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Sociocultural Stratification of India.

Byline: Iqtidar Karamat Cheema

Abstract

Over the last fifty years, caste and communal differences in Indian society have been asserting themselves in increasingly violent forms, with more powerful groups attempting to brutally suppress others, and the latter striking back through mass movements for rights. The Indian state remains determined to see the country as one nation, turning a blind eye to the caste, religious, ethnic, and linguistic heterogeneity of Indian society, and attempting to address the growing challenge to its political cohesion with ill-conceived repressive measures.Clearly, in the case of India, studying culture with the "nation" as the unit of analysis is misleading and leads to ineffective, even damaging, sociopolitical policies. The solution to the crisis lies in India's finding a social theory that accepts the great diversity of human situations on its soil and yet provides coherence through an active sociocultural process. - Eds]

Although viewing nations as cultural units has contributed extensively to the understanding of cultural differences and behaviors across various nations, this perspective overlooks the differences among subgroups within nations. Lenartowicz and Roth observe that under most existing approaches, culture is studied at the level of nation, which is convenient to define but usually represents a broad unit of analysis: within many countries, there are regions that differ from each other substantially in income, mobility, media access, employment, and socioeconomic characteristics. They suggest that culture-based research should identify and examine multiple subcultures within a single country.

This argument cannot be truer particularly with reference to a large country like India which is roughly the size of Western Europe with a total geographic area of 329 million acres divided into regions that differ along geographic, climatic, economic, linguistic and/or ethnic lines and are, thus, assumed to differ culturally. It is inhabited by one billion people, and it abounds in economic, caste, ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversities. In the words of Uberoi, Indian society is "regionally diverse (north/south/east/west), communally differentiated (Hindu/ Muslim/ Sikh/ Christian/ Buddhist, etc.), socially stratified (in terms of caste or class) and culturally discrete." Its size and heterogeneity make it difficult to generalize its record. In this context, Chatterjee, quotes Rajagopal, as "...in a country like India, the importance of negotiating national and sub-national contradictions increases rather than diminishes with globalization.

Although viewing nations as cultural units has contributed extensively to the understanding of cultural differences and behaviors across various nations, this perspective overlooks the differences among subgroups within nations. Lenartowicz and Roth observe that under most existing approaches, culture is studied at the level of nation, which is convenient to define but usually represents a broad unit of analysis: within many countries, there are regions that differ from each other substantially in income, mobility, media access, employment, and socioeconomic characteristics. They suggest that culture-based research should identify and examine multiple subcultures within a single country.

This argument cannot be truer particularly with reference to a large country like India which is roughly the size of Western Europe with a total geographic area of 329 million acres divided into regions that differ along geographic, climatic, economic, linguistic and/or ethnic lines and are, thus, assumed to differ culturally. It is inhabited by one billion people, and it abounds in economic, caste, ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversities. In the words of Uberoi, Indian society is "regionally diverse (north/south/east/west), communally differentiated (Hindu/ Muslim/ Sikh/ Christian/ Buddhist, etc.), socially stratified (in terms of caste or class) and culturally discrete." Its size and heterogeneity make it difficult to generalize its record. In this context, Chatterjee, quotes Rajagopal, as "...in a country like India, the importance of negotiating national and sub-national contradictions increases rather than diminishes with globalization.

He argues that these contradictions centre on the resiliency of community as a locus of affiliation and action, as means of resistance to the homogenizing impetus of capital, as a site of historic memory, and as a resource for alternative futures."

While creating harmony in any country where values vary on the basis of language, religion, sect, caste, class, and ethnicity is undoubtedly an uphill task, the difficulty increases manifold in the case of India where policymakers permit the marketing of "the Indian nation" as a singular, unified cultural unit. Although this approach may appear expedient, and seem to be supported by intuitive assumptions and superficial observations, it is not based on empirical investigation, and consequently eclipses the understanding of India's cultural heterogeneityadding.

The price of overlooking this important, yet complex, aspect of cultural reality has been the rising caste-related violence, and

Aacts of brutality, and terror andare part of the atrocities perpetuated on the Dalits and other lower classes, and. Ssuch incidents are have been increasing, particularly because as the repressed groups are become becoming more conscious of their rights and beginning to assert themselves. At the same time, communal violence has risen, weakening the structure of intercommunal harmony, national unity, and political cohesion, and causing deep public demoralization.

This multipronged threat to India's fraternity is an affront to India's nationalist identity, and a tragic setback to its evolving social culture. It , therefore, important to develop a deeper understanding of the concept of culture, the differences among various cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic communities within India, ofand effective sociocultural policies based on full and accurate comprehension of differences are recognized and understood, it is unlikely that the state and other stakeholders will even comprehend, let alone resolve, the sociocultural problems that beset Indian society today.

This paper attempts to delineate upon the concept of culture, present empirical data depicting India's cultural heterogeneity, and discuss the implications of ignoring these realities.

Concept of Culture and Indian Sociocultural Structure

Culture is increasingly seen to influence the daily life and behavior of individuals. It is a man-made part of the environment and it largely determines the course of our lives. Winick elucidates that it is everything that is "non biological and socially transmitted in a society, including artistic, social, ideological, and religious patterns of behaviour, and the techniques of mastering the environment."

The precise meaning of the term "culture" remains elusive, however, and it has been defined and interpreted in innumerable ways. Kroeber and Kluckhon, in an oft-quoted study, have reviewed about 164 different definitions and conceptions associated with culture. Referring to this work, Groeschi and Dohetry opine that the existence of so many definitions of culture suggests that the phenomenon defies a single all-purpose definition and there are almost as many meanings of the term as people using it, meaning thereby that different definitions of culture reflect different theoretical bases for understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity. In general, the term denotes entire product of an individual, group, or society of living beings. It includes technology, art, science, moral systems, and the characteristic behaviors and habits of the selected living entities. It has specific, more detailed meanings in different domains of human activity.

Keeping this background in view, social structure, religions languages, and kinship of Indian society conceptualizing and comprehending India's cultural profile. Social Structure: The Indian social structure is marked by caste system and extended family system.

Caste is defined by Weber as "a purely social and possibly occupational association." In Indian society, it is an ancient historical legacy, linked closely with Hinduism, that remains dominant. Indeed, the caste system is one of India's most discussed features. is believed "to have been first enunciated by ancient law-giver Manu some time in Vedic period (1500 BC-1000 BC)." It consists of four varnas or social groups, namely, the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra. The hierarchy is clearly established with Brahmins at the top, followed by Kshatriyas and Vaishyas in descending order, and Shudras at the lowest place in the social order. In this varna model the first three groups are regarded as "twice-born" or dwija. The castes and subcastes relate to each other through a permanent hierarchical structure, with each caste having its own name, traditional occupation, rank, and distinctive subculture.

The structural distance between various castes is defined in terms of pollution and purity, with the higher caste regarded as "pure" compared to the lower caste. Historically, the Brahmins comprised of the elite, the learned, and the landed, ; the Kshatriyas were the warriors, ; the Vaishyas were the traders, ; and the Shudras included the menials and the lowest. There are hundreds of jatis, endogamous groups, which can be grouped into these four varnas. Tribes usually do not have a caste hierarchy but often have their own internal hierarchical organization. While there might have been some benefits of branding human beings with upper and lower castes, it is undoubtedly counterproductive and worrisome in contemporary society. Since all social, economic and political relationships for individuals continue to be determined by the caste, nearly a third of the country's citizens still suffer social discrimination on account of this system.

Srinivas opines, "Caste is so tacitly and so completely accepted by all, including those most vocal in condemning it, that it is everywhere the unit of social action.'' Caste as an ideology may be moribund, but as a lived-in social reality it is very much alive. Lower castes, especially members of scheduled ones, continue to be meted out ill-treatment, which often takes the form of brutal acts of terror by higher castes. Due to the structure imposed by caste, entire communities are found to be in a deep turmoil, facing constant humiliation and a growing erosion of their identity and sense of being part of civil society.

Religious

Not only is Indian society marked by castes and tribes, it is also characterized by religious . Several religions and many religious subgroups coexist. While Hinduism is the main religion constituting about 82.7 percent of the population, every major religion of the world, except Confucianism, is represented in the country. with Muslims, 11.8 percent; , Christians, 2.6 percent;, Sikhs, 2 percent;, Buddhists, 0.7 percent; , Jains, 0.4 percent;, Zoroastrians, 0.3 percent;, and Jews, 0.1 percent.

Hinduism is difficult to define and is interpreted in a number of ways. It "represents a complex system of daily practices, rituals, beliefs, and symbolic patterns that overlap various aspects of social life." Some scholars have related the caste system to Hindu religious beliefs and practices and agree that, in the past, the caste was an integral part of Hinduism.

Mandelbaum draws an interesting distinction among the other prominent religious groups: while Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism were introduced into India by foreigners Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism are indigenous religions that "rose out of Hinduism, bearing a social message and 'modified the Hinduism of their] time particularly the caste system.

They , however, were reabsorbed into the caste system sooner or later as these movements grow, develop through a cycle, and then devolve back into the system. This is true for most of the religions, and particularly evident from the development of Sikhism, which has failed to eschew the caste system even though it is a comparatively modern religion.

Religion and spirituality have a great effect on the Indian psyche. In earlier times, religion was part of every aspect of the lives of Indians. Even today, religion and culture are inextricably woven, and religion has a potent influence on peoples' lives across diverse cultures. Every part of Indian culture has deep religious roots; it is a way of life that has evolved over many centuries.

It is important to note here that the fundamental tenets of the religions that were brought into India by foreigners and that happened to be three divine religions-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-were in sheer contrast, and at times in conflict, with the religions of the natives. During the Muslim rule over the subcontinent for about 800 years, these differences among various religions had not turned into any major conflict, but with the Hindu majority rising into power after the independence, these inherent religious divisions came on the surface rather gravely, particularly in the 1990s and 2000s.

Many incidents could be cited in this regard since the riots and bloodshed as early as the division of subcontinent into present day India and Pakistan, demolition of Babri Mosque, massacre of Muslims in Indian Gujrat in August 2008, burning of Churches in Orissa in December 2007 and in Jalandhar-Punjab in February 2010, and a number of bomb blasts carried out by extremist Hindus and Muslims against each other in the last decade show the intensity of rising violence in India on the basis of religion.

Linguistic Heterogeneity:

Language is the vehicle of culture, and the most recognizable part of culture. The linguistic heterogeneity of India is truly remarkable, with more than 200 languages spoken by different groups. In all, there are 1,652 languages, of which 350 are recognized as "major languages" and 18 are official languages. A single ethnic area may boast many languages, such as Nagaland, where 19 languages and dialects are spoken.

Among the most well known languages, Hindi is spoken by about 400 million people, English only by the elite, and Sanskrit, which has great cultural, religious, and sentimental significance, is hardly spoken by anyone.

First language of most of the people is the scheduled language attributed to them but about 38 million people speak "mother tongues" which are not included in the Indian constitution's scheduled language groups. This multilingualism "developed historically by means of a series of conquests and amalgamations of a wide variety of linguistic groups, and was] topped by the British conquest, and the imposition of English for those who wished to fill the important military, educational, business, and governmental positions."

The languages spoken by the Indian population can be divided into four language families: the Austric (Nishad), Dravidian (Dravid), Sino-Tibetan (Kirat), and Indo-European (Aryan) families. There is great diversity in the languages included in these four language families. Around 72 percent of Indians speak Indo-Aryan languages, 20 percent speak Dravidian languages, 1.38 percent speak Austric languages, and 0.85 percent speak Sino-Tibetan languages.

The Austric family mainly includes languages spoken by the central Indian tribal belt, such as Santhali, Munda, Ho, and Koraku. The Sino-Tibetan languages are spoken mainly by the tribal belts of the northeast. The Dravidian family comprises of languages like Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, and Gondi, which are spoken by the people in southern India. The majority of the population speaks the Indo-Aryan languages, such as Marathi, Konkani, Rajasthani, Gujarati, Marwari, Mewati, Hindi-Urdu, Chattisgarhi, Bengali, Maithili, Punjabi, Kumayuni, and Garwahli.

English was introduced in India by the British, and is spoken by a minority of people, chiefly, the elite, who are leading India towards modernization. The English language is a "'sine qua non' for entrance into the elite bureaucratic services, the officers' mess, the executive suite, the upper reaches of the professions, the circles of artists and intellectuals who are invited to international conferences, editorial rooms of influential newspapers and journals, the professoriate of leading universities, the student bodies and old boys' associations of 'great public schools' and fashionable colleges, the company of the distinguished, the beau mode of the best people, the celebrations of the rich, the right clubs, and now crucially for India, the world of the Internet and of India's burgeoning information technology industries."

It can be deduced from the present-day application of English in India that it is creating another brahmanic class in the society, causing further division among the citizens of one state.

While the languages of India is are diverse, unity in the people's cultural references is also witnessed. Besides, authors such as Kumar also expect that the emergence of new information and communication technologies will serve to consolidate linguistic identities along subregional identities.

India's linguistic diversity further be discussed in the context of the country's kinship systems For most Indians, family ties are more important than others which that closely bind an extended group which is more than a nuclear family and their parents. In general, connectedness is important in the Indian family and the family functions like a psychological unit. Chaudhary notes that people largely interact on "the principles of relationships linked with kinship, age and gender dynamics." She finds that an intense desire exists for social links, expressed by the invocation of kinship terms in conversations even where people are not linked to each other and the family functions like a psychological unit in the family.

Beyond the common emphasis on family connectedness, however, Indian kinship systems are extremely heterogeneous and diverse. Karve divides Indian kinship organizations into four geographical groups, the northern, central, southern, and eastern zones.

Socio-ethnic Zones: The northern zone comprises of the region bordered by the Himalayas in the north and the Vindhya Ranges in the south. This part of India is dominated by the Proto-Australoid racial elements. It includes states like Kashmir, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, part of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, and Assam . Languages derived from Sanskrit are spoken by the majority of the population in this area, including Kashmiri, Hindi, Bihari, Bengali, and Assami. The main languages spoken in this region belong to Indo-European or the Aryan language.

According to Karve, "the present northern family is a continuation of the family of the ancient times with slight modifications. It is patrilineal, patrilocal, and patriarchal. Marriage is generally outside of the kin-group and the local group. It is a joint family in which the brides are all brought from outside and the girls are all given away. The behavior is strictly regulated according to generation, according to whether one is born in the family or married into the family, and finally according to whether one is a man or a woman. Customs like levirate and sororate, by which a widow lives with the younger brother of her husband and a man marries the younger sister of his wife, show that marriage is very much a relationship between families rather than between individuals. The giving and receiving of gifts also reflects the familial aspect rather than the individual aspect of the transaction."

These practices are giving rise to the feelings of gender discrimination and becoming a hindrance in the way of emancipation of women. Contrary to the embellished Indian claims of upholding the secular norms and equal rights for men and women, the literacy rate among women is dangerously low. Due to strong social pressure of dowry on girls' parents and strict system of giving gifts, the desiring parents are avoiding the birth of girls, resulting in exceedingly high rate of abortions of girl child.

The southern zone encompasses those parts of southern and central India where the Dravidian languages are spoken. It can be further divided into five regions: Karnataka, where Kannada is spoken; Andhra Pradesh, or Telingana, where Telugu is spoken; Tamil Nadu, where the language is Tamil; Kerala or Malabar, where the Malayalam is spokenthe main language; and the region from the north of Andhra Pradesh through Bastar and Western Orissa to Southern Bihar, where a number of mixed languages are spoken. The Dravidian languages are related in both form and history. The Negrito race dominates in the region.

The Dravidian or southern Indian systems are different from the kinship systems and institutions of northern India. In the north, there is a clear distinction between blood relations and relations forged by marriage, and one cannot marry a blood relation. But in the south, people can marry among blood relations and marriage strengthens the existing bonds of kinship. This creates a society that is entirely different from the north.

Although the patrilineal and patrilocal family type is dominant in this zone, there are some important segments that follow matrilineal and matrilocal systems, and a substantial number whose systems possess features of both types of organizations. In marriages, exchange of daughters is favorable and marriage among close kin is preferred. There are cross-cousin and uncle-niece marriages but one cannot marry a member of one's own clan. A girl can marry any of her older cross-cousins or her mother's younger brother, so a boy can marry any of his younger cross-cousins or a daughter of any of his elder sisters. The children of a brother and his sister may marry but the children of two brothers or two sisters may not.

Women in the lower castes enjoy a comparatively higher position than the Brahmin women; divorce and remarriage of widows is permitted, and there is economic independence, and generally greater gender equivalence.

In the southern state of India, Tamil Nadu-home to second largest number of communities (364) in one state-all the communities are divided into subgroups: the largest number of social divisions is reported in 276 communities.The southern state of Tamil Nadu is home to 364 communities, and thus the state with the second largest number of communities in India. All the communities are divided into subgroups and social divisions are widely reported in 276. The most interesting feature of the communities of Tamil Nadu is their division into two caste groups: right-handed and left-handed. The Brahmins are regarded as neutral and free from this division, although they are divided into two sects: Saivites and Vaishnavites.

Most of the communities follow Hinduism and local tribal religions; some follow Christianity and Islam.

The eastern zone comprises of the eastern and northeastern regions where the Austro-Asiatic languages are spoken. The Sino-Tibetan family languages are spoken mainly by the tribal belts of the North-East but Bengali which belongs to the Indo-Aryan language family is predominately spoken in West Bengal. The eastern region of India is dominated by the Mongoloid race.

The eastern zone comprises of the eastern and northeastern regions where the Austro-Asiatic languages are spoken. The Sino-Tibetan family languages are spoken mainly by the tribal belts of the North-East but Bengali which belongs to the Indo-Aryan language family is predominately spoken in West Bengal. The eastern region of India is dominated by the Mongoloid race.

The succession of property in the Khasi community of Meghalaya devolves in the female line, with sons having no rights. It is a multilineal society but patrilineal principles are gradually being introduced by modernization The population of West Bengal consists mainly of Hindus, followed by Muslims and Christians. British imperialism brought not only political and economic change but also social and cultural changes in India.

The central zone comprises of the regions between the northern and southern zones, excluding the eastern zone, and includes states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Kathiwad, Maharashtra, and Orissa. The main languages spoken here are Rajasthani, Hindi, Gujarati, Kathiawadi, Marathi, and Uriya, which are of Sanskrit origin, so the kinship pattern followed is predominately northern. But large segments of people in the region also speak Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic languages.

As this zone lies between the northern, southern and eastern zones, it is influenced by all these regions, though not uniformly. In Rajasthan, Kathiawad and Gujarat only Sanskritic languages are spoken and so the kinship pattern followed is predominately northern, although a few customs are similar to the southern zone. Some groups practice one type of cross-cousin marriage (marriage of a man to his mother's brother's daughter), which is a result of the melange of different ethnic elements. In Maharashtra too, the majority of people speak Sanskritic languages, while many people in the east speak Dravidian languages and Marathi includes many words of Dravidian origin.

The majority of the people practice one type of cross-cousin marriage while other types of cross-cousin marriages are taboo, but marriage to the father's sister's daughter is followed in southern Maharashtra. Junior levirate is allowed in many castes in the northern part of the state, but not in central and southern Maharastra. The state is most affected by southern practices, as is evident in its kinship patterns and terms, folksongs, and literature.

In Orissa more than one-fourth of the population is tribal and the languages spoken belong to all three linguistic families in India. The region is not homogenous like Maharashtra, but many agriculturists allow one type of cross-cousin marriage. This zone though diverse in its various areas but permits one type of cross-cousin marriage.

Gujarat historically has strong links with Rajasthan and Sindh, from where many of its communities originate, and has a relatively larger percentage of trading and business communities as well as the largest proportion of communities identified as Kshatriyas (28.8 percent). The Parsis arrived in Gujarat in the nineteenth century and emerged as landowners, moneylenders, traders and industrialists.

Gujarat is a meeting ground of the kinship systems of the north and the south and so marriage and other kinship customs of both northern and southern India exist here. The majority of the population professes Hinduism (89.53 percent), while Muslims comprise the next largest religious group (8.53 percent). Other religious groups include Christians, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs.

Considering the varied patterns and systems followed by societies living in these different zones, it is not difficult to understand that legislation regarding very simple social issues, such as marriage, could instigate conflicts because the value framework for a community in one zone would be completely opposite to that of another in another zone. Recently, the Law Commission in India has proposed that the age for sexual consent should be raised from 15 years to 16 years for all girls, meaning thereby that consensual sex with girls under 16 years of age could invite punishment, meant for rape, even if the couple is married. Even though the Commission has recommended these amendments very strongly, the government of India will face a very strong pressure from different social communities against such proposals.

Implications of Ignoring Sociocultural Differences

It should be clear from the foregoing discussion that no single culture can be called "Indian culture" as "each regional, linguistic, religious and caste group has its own culture." Yet, in most of the existing literature, India's different cultural values have been calculated holistically for the entire nation. This approach cannot adequately encompass the complexity of the

Indian government and societies have already experienced the repercussions of favoring one caste over another or giving relatively greater concessions to one community than the other during communal tensions.

After showing a lot of patience and forbearance, the people in minority or vulnerable situations are losing faith in the state and are coming to the conclusion that they might have to fend for themselves. For a long time, consciousness of caste was the preserve of the Brahmanical upper castes.

Since the early 1960s, Indian society has also been suffering from communal violence, the incidence and intensity of which have continuously increased to alarming proportions. In fact, today's India appears to be prone to communal violence, which takes different forms. This kind of violence challenges the concept of pluralism and national integrity, and damages the national economy and polity. According to Syed Shahabudin, communal riots adversely affect the process and pace of national integration, sap the sense of national unity and solidarity because they lead to communal polarization, and put secular ideals to the test. This violence affects the economic life of the nation as a whole: the entire process of production, distribution, and consumption comes to a stop because capital investment is discouraged. It also strains the capacity of the law and order machinery and lowers the priority of development tasks.

Then, gender discrimination is so pronounced in Indian society that most Indian women go through life in a state of great nutritional and educational deprivation. Nearly two-thirds of India's girl-children do not receive any education. Only 54 percent of the women are literate, and although girls are enrolled in school, their dropout rate is high due to poverty and early marriages.

Notwithstanding India's impressive economic performance, nearly half of the population is denied basic education and health care. Everywhere, it seems, people are being driven to assert their rights. The broad range of popular awakenings, protests, and social movements includes class-based struggles against upper-caste and upper-class hegemonies; the struggle for women's rights; new assertions of peripheral and forcibly displaced communities against the destruction of their environments; uprisings for the safeguard of tribal areas and lifestyles; and other strident defenses of cultures, regional identities, and nationalities.

So far, the from the country's sociocultural stratification. The state is unwilling to expand its own unresponsive to the issues arising social base. Instead, it assumes confrontational postures vis-a-vis various sections of the people, who are described by the media in terms of their caste, ethnicity, and region, and branded by the ruling elites as extremist, antisocial, and even anti-national.

The perception of the state being subjected to challenges has increased. This very perception is now being used as a cover for repressive measures perpetuated by both agents of the state, such as the police, paramilitary, and armed forces, and agents of ruling parties, including politicians, private armies of industrialists or landlords, and armed lumpens employed by dominant factions or communities.

This sociocultural polarization sets the stage for further violence, inequity, contraction of institutional spaces, and the consequent decline in more moderate and constructive modes of dissent. Two opposing tendencies have been set in motion by polarization-a techno-managerial response from the elite (both governing and oppositional), and an ethnic, that is, communal, caste-based, or religious, response from the diverse social peripheries. The 'crisis of the state' enters a critical stage as it becomes increasingly difficult to find solutions to the diverse situations facing the state within its own framework.

India needs a social theory that accepts the great diversity of human situations on its soil and yet provides coherence to them through an active sociocultural process; that opens up new and creative spaces within the framework of civil society while simultaneously restructuring the state to realize these ends.

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