Dhurjati Prasad Mukerji was considered as one of the founding fathers of Indian sociology. He had worked intensively on the middle class of Indian society. He had witnessed different phases and changes in the society due to different nationalist movements. He had crucially worked upon middle class character and its role and its position in society. According to Dhurjati Prasad Mukerji, in order to understand Indian modern culture one needs to understand the character of Indian middle class. This class had two facets one, that it was a product of economic policy and second of social and educational policy. It was called the non productive and non commercial class. When middle class was exposed to western education it gained values and made individuals conscious about society. But somehow this class was isolated from Indian tradition and a clear cut sharp distance was maintained between the majority of the Indian population who lived and followed tradition.
Origin of Middle Class
The new middle class according to DP Mukerji was an artificial category which was not connected with Indian tradition and culture. D.P considered Indian tradition and culture as a historical process. There are different influences in Indian tradition such as of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islamic and certain other western cultures. It is this assimilation of different cultures which indicates diversity of Indian tradition. During the British rule, there was a bitter antagonism between the Indian social economy that is Hindus and Muslims. Britishers took advantage of this situation and imposed alien form of money which was based on mechanical production. They introduced new kinds of land settlement policies and diminished the older policies. They introduced English language as a medium of instruction and imposed educational system through the medium of English language. There emerged two classes one the landlords who were distanced from the agriculture and second the English speaking class. These two classes were known as the new middle class, which was distinct from the local language and culture of people.
19th Century Reformism: The new middle class became agents of modernisation in India. The intellects of the new middle class got the exposure to western culture through English language. Soon the middle class was heavily influenced by the western notions of progress and equality. The middle class were also called as agents of change. They faced many constraints such as on their contradictory position of middle class, power (which was in the hands of foreigners), inherent tradition of India etc. DP shared his thoughts with the help of Hindu philosophy and was of the view that human personality consists of values. The new middle class was successful with the literary works in 19th century, which brought different perspectives and narratives of daily lifestyle and stories about human relationships which were never heard before.
National Movement: A change was also brought in India through nationalists. Middle class felt being cheated when found that the Britishers took control over commerce and trade. As a result of frustration nationalism was born out. The main agenda of the nationalists was to create an artificial national all India culture. Nationalists were also distant from the local people similarly nationalism was an ideal which was imposed on local people. As a result, the nationalists failed to understand the importance of changing people’s lives which can be seen after independence when the new state faced the problems of nation building due to Hindu Muslim rivalry. D.P was of the view that the nationalists ignored the have-nots of the society and should be given priority in society.
Socialist Movement Socialist movement was in the flow from 20th century which was led by middle class. The middle class was further divided into upper middle class and lower middle class. The lower middle class consists of educated unemployed people who embraced socialism and joined kisan mazdoor movement. The attempts of the movement failed as the pace of the industrialism was really slow at that moment. Indian communists reached to the exploited workers and tried to mobilise them through socialism. They brought new outlook and tried to set a new image of the society. Communists were natural and fair but they wanted to overlook the tradition of India. In order to outdo the tradition of India, communism didn’t work as it would be impractical which would yield undesirable result. As India has always been ruled by samajdharma and followed the instructions and guidance of the priest. It is difficult to embrace communism at one go.
Five Year Planning: Major changes began after independence when five year plans were launched. Major plans were formulated by middle class with the support of power of the state. There were certain contradictions which according to DP could be sorted by introducing cultural perspective. The plans didn’t work as it was not for the masses and people were not motivated by the plans. The plans were not traditional in nature and had the essence of western values. The plans were high on secular knowledge and lacked traditional values. Planners should have adopted some of the values from Indian tradition as well.
Mode of Change: Indian tradition has various elements and is considered a whole consisting of various parts. Indian tradition is an amalgamation of different religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism etc. According to DP Indian tradition is mystical in outlook. Modernisation was not possible in the Indian context as India has traditional roots. DP criticised as well as appreciated many reformers on the ground of western and traditional forms of values. DP followed upnishadic principle which denotes keep moving in a process, this is what he suggested for middle class. As he stated that Indian Culture was amalgamation of different cultures and each culture is significant in its own way. Indian tradition had the characteristics of sruti, smriti, and anubhava which are considered as the typical mechanisms. Where Sruti implied listening, smriti meant memorising. Anubhava was the personal experience or realisation of an individual. These typical mechanisms became collective and people started feeling in the same way. These mechanisms were never represented by the middle class. Majority of the population still believed in the roots of the tradition. Majority of the population also believed in the age old samaj dharam and parampara. It was very difficult for the middle class to bring about a change in the inner feelings of the people as they were not ready to give up their tradition, they were so attached to it. Middle class didn’t have that confidence and also failed to establish its views and perspectives.
Criticism and Defence: D.P Mukerjii had been criticised by various sociologists and reformers on the ground that he strongly appreciated socialism and a socialist society. He was also criticised for his failure to harmonise Vedantic, western liberal, and Marxist principles. D.P strongly hoped for the middle class to adapt this Indian Culture. Rationalism was the approach which was followed by D.P Mukerjii. D.p’s ideas about middle class in India were uncertain. At one point of time he regarded the role of middle class to be over and on the other hand he regarded the middle class as an important class which could bring reform and social change. DP Mukerjii was also in a constant flux of his own perspectives. He wanted middle class to assert western values and foresee the future as that of the west but he somehow contradicted his own perspectives as he himself followed Indian tradition and was attached to Indian tradition and was proud of Hindu Heritage.
DP’s academic research on middle class of India was appreciated. Many Indian Sociologists neglected or ignored to highlight the perspective and view point of middle class. DP Mukerjii was successful to point out their view and their process of growth throughout history. According to DP middle class in India played an important role in shaping India towards modernisation and westernisation. Apart from DP Mukerjii, BB Mishra had also shared similar views on middle class and their role in shaping the India towards modernisation after Independence. André Beteille also pointed out the significant role of middle class which was not only economic but also in social arenas. Over a period of time many other castes, have entered the middle class broadening its structure. At Present the role of middle class has changed a lot. They are differentiated by caste, income, education and occupation etc. Middle class is been associated with new economy. As Explained by DP, the middle class was divided in upper middle class and lower middle class. The lower middle class had no option but to embrace socialist ideal to fight against the oppression as they were unemployed were seeking opportunities. Despande was of the view that the main agenda of the middle class was to create hegemony. There was a subtle change in the character of middle class as stated by Gurcharan Das. According to hum the new middle class was not greedy than the old one. The new middle in India as explained by DP imbibed western capitalistic ideas and considered Indian tradition as backward.
Chakraborty, D 2010, D P Mukerji and the Middle Class in India, Sociological Bulletin
59(2), May-August 235-255