India Past And Present Essay

Understanding Indian Society: Past and Present (Essays for A M Shah).

Article Type:

Book review


Books (Book reviews)


Swaminathan, Padmini


Name: Journal of Social and Economic Development Publisher: Institute for Social and Economic Change Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Economics Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Institute for Social and Economic Change ISSN: 0972-5792


Date: Jan-June, 2011 Source Volume: 13 Source Issue: 2


NamedWork: Understanding Indian Society: Past and Present (Essays for A M Shah) (Essay collection)


Reviewee: Baviskar, B. S.; Patel, Tulsi

Accession Number:


Full Text:

Understanding Indian Society: Past and Present (Essays for A M Shah). B S Baviskar and Tulsi Patel (eds). Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan. 2010. Pp ix + 378. [??] 695 (Hardback).

"This volume in honour of Professor A M Shah has been in the making for a long time".., so begins the Festschrift. Between the first discussion held in 1994 and the eventual publication of the volume in 2010, the not-so-inconsiderable passage of time has left its imprint on several of the contributions that are stuck in a time-warp even as several and more nuanced works have become available on very many of the same subjects and themes covered by the contributions in the book. This is not to detract from the fact that the book is, nevertheless, significant and contains some important papers.

The Introduction by the editors provides readers an overview of Professor Shah's rich academic contributions, which scholarship, in turn, was instrumental in enabling Professor Shah to provoke and nurture a whole generation of students to cultivate 'sociological sensitivity' through field work; for Professor Shah, fieldwork is an essential and necessary component of any research aiming to conceptualise and capture complex reality. It was Shah's own meticulously researched field data that challenged several of the then accepted notions: "(i) that, in the past, joint households were commoner than nuclear households, (ii) that there is an inevitable evolutionary shift from the former to the latter, (iii) that joint households are characteristic more of rural rather than urban areas, and (iv) that urbanisation encourages formation of nuclear households. On the basis of historical as well as ethnographic data, he rejected the widespread notion that all villagers in traditional India lived in large and complex households composed of two or more married brothers. In fact, small and simple households were preponderant, and even among the complex ones the large majority was composed of parents and one married son... With convincing data and arguments, he (Shah) also refuted the popular assumption that people lived in large joint households in pre-British India and that joint households were breaking up because of the impact of industrialisation and urbanisation initiated by British rule" (p2). Similarly, the editors highlight Shah's original and important contribution to our understanding of caste. Citing Shah's co-authored book on Division and Hierarchy, the editors note that, based on ethnographic data marshaled from rural as well as urban Gujarat, Shah not only corrected the tendency among scholars to overemphasise the principle of hierarchy, but pleaded for studies on caste in urban areas to override the tendency to generalise about caste on the basis of studies in rural areas alone (p3). It is a pity that the volume does not contain a single piece exploring caste since the above writings by Shah.

The contributions making up the book are divided into four Parts: Gender Issues, Sociology of Religion, Development and Modernization, and, Disciplinary Concerns. Two of the three papers under Gender Issues are considerably weak for different reasons. Mohini Anjum's 'Assertive Voices', besides being analytically poor, fails to live up to Shah's dictum that requires field-based work to be meticulous to capture complex reality. The details of the case studies are interesting in themselves but in the absence of any academic engagement with what would constitute 'assertiveness' and why, and/or how one may differentiate as well as evaluate qualities described as assertiveness, authoritarianism, independence, articulation, etc, it is difficult to comprehend how, together, these case studies enhance our notions of women's empowerment and of Muslim women's empowerment in particular. Similarly, it is difficult to relate, in 2010, to Tulsi Patel's reproduction of a paper written in 1986 (which contains an examination of the case studies taken from a 1984 volume edited by the director of Grameen Bank) that, among other things, concludes with statements such as: "The case studies reveal that the Grameen Bank loan has enabled the women to exercise some amount of autonomy, however negligible it may be, in the sphere of income generation ... The cases in this paper have shown how the resilience of the family is unchallenged ... Unlike what feminists ... had imagined, the family is still the most cherished institution for the women as this study shows" (p88-89). It is puzzling that, field work apart, not even subsequent literature on the theme of the paper, namely, 'Poor Muslim Women in Rural Bangladesh', has been sourced to account for changes that may have taken place in the intervening period. On the other hand, Vishwanath's piece on 'Conceptual Understanding of Female Infanticide in Modern India' is a cogent, meticulously researched and clearly articulated argument for why he has attempted a structural analysis of the castes that practised female infanticide in west and north India during the 19th century.

The papers under the section Sociology of Religion are informative but not analytical enough to engage with the question: what aspect of 'Sociology of Religion' do they address/critique and why? To put it differently, for a sociologist, of what general significance are the findings from a survey on Popular Perceptions of the Role of Catholic Priests? Similarly, while we have a very thick, rich description of the coverage by print media and perceptions of lead individuals of the Gujarat carnage, its sociological significance remains unarticulated. The third paper in this section, the case study of Muni Seva Ashram, raises more questions than answers. To highlight just one: how does this case study enhance our understanding of Indian society when it gives the impression of the society with which it works as being homogeneous?

The four papers under Development and Modernization highlight different aspects. Epstein makes a forceful case for developers to target grandmothers, who according to her study of Asian and African societies hold the key to social change. While the piece makes for interesting reading, it raises serious questions about our notions of 'development' and 'modernization' when applied to developing countries, sociological understandings and treatment of intergenerational issues, etc, apart from not only singling out but wanting to further entrench one gender's role in socialisation. Baviskar and Attwood's discussion relating to Cooperation and Industrialization in Rural India could have been considerably enhanced, academically, by engaging with questions such as how one may comprehend and measure rural industrialisation (as opposed to non-rural industrialisation) and the contribution of cooperatives to such an industrialisation. Further, are cooperatives a necessary condition for rural industrialisation? In other words, what accounts for the industrialisation of some rural areas without the institution of cooperatives? Patel and Rutten's paper on Patidars as Metaphor of Indian Diaspora is a brilliant sociological account of the Patidar community spread over Gujarat, UK, and, earlier, east Africa. In particular, the discussion of the form, nature and changing intensity of these, as yet, continuing links across space, provide readers with a nuanced understanding of the particular trajectory and nature of linkage among the families studied, even while it reflects on the perceptions of the community as a whole on several themes. Aneeta Minocha's piece on Informed Consent in Medical Practice is an extremely important topic. Unfortunately, the treatment of the subject in the paper is too general; besides, the paper makes several sweeping statements that are unsubstantiated in time, space and context.

The section on Disciplinary Concerns has three very interesting papers. Beteille's scholarly discussions of the notions of 'elementary unit of kinship' and 'atom of kinship' provide much food for thought. In the last para of his paper, Beteille makes the significant observation that the investigation into the notions of kinship mentioned above has to be an empirical one and goes on to raise questions of the following kind: "What does it mean for a woman to bear a child, to be a mother? What does it mean for children to grow up as brothers and sisters in the same home? What does it mean for husband and wife to develop a relationship through the expansion and dispersion of the domestic group? It is only by keeping firmly in mind the actor's experience and his point of view while asking and answering such questions that we can connect the empirical investigation of kinship to the great tradition of interpretive sociology" (p305). It is intriguing why, when considerable empirically based studies exist covering the above questions, particularly investigated by women's studies scholars, among others, Beteille feels the need to put forth these questions, unless, of course, he or any sociologist is able to concretely demonstrate the inadequacy of existing scholarship on the subject. Palriwala's paper on Gendering Sociological Practice through a case study of teaching in Delhi University is brilliant for its emphasis on the process and exploration of the dynamics involved in attempts to engender the Sociology syllabus of Delhi University. "The narration may be seen as a coded transformation of the story of the struggle and politics to change gender relations and transform society beyond the university, an experience which parallels it, is structured by it and feeds into it" (p309-10). Equally significant is Palriwala's concluding observation: "... if efforts to engender sociology are to move forward, they have to begin from the point when teaching programmes and papers are being framed, rather than being added later on ... As with any attempt to change an existing structure, it requires extra labour from advocates of the change and a readiness to take on more than one's share of responsibilities" (p327). To answer the question raised in her title, namely, 'Why Are Children's Voices Largely Unheard in Household Ethnographies?', Shanti George interrogates her own ethnographies"... for their myopia, and for assuming that only people above the age of fifteen or twenty are able to exercise agency in the lives of themselves and of others. The advantage in doing this is not just politic... It is epistemically useful in that I know and can examine some of the reasons for my generation-blindness and that may well have relevance to others who shared these reasons in those places and times, and possibly to analysts in other places and times (such as the present) who still evince generation-blindness" (p333). Through this self-interrogation George makes some important observations on the practice of ethnography that call for reflection: "For all that ethnographic research attempts to be low-key, unobtrusive, and non-threatening in its approach to the people that it studies, it represents an encounter between those who are 'other' and is therefore inevitably tinged with some suspicion ... Households have their sensitivities and there are certain features and events that they would like to keep to themselves. The same applies to larger human units, such as villages, and there is concern about those who might 'tell' ... People who talk to children must be looking for weak spots in families and households to exploit in some way, presumably" (p347-49).

In sum, the volume is not just uneven in terms of the quality of the contributions, but it also falls short of pulling together some at least of the important observations that have implications for the discipline of Sociology in general, and particularly for the teaching of Sociology.

Padmini Swaminathan


Madras Institute of Development Studies


Gale Copyright:

Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Education in India has many facets, many of which have been forged by different institutions that existed from historic times to the present day. Talking about history, the education system that existed in old India was unique and some of its components and underlying principles are still found in places in the country. Contemporary education is more or less fashioned as per Western education models and systems. There are two things unique about education in India – the diversity represented in the content that further contains different elements like traditions, culture, language, dialect, etc. The second thing unique about education in India is a popularly inherited system that has evolved over the years in to a unique entity.

Education in India: Past
A well established education system existed in India even in ancient times. There were old brahminical schools were theology, philosophy, arts, military education, public administration, etc., was taught to the students. One major drawback about these schools was that education in India was a privilege and only children belonging to higher castes were allowed to receive the education. Ancient schools of India were mostly residential schools. The teacher and the pupils that used to receive education stayed together till the education was completed. Education in India at that time was free; however students returned the favours by helping the teacher in daily chores. The teacher or Guru was the central figure and revered by all. In contemporary times, the great respect teachers and schools enjoy are somewhat related to the great honour bestowed in ancient times. There were no books and recorded medium of passing over the knowledge. Whatever was taught was taught verbally and knowledge passed from the teacher to students and so on.

Education in Medieval India
In medieval India, new elements got fused in the education as foreign invaders brought with them their culture, their teachings and their lifestyle lifestyle. The growing influence of Islam also led to the establishment of schools for Muslims. Again the education primarily focussed on theology. Thus two types of schools – the Vedic schools and Madrasas, were dominantly present in the pre-colonial India.

Education in India: Colonial Period
In the pre-colonial and early colonial period, India was not a strong nation in principle. The region comprised of separate small states that were often engaged in territorial disputes. Meanwhile, the renaissance period and great developments in the 14th, 15th and 16th century in Europe led them to explore new lands and further their movements. It was the time when missionaries stared arriving in Asia and later in India. After the occupation of Indian states, the British, who had occupied a large part of India, felt the need to directly communicate with appointed officials. The interpreter or messenger system characteristic of the pre-existing monarchs came to an end, and British officials made English language necessary for Indian officials; which was intended to help them in administration. From time-to-time in the colonial period, stress was laid on English schools; oriental education, which were to include content as was made required in Western schools. The first English schools were seen as conspiracy measures to weaken the traditions and popular culture of Indian states. However, few reformers, cashed on the opportunity and imbibed some essential traits, which later on changed the entire structure of Indian education system.

Modern Education – From Theology to Sciences In the post colonial period, the knowledge and great achievements by European states shifted the focus of education on sciences and popular studies that were being taught and learned in European countries. British left India in 1947, but the education system remained, though some reforms were incorporated in it. The popular school system, formal education, progressive learning, higher studies and even the content was inherited. In the post Independence period, the government, renowned educationists, social scientists and many leaders stressed on making the education India centric, with focus once again on the popular culture and traditions. But now there were slight difference, as both Western and our indigenous models got mixed up to shape into an altogether different entity. Thus, education in India got shaped by influences and institutions in various periods, throughout the history.

Categories: 1

0 Replies to “India Past And Present Essay”

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *