INDIAN SOCIETY: Social Change and Reforms and Differences

‘The #metoo movement, the POSCO act brought in by the government, the rising tendencies of populist leaders around the world, The Independence of India, The French Revolution- are all social changes. These changes can carry values which are either binomial in nature (good or bad) or a mix of these values. Thus, we try to understand what is social change and the social change in the Indian context- elucidating majorly on woman, children, and justice.

What is the difference between social change and social reforms?

 A social change is a ‘value neutral’ term. It can be positive or negative. For example, divorce rates have significantly increased over the last century. This is a social change, however, this may not be a good thing or desirable.

On the other hand, social reform is a desirable social change. For example, women participation in the economy has significantly increased over the last century. This is social reform.

Social changes are inevitable and can happen on their own. But we will have to take action to guide it towards a desirable direction and make it a social reform.

A salient feature or a caveat (depends on which side of the argument you are on) with respect to social changes lies in the fact that social change can be gazed upon with the lens of a historical perspective rather than present action. An example in the Indian context would be the increase in the acceptance of married woman in the working world both by professionals and her family. A person in today’s day and time would only feel the weight of the social change when he or she compares it to the yesteryears when this was an aberration than the norm.

Thus, decisions that we take today both the conscious and unconscious ones would shape the world for our predecessors and they would be able to analyze the changes in society which occurred in our time. McIver and Page, point out the same fact that social changes are never at rest and cannot be perceived as such. They compare societal changes as a time process and label society as a process and not a product. Hence, whatever by-products arise with the social changes and co-exist would fade away too when there is another change.

For example, Illiteracy among women and men in India in the 18th century was extremely low and the cruel ritual of Sati was followed in the society, where a woman was burnt when her husband died. These medieval practices were by-products of lack of education in the society, especially among women. So, now when awareness and education in the society have gained by a considerable amount these practices are almost eradicated.

The Concept of Social Change and Reform

The concept of social change can be broadly be divided into two parts. The first one is more of an affirmation of the existing system of the society, more like a status-quo while the second concept speaks of change with respect to societal factors mentioned above. Scholars believe that social changes are always relative to these three factors: time, space and economy. Unsurprisingly and rather obliquely, the resistance to such changes or the propulsion of such changes can be narrowed down to these elements. Resistance to these changes is usually performed by people who would be usurped from the power of comfort after these changes.

Social changes carry the weight of being a dual problem: One as an intellectual problem with respect to its understanding and the second problem lies in it being a political problem. Here, the sociologist perceives these difference vis-à-vis social groupings, behavior, and institutions and thus, classifies them into two tendencies of either regulating the change or to act as a catalyst in a more laissez-faire style towards the desired result. The former is what we term today as the conservative view and then later as a more radical change. Due to the dual problem societal change presents, it is both an ideology and praxis.

The connotation vis-à-vis ‘social change’ differs among sociologists. Some sociologists refer to them as ‘total’ changes, others refer to them in a more ‘partial’ form. When an event takes place which changes a woman’s role in the economy and society, there is a partial change felt. In cases like breaking of feudalism and fiefdoms, there is a complete change in society. Therefore, both the sides advocate a convincing case but both agree that changes are a continuous process.

Max Weber treats them separately and gives them an idiosyncratic feel while Marx in the combination of both the theoretical and practical aspects. Comte, the father of sociology, looks at the direction of these social changes. He focuses on progress as it is the basis for his evolutionary theory, according to which there are three separate stages for evolution viz., theological change, metaphysical change, and scientific change.

Some realist scholars doubt the basis of these changes and claim that human society is represented by its endurance and persistence, consequently, changes are just ephemeral- thus, society falls back to the same basis of existence. These bases are in regards to man’s desire for self-preservation and expression. McLung Lee corroborates this by stating that social changes cannot be regarded as the ultimate change in social conditions but rather these changes take place in the social institutions. These altered institutions and functions play a role in tweaking the society but the fundamentals remain the same.

However, with consideration to all the different thoughts regarding these changes, the common fact that shines through is that social changes affect our species historically, politically, economically and religiously. It also alters the functions of society and the basis of it. More simply put, society a thousand years ago has no resemblance to society but some of its characteristics still persevere in our society- be it our behavior or eating habits, religious beliefs, etc.

Changes in the Indian Society

“It is impossible to think about the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is impossible for a bird to fly on only one wing.” — Swami Vivekananda

The striking thing about this quote is how Swami Vivekananda tries to promote the case of equality for woman. In context with the above-mentioned features regarding social change, the case of a woman’s role in the society is a peculiar one. On one side, the literacy rate among woman has increased manifold from the time of independence but on the darker side, India is ranked first for being the most dangerous country for a woman. Cases of rapes, eve teasing, catcalling and lack of opportunity in workplaces throw light on the issue of women and their rights. In the constitution of our country, women are given equal rights and have the liberty of exercising their franchise and working wherever they want but the reality is adrift of it.

Some of the major problems woman face in India are majorly theological and historical in nature. Regressive practices such as Child Marriage, Female foeticide, dowry, changing the surname of women after marriages, the outcasting of widows from society are all shackles on the wings of women in our society. Thought the government has tried to tackle these issues by bringing in laws such as the Sharda Act, raising the marriageable age to 18 for woman and making sonography for sex determination illegal, the effects are still in delirium.

The case for woman right is going through what might be classified as a random walk. In the sense that surely, the sex ratio of the country is getting better, 945 woman for 1000 men, the safety issue and the issue of acceptance in the workplace is still an ongoing fight. India was a patriarchal society and it is degrading but the cause of concern is the pace of it. Cases of microfinance for woman cooperatives and the case against triple talaq are some instances where one can see the skins of phallocentric behavior falling off but cases such as the ‘Nirbhaya’ case or the regressive mindset of dowry which is still prevalent in the society are the affirmation of the old norms. An educated individual plays a role of catalysis for social change and with the help of technology, the changes should be hastened(by spreading information) before some other factor takes the society away from the progress that has been made in case of women and their rights.

However, From 5.4 million girls enrolled at the primary level in 1950-51 to 61.1 million girls in 2004-05 this figure proves that India is progressing and reforms in these fields are genuine and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Another important issue is children or juvenile rights in India. According to BBC, the number of child rates has only gone up and in 2016, more than 106,958 crimes against children were committed and these are just numbers in which crimes have been registered.

It is also a misconception that crimes only happen against a girl child. The government of India took notice of this and brought in a juvenile justice system where children, irrespective of them being a girl, boy or any gender was protected against criminal activities. The inhumane incident in Kathua on an 8-year-old girl and many other inexplicable acts have forced the government into bringing more stringent laws such as the POSCO(Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) act under which offenders would be given life imprisonment and cases against them would move faster. It was high time that a step was taken for this.

Another latent issue is of child labor. Though there is the factory law that was established in the 1970s and other laws, the prevalence of child labor often goes unnoticed. This is especially true in poor states where children have to work as bread earners for the family form a small age. The law in India states that no child who is aged below 14 can work in a factory or do heavy work. They have to have a doctor’s certificate as well to work in factories or other manufacturing industries.

Some scholars believe that the government should include training and vocational programs for such underprivileged kids so that they can be more productive and also, earn for their families as they come of age. They suggest a model of ‘earn as you train’, in which they will be paid an amount while they are being trained. These reforms are leading toward a better workforce and a healthier childhood.

Share on:

The Sociology Group is an organization dedicated to creating social awareness through thoughtful initiatives like "social stories" and the "Meet the Professor" insightful interview series. Recognized for our book reviews, author interviews, and social sciences articles, we also host annual social sciences writing competition. Interested in joining us? Email [email protected]. We are a dedicated team of social scientists on a mission to simplify complex theories, conduct enlightening interviews, and offer academic assistance, making Social Science accessible and practical for all curious minds.