living abroad who have done very well.

  • The new middle class is booming, at least partially in response to a doubling of the salaries of some 4 million central government employees in 1986, followed by similar increases for state and district officers. Unprecedented liberalization and opening up of the economy in the 1980s and 1990s have been part of the picture (see Growth since 1980, ch. 6).

  • There is no single set of criteria defining the middle class, and estimates of its numbers vary widely. The mid-range of figures presented in a 1992 survey article by analyst Suman Dubey is approximately 150 to 175 million–some 20 percent of the population–although other observers suggest alternative figures. The middle class appears to be increasing rapidly. Once primarily urban and largely Hindu, the phenomenon of the consuming middle class is burgeoning among Muslims and prosperous villagers as well. According to V.A. Pai Panandikar, director of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, cited by Dubey, by the end of the twentieth century 30 percent–some 300 million–of India’s population will be middle class.

  • The middle class is bracketed on either side by the upper and lower echelons. Members of the upper class–around 1 percent of the population–are owners of large properties, members of exclusive clubs, and vacationers in foreign lands, and include industrialists, former maharajas, and top executives. Below the middle class is perhaps a third of the population–ordinary farmers, tradespeople, artisans, and workers. At the bottom of the economic scale are the poor–estimated at 320 million, some 45 percent of the population in 1988–who live in inadequate homes without adequate food, work for pittances, have undereducated and often sickly children, and are the victims of numerous social inequities.

  • The Fringes of Society

  • India’s complex society includes some unique members–sadhus (holy men) and hijras (transvestite-eunuchs). Such people have voluntarily stepped outside the usual bonds of kinship and caste to join with others in castelike groups based upon personal–yet culturally shaped–inclinations.

  • In India of the 1990s, several hundred thousand Hindu and Jain sadhus and a few thousand holy women (sadhvis ) live an ascetic life. They have chosen to wear ocher robes, or perhaps no clothing at all, to daub their skin with holy ash, to pray and meditate, and to wander from place to place, depending on the charity of others. Most have given up affiliation with their caste and kin and have undergone a funeral ceremony for themselves, followed by a ritual rebirth into their new ascetic life. They come from all walks of life, and range from illiterate villagers to well-educated professionals. In their new lives as renunciants, they are devoted to spiritual concerns, yet each is affiliated with an ascetic order or subsect demanding strict adherence to rules of dress, itinerancy, diet, worship, and ritual pollution. Within each order, hierarchical concerns are exhibited in the subservience novitiates display to revered gurus (see The Tradition of the Enlightened Master, ch. 3). Further, at pilgrimage sites, different orders take precedence in accordance with an accepted hierarchy. Thus, although sadhus have foresworn many of the trappings of ordinary life, they have not given up the hierarchy and interdependence so pervasive in Indian society.

  • The most extreme sadhus, the aghoris , turn normal rules of conduct completely upside down. Rajesh and Ramesh Bedi, who have studied sadhus for decades, estimate that there may be fewer than fifteen aghoris in contemporary India. In the quest for great spiritual attainment, the aghori lives alone, like Lord Shiva, at cremation grounds, supping from a human skull bowl. He eats food provided only by low-ranking Sweepers and prostitutes, and in moments of religious fervor devours his own bodily wastes and pieces of human flesh torn from burning corpses. In violating the most basic taboos of the ordinary Hindu householder, the aghori sadhu graphically reminds himself and others of the correct rules of social behavior.

  • Hijras are males who have become “neither man nor woman,” transsexual transvestites who are usually castrated and are attributed with certain ritual powers of blessing. As described by anthropologist Serena Nanda, they are distinct from ordinary male homosexuals (known as zenana , woman, or anmarad , un-man), who retain their identity as males and continue to live in ordinary society. Most hijras derive from a middle- or lower-status Hindu or Muslim background and have experienced male impotency or effeminacy. A few originally had ambiguous or hermaphroditic sexual organs. An estimated 50,000 hijras live throughout India, predominantly in cities of the north. They are united in the worship of the Hindu goddess Bahuchara Mata.

  • Hijras voluntarily leave their families of birth, renounce male sexuality, and assume a female identity, name, and dress. A hijra undergoes a surgical emasculation in which he is transformed from an impotent male into a potentially powerful new person. Like Shiva–attributed with breaking off his phallus and throwing it to earth, thereby extending his sexual power to the universe (recognized in Hindu worship of the lingam)–the emasculated hijra has the power to bless others with fertility (see Shiva, ch. 3). Groups of hijras go about together, dancing and singing at the homes of new baby boys, blessing them with virility and the ability to continue the family line. Hijras are also attributed with the power to bring rain in times of drought. Hijras receive alms and respect for their powers, yet they are also ridiculed and abused because of their unusual sexual condition and because some act as male prostitutes.

  • The hijra community functions much like a caste. They have communal households; newly formed fictive kinship bonds, marriage-like arrangements; and seven nationwide “houses,” or symbolic descent groups, with regional and national leaders, and a council. There is a hierarchy of gurus and disciples, with expulsion from the community a possible punishment for failure to obey group rules. Thus, although living on the margins of society, hijras are empowered by their special relationship with their goddess and each other and occupy an accepted and meaningful place in India’s social world.

    1. Define tribe and elaborate on any one tribal movement.

According to Oxford Dictionary “A tribe is a group of people in a primitive or barbarous stage of development acknowledging the authority of a chief and usually regarding them as having a common ancestor.

D.N Majumdar defines tribe as a social group with territorial affiliation, endogamous with no specialization of functions ruled by tribal officers hereditary or otherwise, united in language or dialect recognizing social distance with other tribes or castes.

According to Ralph Linton tribe is a group of bands occupying a contiguous territory or territories and having a feeling of unity deriving from numerous similarities in a culture, frequent contacts and a certain community of interests.

L.M Lewis believes that tribal societies are small in scale are restricted in the spatial and temporal range of their social, legal and political relations and possess a morality, a religion and world view of corresponding dimensions. Characteristically too tribal languages are unwritten and hence the extent of communication both in time and space is inevitably narrow. At the same time tribal societies exhibit a remarkable economy of design and have a compactness and self-sufficiency lacking in modern society.

T.B Naik has given the following features of tribes in Indian context:-

  • A tribe should have least functional interdependence within the community.

  • It should be economically backward (i.e. primitive means of exploiting natural resources, tribal economy should be at an underdeveloped stage and it should have multifarious economic pursuits).

  • There should be a comparative geographical isolation of its people.

  • They should have a common dialect.

  • Tribes should be politically organized and community panchayat should be influential.

  • A tribe should have customary laws.

Naik argues that for a community to be a tribe it should possess all the above mentioned characteristics and a very high level of acculturation with outside society debars it from being a tribe. Thus term usually denotes a social group bound together by kin and duty and associated with a particular territory.

Numerous uprisings of the tribal’s have taken place beginning with the one in Bihar in 1772 followed by many revolts in Andhra Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland. The important tribes involved in revolt in the 19th century were Mizo (1810),Kols(1795&1831),Mundas (1889),Daflas (1875),Khasi and Garo (1829),Kacharis (1839),Santhals (1853),Muria Gonds (1886),Nagas (1844 & 1879) and Konds (1817).

After independence the tribal struggle may be classified into three groups:

  • Struggles due to exploitation of the outsiders.

  • Struggles due to economic deprivations

  • Struggle due to separatist tendencies

The tribal movements may also be classified on the basis of their orientation into four types:

  • Movements seeking political autonomy and formation of separate state.

  • Agrarian movement

  • Forest -based movements

  • Socio-religious movements

Most of the tribal movements were result of oppression and discrimination, neglect and backwardness and apathy of government towards tribal problems.

Tana Bhagat movement:

In the Tana Bhagat movement an attempt was made to emulate the way of life of the Hindu higher castes. It emerged among the Oraon of Chotanagpur; Bihar.It tried to raise the status of its members in the eyes of the surrounding Hindu society and was characterized by a large scale incorporation of Hindu belief-practices into its ideology.

5. What are the main problems faced by religious minorities in India?

6. Evaluate contributions of women’s movements in India.

The women’s movement in India is a rich and vibrant movement which has taken different

forms in different parts of the country. Fifty years ago when India became independent, it

was widely acknowledged that the battle for freedom had been fought as much by women

as by men. One of the methods M K Gandhi chose to undermine the authority of the British

was for the Indians to defy the law which made it illegal for them to make salt. At that time,

salt making was a monopoly and earned considerable revenues for the British. Gandhi

began his campaign by going on a march- the salt march- through many villages, leading

finally to the sea, where he and the others broke the law by making salt. No women had

been included by Gandhi in his chosen number of marchers. But nationalist women

protested, and they forced him to allow them to participate. The first to join was Sarojini

Naidu, who went on to become the first women president of the Indian National Congress in

1925. Her presence was a signal for hundreds of other women to join, and ultimately the

salt protest was made successful by the many women who not only made salt but also sat in

open market places selling it and indeed, buying it. The trajectory of this movement is

usually traced from the social reform movements of the 19th century when campaigns for

the betterment of the conditions of women’s lives were taken up, initially by men. By the

end of the century women had begun to organize themselves and gradually they took up a

number of causes such as education, the conditions of women’s work and so on. It was in

the early part of the twentieth century that the women’s organizations were set up, and

many of the women who were active in these later became involved in the freedom

movement. Independence brought many promises and dreams for women in India – the

dream of an egalitarian, just, democratic society in which both men and women would have

a voice. The reality was, however, somewhat different. For all that had happened was that,

despite some improvements in the status of women, patriarchy had simply taken on new

and different forms. By the 1960s it was clear that many of the

promises of Independence were still unfulfilled. It was thus that the 1960s and 1970s saw a spate of movements in which women took part: campaigns against rising prices, movements for land rights, peasant movements. Women from different parts of the country came together to form groups both inside and outside political parties. Everywhere, in the different movements that were sweeping the country, women participated in large numbers. Everywhere, their participation resulted in transforming the movements from within. One of the first issues to receive countrywide attention from women’s

groups was violence against women, specifically in the form of rape,

and ‘dowry deaths’. This was also the beginning of a process of

learning for women: most protests were directed at the State. Because

women were able to mobilize support, the State responded, seemingly

positively, by changing the law on rape and dowry, making both more

stringent. In the early campaigns, groups learnt from day to day that

targeting the State was not enough and that victims also needed

support. So a further level of work was needed: awareness raising so

that violence against women could be prevented, rather than only dealt

with after it had happened. Legal aid and counseling centres were set

up, and attempts were made to establish women’s shelters. Knowledge

was also recognized as an important need. The women’s activity was

geared towards improving the conditions of women’s lives. In recent

years, the euphoria of the 1970s and early 1980s, symbolized by street-

level protests, campaigns in which groups mobilized at a national

level, has been replaced by a more considered and complex response to

issues. In many parts of India, women are no longer to be seen out on

the streets protesting about this or that form of injustice. This

apparent lack of a visible movement has led to the accusation that the

women’s movement is dead or dying. While the participation of urban,

middle class women is undeniable, it is not they who make up the

backbone of the movement, or of the many, different campaigns that are

generally seen as comprising the movement. The anti-alcohol agitation

in Andhra Pradesh and similar campaigns in other parts of India were

started and sustained by poor, low-caste, often working-class women.

The movement to protect the environment was begun by poor women in a

village called Reni in the northern hill regions of India, and only

after that did it spread to other parts of the country. One of the

biggest challenges women have had to face in recent years is the

growing influence of the religious right in India. Right-wing groups

have built much of their support on the involvement of women: offering

to help them with domestic problems, enabling them to enter the public

space in a limited way, and all the while ensuring that the overall

ideology within which they operate remains firmly patriarchal. For

activists too, this has posed major problems. It has forced them to

confront the fact that they cannot assume solidarity as women that

cuts across class, religion, caste, ethnic difference. It is important

to recognize that for a country of India’s magnitude, change in male-

female relations and the kinds of issues the women’s movement is

focusing on will not come easy. For every step the movement takes

forward, there will be a possible backlash, a possible regression. And

it is this that makes for the contradictions, this that makes it

possible for there to be women who can aspire to, and attain, the

highest political office in the country, and for women to continue to

have to confront patriarchy within the home, in the workplace,

throughout their lives.

Section III

7. Short notes

  1. Caste & Gender

  1. Reservation Policy

The discriminations suffered by the oppressed sections of the society including SC and STs over great period of time has led to the concept of protective discrimination to safe-guard their interests. The main reason behind protective discrimination is to provide the necessary facilities to the deprived sections and to bring them to the mainstream society. These two classes were placed beyond the bounds of the larger society, the scheduled tribes on account of their isolation in particular ecological riches and the scheduled castes on account of the segregation imposed on them by the rules of pollution.

According to the advocates of equal opportunity all citizens should get equal social and political benefits. On the other hand the proponents of special opportunity demand that protective discrimination policy should be used for certain sections of the society. This policy is meant to provide certain benefits and special opportunities to the weaker sections of the society.

There are certain clauses in the constitution which aims at providing equality of opportunity to all by prohibiting discrimination and to remove disparities between privileged and underprivileged classes. However the state faced with the dilemma that this would mean that in the society characterized by the distinctions on the basis of caste, religion only who are better positioned than the rest would get all the benefits and the backward and repressed classes will remain sidelined. In order to overcome this, state has the special responsibility of giving equal rights to the communities through protective discrimination. There are many provisions in the constitution:

Art 15 (clause 3) which empowers the state to make any special provision for women and children.

Art 16 (clause 4) serves the same purpose for backward class citizens. There are several other articles which aim to remove disparity between different sections of the society. The constitution attempts to create balance between right to equality and protective discrimination.

  1. Secularism and Communalism

  1. Pluralism

  1. Socialisation

Socialization is predominately an unconscious process by which a newborn child learns the values, beliefs, rules and regulations of society or internalizes the culture in which it is born. Socialization, in fact, includes learning of three important processes: (1) cognitive; (2) affective, and (3) evaluative.

In other words, socialization includes the knowledge of how things are caused and the establishment of emotional links with the rest of the members of the society. Socialization, therefore, equips an individual in such a way that he can perform his duties in his society.

The agents of socialization vary from society to society. However, in most of the cases, it is the family which is a major socializing agent, that is, the nearest kinsmen are the first and the most important agents of socialization. The other groups which are socializing units in a society vary according to the complexity. Thus, in modern complex society, the important socializing agents are educational institutions, while in primitive societies, clans and lineages play a more important role. Socialization is a slow process.

There is no fixed time regarding the beginning and the end of this process.

However, some sociologists formulated different stages of socialization.

These are (1) oral stage, (2) anal stage (3) oedipal stage, and (4) adolescence. In all these stages, especially in the first three, the main socializing agent is the family. The first stage is that of a new-born child when he is not involved in the family as a whole but only with his mother. He does not recognize anyone except his mother. The time at which the second stage begins is generally after first year and ends when the infant is around three. At this stage, the child separates the role of his mother and his own. Also during this time force is used on the child, that is, he is made to learn a few basic things. The third stage extends from about fourth year to 12th to 13th year, that is, till puberty. During this time, the child becomes a member of the family as a whole and identifies himself with the social role ascribed to him. The fourth stage begins at puberty when a child wants freedom from parental control. He has to choose a job and a partner for himself. He also learns about incest taboo.

  1. Norms & Values

The term ‘value’ has a meaning in sociology that is both similar to and yet distinct from the meaning assigned to it in everyday speech. In sociological usage, values are group conceptions of the relative desirability of things. Sometimes ‘value’ means ‘price’. But the sociological concept of value is far broader than here neither of the objects being compared can be assigned a price.

The idea of deeply held convictions is more illustrative of the sociological concept of value than is the concept of price. In addition, there are four other aspects of the sociological concept of value. They are: (1) values exist at different levels of generality or abstraction; (2) values tend to be hierarchically arranged (3) values are explicit and implicit in varying degrees; and (4) values often are in conflict with one another.


ocial norms grow out of social value and both serve to differentiate human social behavior from that of other species. The significance of learning in behavior varies from species to species and is closely linked to processes of communication. Only human beings are capable of elaborate symbolic communication and of structuring their behavior in terms of abstract preferences that we have called values. Norms are the means through which values are expressed in behavior.

Norms generally are the rules and regulations that groups live by. Or perhaps because the words, rules and regulations, call to mind some kind of formal listing, we might refer to norms as the standards of behavior of a group. For while some of the appropriate standards of behavior in most societies are written down, many of them are not that formal. Many are learned, informally, in interaction with other people and are passed “that way from generation to generation.

The term “norms” covers an exceedingly wide range of behaviour. So that the whole range of that behaviour may be included. Sociologists have offered the following definition. Social norms are rules developed by a group of people that specify how people must, should, may, should not, and must not behave in various situations.


any social norms are concerned with “should “; that is, there is some pressure on the individual to conform but there is some leeway permitted also. The word “May” in the definition of norms indicates that, in most groups, there is a wide range of behaviors in which the individual is given considerable choice.

Social norms cover almost every conceivable situation, and they vary from standards where almost complete conformity is demanded to those where there is great freedom of choice. Norms also vary in the kinds of sanctions that are attached to violation of the norms. Since norms derive from values, and since complex societies have multiple and conflicting value systems, it follows that norms frequently are in conflict also.


4 thoughts on “Social Institutions

  1. Mahanitya

    Sir, other than Durkheim, weber, marx , parsons, mead nd merton.. do we have to concentrate on any thinkers when reading sociology paper-1…

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