Cultural change is a concept that denotes some internal and external factors leading to change in the cultural patterns of societies. It refers to the change in customs, traditions, beliefs, lifestyle, behaviour etc.
Sociologists understand culture as socially established norms or patterns of behaviour. The efforts made by 19th century social reformers and 20th century nationalists against discrimination and the final changes in cultural practices through the process of sanskritisation, modernisation, secularisation and westernization.
Social Reform Movements in 19th and 20th Century
The social reform movements that emerged in India in 19th century, challenged the colonial society. Some efforts were put by the nationalists to being changes in social practices that discriminated against women and lower castes.
Many social evils plagued Indian society such as practice of sati, child marriage and caste discrimination, untouchability, purdah system, social inequalities and illiteracy. Social Reform Movements arose among all communities of the Indian people. Some of the reformers also supported reformative steps and regulations framed by the government.
Nature of Social Reforms
The social reforms of the 19th century were characterised by modernity and mixed ideas. It was a creative combination of modern liberal ideas of the West and the new perceived traditional literature.
The Social Reform Movement that took place in the 19th and 20th century were to purify and rediscover an Indian civilisation that would be conformant with the European ideals of rationalism, monotheism and individualism.
Aspects of Social Reforms/Changes
Sociologist Satish Saberwal elaborated three aspects of social change that occurred in colonial India. These were:
Modes of Communication
New technologies in the form of printing press, telegraph and later microphone helped in communicating the ideas at a faster pace from one pace to another. Besides, movement of people and goods through steamships and railways also helped in the movement of new ideas across different parts of the country. For example,
(a) Social reformers from Punjab and Madras and Maharashtra.
(b) Keshav Chandra Sen of Bengal visited Madras in 1864.
(c) Christian missionaries reached many parts of present Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya.
(d) Pandita Ramabai travelled to different corners of the country.
Forms of Organisation
Modern social organisations were formed in different parts of the country such as Brahmo Samaj in Bengal, Arya Samaj in Punjab and the All Indian Muslim Leadies Conference (Anjuman-E-Khawatn-E-Islam) (1914).
Indian reformers organised public meetings and used public media like newspapers and journals to spread their ideas. Translations of writings from one language to another were also carried out by them, e.g. Marathi translation of Vidyasagar’s book Indu Prakash was done by Vishnu Shastri in 1868.
Nature of Ideas
New ideas of liberalism, freedom, pride in culture, homemaking and marriage and new roles for women emerged in the colonial period. The value of education and particularly female education was emphasised in this period. Female education was justified on modern and traditional ideas. Jotiba Phule opened the first school for women in Pune.
Different Opinions of Social Reformers
It was very crucial for a nation to become modern but also retain its ancient heritage. Meaning of tradition and modernity was discussed in which leaders like Jotiba Phule recalled the glory of pre-Aryan age, while Bal Gangadhar Tilak supported the glory of Aryan period.
Some focused on the problems of the upper caste, middle class women and men, while others concerned themselves with the sufferings of discriminated castes.
Some believed that the social evils were the result of decline of the true spirit of Hinduism, while others opined that caste and gender discrimination are inherent in the religion itself.
Sati was opposed by the Brahmo Samaj. Orthodox Hindu community in Bengal formed Dharma Sabha and opposed the Britishers for interpreting sacred texts.
Polygamy and Purdah System of marriages was debated among Muslim social reformers. The organisation like All India Muslim Ladies Conference and journals like Tahsib-e-Niswan opposed the practice of polygamy among Muslims, while other orthodox Muslims supported polygamy. Thus, 19th century reform initiated a period of questioning, reinterpretations and both intellectual and social growth.
Socio-Cultural Changes in India
Some changes that took place in India can be understood in terms of the processes of sanskritisation, modernisation, secularisation and westernisation. Sanskritisation existed before colonial rule in India, while the other three processes were developed to respond to the changes that were brought about by colonialism.
These different processes co-exist in some situations and overlap with each other. This co-existence is natural to India and many non-Western countries. These four processes are discussed below:
The term Sanskritisation was coined by MN Srinivas. It is defined as the process by which a “low caste or tribe or other group take over the custom, ritual, beliefs, ideology and style of life of a high and a twice-born (dwija) caste.” It suggests a process by which people want to improve their status by adopting name, customs and culture of high-placed groups in the social hierarchy. It is to be noted here that people try to sanskritise themselves only when the become wealthier.
Srinivas says that Sanskritisation normally assumes improvement in the economic or political position of the concerned group. Since, India was highly unequal society, there were many obstacles for lower castes to copy customs of higher castes. The traditionally dominant castes punished those lower caste people , who dared to adopt the customs of higher castes.
Impact of Sanskritisation
(a) The influence of sanskritisation can be seen in language, literature, ideology, music, dance, drama, style of life and ritual.
(b) Sanskritisation was seen in Hinduism as well as outside Hinduism. However, it varies from region to region across the country.
(c) The areas having dominance of highly sanksritised caste, the culture of entire region underwent a certain amount of sanskritisation. On the other hand, areas where non-Sanskritic castes were dominant, their influence was stronger. It is known as de-Sanskritisation.
(d) There were regional variations too. In Punjab, culturally Sanskritic influence was never very strong. For many centuries until the third century of 19th century Persian influence dominated the culture of Punjab.
Criticism of Sanskritisation
Sanskritisation process has been criticised due to various reasons such as :
(a) It exaggerates the social mobility or the scope of lower castes to achieve higher social status. Inequality continues to exist in society and there are no fundamental changes that have been brought about by Sanskritisation.
(b) It accepts the customs of upper caste as superior and that of lower caste as inferior and thus makes imitation of upper caste natural and desirable.
(c) It justifies a practice that is based on inequality and exclusion. The notion of upper caste and lower caste strengthens the discrimination and undemocratic vision in the society.
(d) Since Sanskritisation results in the adoption of upper caste rites and rituals it leads to the seclusion of firls and women, adoption of dowry practices, caste discrimination, etc.
(e) The characteristics of Dalit culture and society are eroded. For example, the work of labour cate is considered as degraded and shameful.
Sanskritisation and Social Groups Position
Srinivas argued that, ‘the Sanskritisation of a group has usually the effect of improving its position in the local caste hierarchy.
It normally presupposes either an improvement in the economic or political position of the group concerned or a higher group self-consciousness resulting from its contact with a source of the ‘Great Tradition’ of Hinduism such as pilgrim centre or monastery.
But in a highly unequal society such as India there were and still exist some obstacles to any easy taking over of the customs of higher castes by the lower. Indeed, traditionally the dominant caste punished those low castes, which were audacious enough to attempt it.
MN Srinivas defines westernisation as, “the changes brought about in Indian society and culture as a result of over 150 years of British rule. It includes changes that occur at different levels such as technology, institutions, ideology and values.”
Westernisation in India is often identified with copying the ways of British but in recent times there is increasing Americanisation of westernisation. American ways of writing, speech and accent is being followed more and more throughout India and world.
Kinds of Westernisation
There are different patterns or kinds of westernisations such as:
(a) Some Indian intellectuals adopted ways of thinking and styles of life of Western culture and also supported its expansion. The reformers of early 19th century are included in this group.
(b) Some Indians adopted Western culture in their clothing and appearances but they do not have the democratic and egalitarian values of modern thinking. For example, Western educated Indians hold biased views against ethnic or religious communities.
(c) General spread of Western cultural traits, such as the use of new technology, dress, food and changes in the habits and styles of people.
Impact of Westernisation
(a) The first impact of westernisation in India can be seen in middle class homes that have furniture and electronic items reflecting the Western style of living, for example, sofa sets, dining table, fridge, TV, etc.
(b) Indian art and literature have also been influenced by the Western style of art and literature. Artists like Ravi Varma, Abanindranath Tagore, Chandu Menon and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhya all struggled with the colonial encounter.
(c) The conflicts between generations in the modern times are seen as cultural conflicts resulting from westernisation.
(d) Western education led to opening up of new opportunities for different groups of people in the North-East region. There are also instances where the lower castes have made efforts to adopt cosmopolitan life of the West rather than the customs of the upper castes people.
The term modernisation was associated with positive and desirable values in the 19th and 20th century. In the earlier period, modernisation referred to the improvement in the technology and production process but it refers to the path of development that much of the West Europe or North America has taken.
Chracteristics of Modernisation
(a) Modernisation assumes that local ties and narrow thinking give way to universal values and commitments.
(b) The principles of rationality and science are favoured over emotions and religious tendencies.
(c) The work of men is based on choice rather than birth.
(d) People believe in their own efforts and hard work rather than fate and destiny.
(e) The relations among people are based on personal choice and likings rather than birth in a particular family.
(f) The identity of man in society is based on his work and achievement rather than his caste, community or religion.
(g) The work is separated from family, residence and community in a bureaucratic organisation.
Modernisation in India
Modernisation in India is related to the colonial rule. Therefore, its growth in India is distinct from that of the Western countries. This distinction is discussed below:
(a) We have a scientific tradition and also have vibrant, secular and democratic political system.
(b) Caste and community based identity is prevalent in India.
(c) Job in India is not often performed by choice e.g. a scavenger does not choose his/her job.
(d) Marriages in India are done on the basis of caste and community.
(e) Plurality and tradition of argumentation have been the defining features of traditions in India.
All these traditions and features are being constantly redefined in India.
It is a process of decline in the influence of religion in the society. It assumes that society becomes increasingly secular. The extent of secularisation is measured thorough the involvement of people with religious organisations and holding of religious views of people.
Secularism and Modernisation
Secularisation is closely associated with modernisation and westernisation. In the past, it was believed that modern ways give way to secularisation, but it is not always necessary. India’s exposure to modern ideas in colonial period led to formation of religious reform organisations. Rituals which are a part of a religion also have secular dimensions attached to it.
They provide men and women with occasions for socialising with peers (equals) and superiors. Economic , political and status dimensions of rituals are increasing in society.
Secularisation of Caste
Caste system operates within a religious framework in India. Belief systems of purity and pollution were central to its practice but today caste is functioning as a pressure group. Many caste associations and caste based parties are increasing in contemporary India. This change in the role of caste is described as secularisation of caste.
Caste is one of the organisational clusters along which the bulk of population lives. The purpose of politics is to capture power for certain goals. It manipulates the enlisting social structures or alliances to increase its support among the masses. But politics changes the form of the social or political groupings through its own process and influence. Consequently we can say that politics changes the form of caste as well.
Some Social Reformers
Some examples of the combination of liberal and traditional ideas in the acts of social reforms are:
Raja Ram Mohun Roy
He was the founder of the Brahmo Samaj movement in 1828. His influence was apparent in the fields of politics, public adminstration and education as well as religion. He was known for his efforts to establish the abolition of the practice of Sati. He was known as the Father of the Indian Renaissance. Raja Ram Mohan Roy attacked the practice of Sati on the basis of humanitarian and natural rights doctrines as well as Hindu shastras.
She was an Indian social reformer, a champion for the emancipation of women, and a pioneer in education. She was accorded the title of Pandita as a Sanskrit scholar and saraswati as a scholar after being examined by faculty of the University of Calcutta.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan
He was an Indian Muslim, Islamic reformist and philosopher of nineteenth century British India. He was born into a family with strong ties with Mughal court. Syed studied the Quran and sciences within the court.
He was awarded honorary LLD (Doctor of Law) from the University of Edinburgh. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan laid the importance on free enquiry (ijtihad) to bring social change and compared Quranic verses and laws of nature discovered by modern science to draw similarity between the two.
He is the Father of Renaissance Movement in Telugu. He was one of the early social reformers who encouraged women education, remarriage of widows which was not supported by the society during his time and fought against dowry system. He also started a school in Dowlaiswaram in 1874. He constructed a temple as Brahmo Mandir in 1887 and the Hithakarini School in 1908 in Andhra Pradesh.
His novel Rajasekhara Charitramu is considered to be the first novel in Telugu literature. Kandukiri Viresalingam’s book ‘The Source of Knowledge’ reflected the teachings ides of navya-nyaya logic. He also translated works of Julian Huxley.
He was a British Indian Bengali polymath and a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance. He was a philosopher, academic educator, writer, translator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur, reformer and philathropist.
His efforts to simplify and modernise Bengali prose were significant. He also rationalised and simplified the Bengali alphabet and type, which had remained unchanged since Charles and Panchanan Karmakar had cut the first (wooden) Bengali type in 1780. He also forced British to pass Widow Remarriage Act.
He was an Indian social activist, a thinker, anti-caste social reformer and a writer from Maharashtra. His work extended to many fields including eradication of untouchability and the caste system, women’s emancipation and the reform of Hindu family life.
n 24th Sepetember, 1873, Phule, along with his followers, formed the Satyashodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) to attain equal rights for people from lower castes. Phule is regarded as an important figure of the Social Reform Movement in Maharashtra.
Raja Ravi Varma
He was a celebrated Indian painter and artist. He is considered among the greatest painters in the history of Indian art for a number of aesthetic and broader social reasons. Firstly, his works are held to be among the best examples of the fusion of European techniques with a purely Indian sensibility. Secondly, he was notable for making affordable lithographs of his paintings available to the public, which greatly enhanced his reach and influence as a painter and public figure.