Indian society and cultural


Society, in simple words, refers to social grouping or collectiveness.  A social group which can be termed as a society is the one which can sustain itself more or less independently, recruits most of its member’s children, has pattern and predictable inter-generational interaction, is larger than a community and is more generalized than an institution may legitimately be called a society.  It should be noted that societies unlike nations do not always have specific political boundaries.

Main characteristics of a society are:

  1. Society is a network of relationship
  2. It is based on social – interactions
  3. There is a sense of mutual awareness among the members of the society.
  4. Society exits only there where social beings behave.
  5. Finally, society is a complex form of individuals in which both are inter-dependent on each other. Without individuals we cannot imagine a society or vice versa.

However, society is different from community. Community is used to characterize a wide range of groups whose members share a sense of identity, specific interest, values and a role of definitions with respect to others.

Varna and Jati System

The Hindu social organization is noted for its Varnashrama dharma or ‘duty based on order and stages of life’. This board division was originally associated with the colour difference between the Rig Vedic Aryans (Arya Varna) and the non Aryanas (Dasa-Varna).  According the Purusha-Sukta hymn of Rig Veda, when Prajapati, the primeval man (Purusa) was sacrificed to himself by the gods, who were his children, the 4 classes emerged: Brahman from the mouth, Kshatriya from the arms, Vaisyas from the thigh and Sudras from the feet.  Before the Aryans entered India there were some class divisions, eg.  The 4 pistras of ancient Iran.

All Aryans belonged to one of the varnas, except children, ascetics and widows who were outside the system.  The 3 higher classes were dvija or twice born i.e. 1) natural birth 2) birth into society after the thread ceremony (ypanayana).  In themiddle agesdvija meant only Brahman.  Sudras had no initiation and were later not looked upon as Aryans.  The division was initially based on occupation and later on birth with the development  of the theory f charismatic endowments (Gunas); Brahman was born with sattavas or brightness, Kshatriya with rajas or passion, udras with tamas or dullness and Vaisya with a mixture of rajas and tamas.  Theory of  varnashrama-dharma was developed which differentiated different dharma (duties) for different varnas because of their different gunas.

            The term varna, meaning colour, originally used to distinguished the Arynas from the non-Aryans, later on stood for all the four fold division of Hindu society.  The other term jati also called caste means, according to legal texts, not only the four castes but also numerous new castes, created to accommodate the off-springs of inter-caste marriage.  These castes became more or less water tight compartments, with qualities  (gunas), work (karma) and rights and obligations (svadharma) peculiar to each.  Separate sets of rules of conduct were framed for people belonging to different castes and engaged in different professions associated with these castes.

The Four Varnas

Brahmans: According to man and Yajnavalkya, the legalists, the Brahmans occupied the top place in the social hierarchy.  They alone could take to the occupation of teaching (vritti), perform sacrifices for others, and accept gifts.

Kshatriyas : Representing the Rajanya class of the Vedic times, shared with the Brahmans the task of Vedic study, performance of sacrifices and the making of gifts,   but their main occupation was administration and fighting.

Vaisyas :The visa or the Vaisyas of the earlier times, also called grihapati produced wealth from agriculture and merchandise including trade and commerce.  They could study the Vedas and perform scarifies also.

Sudras : Originally name of non-Aryan tribe.  They only served the dvija.  They could not study the Vedas, unlike the twice-born or the dvijas, but could certainly perform the smaller sacrifices (pakayajnas) without the use of Vedic formulae.

Untouchables : They were called pancama  (the 5th class).  They were non-aryan, aboriginal tribes, for example, Chandala, carrier of corpses and executioner of criminals.  It was later used for many types of untouchables.  Many classes became out castes withthe growth of Ahimsa doctrine 1) Nisada – hunter 2) Karavarta – fisherman 3) Karavara-leather worker.  Other outcastes are: Vena-basket maker, Rathakara-chariot maker (a respected craftsmen of the vedic period), Pukkusa/Paulkasa-alcohol seller (originally a sweeper in the Buddhist period).  Outcastes had their own outcastes eg.  Antyavasayin – a cross between a candela and a nisada, despised by candalas.  An untouchable who died in defence of a brahmana, cows, women and children went to heaven.  Candalas occasionally became influential.  Mleccha – outer barbarian, whose status improved by adoption of brahmanical ways.  Conduct, not blood made a group outcaste.  A group, not an individual could rise in hierarchy, hence the system was fluid.

Varna Samskara (Conversion of class)

Viswamitra was born as kshatriya and became a Brahman/rishi by penance.  It was hard to rise but easier to fall in status.  The legendary king Vena encouraged inter-caste marriages beginning the varna-samkara, a special feature of kalyuga.


Originally a Brahman institution, it was adopted by the dvija.  Brahmans descended from 8 legendary rishis (seers) who created the 8 primeval gotras: Atri, Bhrgu, Bhardwaj, Gautam, Kasyapas, Vasistha, Viswamitra and Agastya (patron saint of Dravidians who brought the vedic religion to the south and who was added to the original 7).  Within a caste there is strict gotra exogamy.


Relates to remote ancestors.  The names of remote ancestors (about 2 to 4) and the gotras founder were changed by Brahmans in their daily worship.  Marriage between different gotras was impossible if they had 2 (sometimes even one) common pravara names.



Laukika Gotras

Also called secular gotras, kshatriyas and vaisyas adopted the gotra and pravara names of their priests.  The real gotras were secular ones founded by legendary ancestors and was used in the sense of sect/clan.

Customs and ceremonies (smaskaras)

Hindu Ceremonies (Samskaras)

There are 16 principal ceremonies prescribed by Hindu law givers of which only few are practiced by the majority of Hindus at present.  These samskaras are

: T

  1. Garbhadhana : This is performed to promote conception
  2. Pumsavana : This is performed during third, fourth or eighth month of conception to get a male child.
  3. Simantonnayana: This is performed for the safety of child when in the mother’s womb.
  4. Jatakarma : This is performed after the birth of the child (birth ceremony).
  5. Namakarna : This is performed when the child is taken out of the house for the first time to see the sun. it is done during the 12th day to 4 months of child’s birth.
  6. Nishkramana: This is performed when the child is taken out of the house for the first time to see the sun. It is done during the 12th day to 4 months of child’s birth.
  7. Annaprasana : This is performed in the sixth month when the child is for the first time feeded with solid food.
  8. Chudakarma : This involves tonsure of boy between 1st and 3rd year of his birth.
  9. Karnapheda : This ear-piercing ceremony is performed in order to evade from any disease and for wearing ornaments.
  10. Vidyarhambha : This is performed at the age of 5 year for initiating the alphabet knowledge of the child.
  11. Upanayana : This is the sacred – thread ceremony which is performed to begin. The be sacred thread consisting of three threads represent the Trinity – the Hindu Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh – and the white colour signifies purity. Being thus invested with the sacred thread, the boy begins his studies. They boy was usually initiated to a mantra (Gayatri) by the guru before commencing his studies.
  12. Vedarambha : This is the performed for initiating study of Vedas by the student.
  13. Keshant or Gowdaan: This is performed at the age of 16 when the child for the first time shaves his moustache and beard indicating that he is now an adult.
  14. Samavartana :This is the home-coming ceremony of the student after the completion of his education. It also marks the end of his brahmacharya stage.
  15. Vivah : This is the marriage ceremony.
  16. Antyesti : This is funeral ceremony lasting for 10 days.




Muslim Ceremonies (Samskara)

Khatna or Circumcision: This is an important ceremony among Muslims which is usually performed at the age of 3 to 10 years.  Under this ceremony the penis of the boy is circumcised.  In India this is not performed for girls.

Chhathi and Chillah: Chhathi is performed on the sixth day of child’s birth when both mother and child are bathed.  Chillah is performed on the 40th day of child birth when the mother is permitted to read namaz and child is shown the stars.

Aqiqah : This is performed on the seventh day of child’s birth.  Both hair-removing and naming ceremony are performed on this day.

Bismillah or Maktab: This is similar to vidhyarambh ceremony of Hindus marking beginning of studies of the child.

Nikah: This is similar to vivah ceremony of the Hindus.  Nikah, literally means union of man and woman for producing child.

Mrityu Samskara: This is similar to antyesti ceremony of Hindus.  During this dead body is buried and Fahtiya (first chapter of Quran) is read.


Purushartha literally means purpose or goals of life.  The goals or ends of life according to the scholars are four-fold.  They are: 1) Dharma: acquisition of religious merit by following the sacred law; 2) Artha: acquisition of wealth honestly; 3) Kama: pleasure of all kinds; 4) Moksha pursuit of salvation, which was a later introduction.  Dharma involved performing ones duties, ceremonies and daily performing the 5 great sacrifices.

Panch mahayajana

In anciet Indian culture yajna was as important as the samskaras.  Ont eh importance of yajana (acrifice) Purusha-Sukta hymn of Rig Veda describes that this world was born out of yajna.  Manu prescribed five yajnas (5 great sacrifices) which should be performed thrice daily at the sandhyas (periods of worship-sunrise, noon and sunset).  The 5 yajnas are: 1) Vedas; 2) Devayajna-worship of Devas by ghee in the sacrifice fire; 4) Bhutayajna-worship of all living things by scattering grain to animals and birds; 5) Purusayajna-worship of men by showing hospitality.



Marriage may be defined as a publicly recognized and culturally sanctioned union between a male and female which is intended to be enduring, to give primary )but not necessarily exclusive) e\sexual rights in each other to the couple, and to fulfil  further social functions.

Functions of Marriage: Marriage served the following functions:

  1. Biological Function: Marriage serves as a means for getting together to satisfy sex needs and to start reproductive process. It is through reproduction, human species is replicated and society is perpetuated.
  2. Economic Function: Institution of marriage performs economic function in the form of bringing economic cooperation between men and women and ensuring the survival of individuals in every society.
  3. Social Function: Institution of marriage brings with it, the creation and perpetuation of the family, the formation of person to person relations and linking of one kin group to another kin group.
  4. Educational Function: Institutions of marriage entrusts the task of educating the young to the parents and passing on culture from one generation to another. Without education or enculturation process it cannot serve educating functions for the survival of individuals and for the continuity of culture.


Forms of Marriage

Some of the commonly known forms of marriage are monogamy, polygyny and polyandry.  Among these however, monogamy is the most popular institution.

Monogamy : An individual has a single wife at any given time.

Polygyny: An individual has multiple supposes at any time. People were generally monogamous except kings, chiefs and the wealthy.  Apastamba forbid polygamy if the first wife was of a good character and bore sons.  Polygamy was a religious duty if the first wife was sterile.  A sterile or impotent husband would appoint a brother to produce a child or Noyoga.  In levira/widow and brother-in-law cohabit to produce a son.  It became forbidden as a Kalivarjya custom.  Plygamy has many sub-forms: Polygyny, polyandry and Polygynandry.

Polygyny : In this form an individual as multiple wives at any time.  Polygyny exists in two specialized variations: Sororal polygyny – a variety of polygyny in which the multiple wives of an individual are sisters and Non-sororal polygyny – a variety of polygyny in which the multiple wives of an individual are not sisters.

Polyandry : In this form a woman has multiple husbands at any given time.  The birth of the Pandavas and Karna from gods, Draupadi and the Pandavas, the Maruts and Rodasi, Asvins and Surya indicate ancient polyandry.  Law books forbid polyandry.

Polyandry appears in three specialized forms:  fraternal or adelphic polyandry is a variety of polyandry in which the multiple husbands of a woman are own brothers;  non-fraternal or non-adelphic polyandry in which multiple husbands are either clan brothers (those who belong to one clan) or unrelated men; and familial polyandry in which husbands of a woman are father and sons.  The Todas of Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu and the Khasas of Jaunsar Bawar in Uttar Pradesh practice both fraternal and non-fraternal polyandry.  However, among the Nayars, the multiple husbands of a woman were several unrelated men. Familial polyandry, a rare variety of polyandry occurs among the Tibetans.

Polygynandry: A form in which a man has multiple wives and a woman has multiple husbands at any given time.  It shows the coexistence of polygamy and polyandary.It is a rare sub-form of polygamy existing among the Todas of Nilgiri Hills and the Khasas of Jaunsar Bawar.

Hypergamy and Hypogamy

The concept of hypergamy and hypogamy is typically Indian in as much as it seems to have been upon caste structure of the Hindu society.  Apart from other things, the social status was determined by the fact of one’s marriage, and a woman’s marriage was made criteria for this.  If a woman married a higher-caste family, her own status as well as status of her children subsequently born to her rose higher.  If she married a caste lower than her own, not only she and her children suffered an inferior social position, but also a reflection was cast on her own parental family.

Hypergamy (Anuloma (marriage): To prevent a Hindu woman from losing her caste and getting ritual impurity by marrying in a lower caste, Manu (the first law giver) and other ancient Hindu law makers had prescribed hypergamous (anuloma) marriage under which a man could marry from within his own caste group, or from those below them, usually a degree only, but a woman could marry only in her own caste group or a caste group above her’s.

Hypogamy (Pratiloma) marriage:A marriage in which a woman marries a man from a caste lower than her.  This was not permitted though there are few examples of such a marriage in Indian history.

Eight kinds of marriages

The smritis describe eight types of marriages.  Manu also recognized 8 types of marriages which are 1) Brahma:  the normal type where a dowry is given ; 2) Daiva: a daughter is given to the priest as a sacrificial fee; 3) Arsa:  a token bride price of a cow or a bull is paid instead of a dowry; 4) Prajapatya: no dowry, no bride price; 5) Gandharva : often clandestine, marriage by love, syamvara (self choice) being a special form, allowed and respected by Kshatriyas alone; 6) Asura: marriage by purchase, allowed for Vaisyas and Sudras along; 7) Roksasa: marriage by capture, practiced by warriors eg. Prithviraja 8) Paisaca: marriage by seduction of a sleeping, mentally deranged or drunk girl.  The first four were approved by permissible to Brahmanas and were religious and indissoluble whereas the latter four were not appreciated.

Hindu marriage

The aims of Hindu marriage are said to be dharma, praja (progeny) and rati (pleasure).  Dharma is the first and the highest aim of marriage.  Marriage also aims at begetting a son to save the father from going to hell.  On marriage the sacred fire is enkindled to offer panchamahayagyas.  A man with wife is supposed to offer puja throughout life.  Thus, marriage is primarily for fulfillment of duties, his dharma.

Performance of homa or offering in the sacred fire, kanyadana or solemn handing over the maiden by the father, panigrahan or taking the hand of the bride, and saptapadi or the bride and the bridegroom going seven steps together are important rites for completion of a marriage.

All these rites are performed with Vedic mantras in the presence of the sacred fire.  Thus, Hindu marriage is a sacrament because it is said to be complete only on the performance of the sacred rites and the sacred formulae.  Hindu marriage is a sacrament in another sense because marriage is considered essential for woman and she is required to perform rites with her husband throughout her life.  Hindu marriage is sacred because it is irrevocable; the parties to the marriage cannot dissolve it at will.

However, in ancient India Kautilya suggested divorce for higher castes, and for the sudras it was permitted by custom.  Divorce in non-religious marriages (Gandharva, Rakshasa, Asura, Paisaca) was allowed on grounds of mutual incompatibility and apprehension of physical danger from each other.  In religious marriages divorce was allowed when wife was deserted by the husband with a waiting period of one to twelve years.  In Gupta period divorce was virtually impossible for the higher castes.


Muslim marriage

Marriage among Muslims is more of a contract rather than a sacrament like Hindus.  There are two types of marriage among Muslims 1) beena, and 2) muta. Under the beena marriage, woman comes to live with her husband and the children belong to her husband’s clan.  Divorce becomes the sole privilege of the husband.  The marriage is a contract which takes place in the presence of a wali, often with his consent, and attested by two witnesses.  Muta is a union brought about by the mutual consent of the parties concerned.  Being a personal contract, it requires neither a wali nor a witness.  The contract is stipulated for a specific period, and woman has no right to divorce her husband during the period of the contract.  The beena marriage is certainly a preferred one, the muta is condemned under the Islamic law.  There are no elaborate rituals attached to Muslim marriage as we find in the case of Hindu marriage.

Islam disapproved of muta considering it an anachronism as it amounted  to greater freedom for a woman in her sex life.  Muta also contributed to instability of marriage.  Islam gives the right of divorce only to the male, and this is taken as a part of the Muslim Personal Law.  Marriage among Muslims is contracted by paying mahr, bride price, to the father or kin of a woman.  Mahr clearly symbolizes control of the husband over his wife, and his right to talaq (divorce).


The world ‘family’ is used in several different ways.  There are at least four interrelated social situations of family life in India.  These are as follows:

1) The body of persons who live in one house or under one head, including parents, children, servants etc.; 2) The group consisting of parents and their children whether living together or not; 3) In wide sense, all those who are nearly related by blood and affinity; 4) Those descended or claiming descent from a common ancestor; a house, kindred, lineage.

Generally, a family consists of a man, his wife and their children.  This is known as an elementary family.  Such a family could be an independent unit; it could also be a part of a joint or extended family, without necessarily residing together.  An elementary family includes members of two generations, that of ego and his offspring.  Such a family may share property in common with other such units of die ego’s brothers’ families.

Family in India has remained a vital and a foremost primary group because it is the sheet-anchor of the patriarchal authority on the one hand, and a protector and defender of individual member’s (including woman) right to property on the other.  Despite several wide-ranging changes in Indian society, because of synthesis between collectivism and individualism, the Hindu family continues to be joint partly structurally and mainly functionally, and it has not disintegrated into individual families like the Western countries.  Several studies on family have revealed that industrialization, urbanization, education and migration had not necessarily resulted into nuclearisation of family in India.  Even a nuclear family in India is not simply a conjugal in family.  A real change in family must refer to changed pattern of kinship relations, obligations of members towards each other, individualization, etc.  In other words, not only change in the, composition or structure of family, but also its functions must change.

Nuclear Family

The nuclear family consists of a married man and woman with their offspring although in individual cases one or more additional persons may reside with them.

Joint family

There has been a lot of debate about nature of joint family in India.  A joint family is a group of people who generally live under one roof, who eat food cooked in one kitchen, who hold property in common, participate in common family worship and are related to one another as some particular type of kindred.  This definition of joint family refers to an ideal situation of family life in terms of its corporate character.  In any case, in structural terms, joint family implies living together of members of two or more elementary families both lineally and laterally.  When a joint family consists of grandparents, parents and grandsons and daughters, it is called a lineal joint family.  When married brothers along with their wives and offspring live together, it is known their wives and offspring live together, it is known as lateral joint family.  Besides patrilineal joint family, is also matrilineal joint family.

Jointness is a process, a part of household cycle.  A family becomes joint from its nuclear position when one or more sons get married and live with the parents or it becomes joint also when parents continue to stay with their married sons.  When married sons establish their independent households, and live with their unmarried children they become nuclear families.

Status of women

Ancient period

In the Rig-Vedic civilization, women enjoyed equal status with men.  Women, like men, received education and observed brahmacharya and upanayana (assuming the sacred thread) was also performed for them.  Women studied the Vedas and composed vedic hymns.  Women had access to all branches of knowledge.  Women like Ghosha, Apala, Vishvara were composers of outstanding vedic humans.  In the age of the Upanishads, there were not secluded from men, and they freely participated in public life.  Marriage was sacred and indivisible and was not a secular contract.  It was a religious bond.  Child marriage was unknown.  Girls enjoyed great freedom and settled their own marriages.  Monogamy was a general rule, but there were cases of polygamy among the rich and the ruling classes. Polyandry and sati were unknown The wife was given a place of honour and participated with her husband in religious ceremonies.

The position enjoyed by women in Rig-Vedic period deteriorated in later Vedic civilization.  A daughter began to be regarded as a curse.  However, women were granted the freedom to participate in public life.  They were denied the right of inheritance and of ownership of property (like the Sudras).  Even the earnings of women became the property of their husbands and sons.  However, women continued to have the upanayana, received education, and worked as teachers.  Intermarriage between Brahmanas and Kshatriyas was not unknown between A.D. 700 and 1206.

During the Buddhist period women were not denied learning.  They took active part in public life, but did not enjoy the right of Vedic studies.  The position of women really deteriorated in the Gupta age.  Dowry emerged as an institution in this period.  Widows could not marry again.  They had to spend a life in penance and austerity.  Women had no right to real property.  But purdah system did not exist.  Sati had become popular by the seventh century A.D.  Some women did receive higher education even in this period.  Lilavati and Khana were experts in arithmetic and astronomy.

Medieval period

The period between A.D. 1206 and 1761 witnessed further deterioration in the position of women.  In this period female infanticide, child-marriage, apurdah, jauhar, sati and slavery were the main social evils affecting the position of women.  The birth of a daughter was considered bad luck.  Giving freedom to women was though of as the predecessor of doom.  Women were largely uneducated and remained confined to their homes.  Conservatism, superstition and belief in magic, sorcery and witchcraft were part of women’s existence.  Motherhood was respected.  A woman’s devotion to her husband, children and home was universally accepted as a positive value.

Modern Period

The reform movements and the national movement generated social consciousness among women.  The All India Women’s Conference was established in January 1927.  This concentrated on educational and social work among women.  Mahatma Gandhi brought women out into public life.  The women of the middle classes came forward to take employment in 1930s and 1940s.  however the British rulers did not want to do anything which could further women’s position inheritance, marriage and the rights of family women, the law applied was a mix of ancient Hindu law and British law.  For example, Hindu law nowhere did recognize the enforcement of a husband’s conjugal rights; but when the principle of “restitution” was brought up, it was accepted, even though it was taken from Anglo-Saxon law.

The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed several reforms  regarding the position of women in Indian society.  Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar started agitation for widow remarriage, and were successful in getting the Hindu Widows Remarriage Association was formed in 1861.

Several acts were passed in the first half of this century regarding inheritance of property and marriage regulations, the most important acts in the post-Independence periods are: the Special Marriage Act of 1954, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, and the Hindu Succession Act of 1956.  The Government of India has taken up the problems of divorce, dowry, rape, etc. with a view to find solutions which will ensure equality of women with men.

Sati, infanticide, slavery, child marriage, the prohibition of widow remarriage, and the lack of women’s rights were some of the social problems which attracted the attention of the British Raj and social reformers.

Sati : In the beginning of nineteenth century, the practice of sati was confined to Hooghly, Nadia and Burdwan districts of Bengal, Ghazipur of Uttar Pradesh and Shahabad of Bihar.  It was found in other parts of India, but only as a rare phenomenon.  In southern India, it, was practiced in Ganjam, Masulipatnam and Tanjore districts.  In Rajasthan, Punjab and Kashmir the practice was confined mainly to women of high caste.

In Delhi, Charles Metcalfe stopped the practice.  It occurred among all castes, but it was more among the Brahmanas and Rajputs.  Among the princely families, the sense of pride and heroism elevated the sati into a noble act.  But, on the whole, the rite was practiced by women whose husbands belonged to the middle and lower middle classes.  The following factors could be attributed to the practice of sate: 1) the position of women in the Hindu System, 2) the institution of polygamy, specially among the kulin Brahmanas 3) the enforced widowhood and austerity, 4) social convention, 5) the sense of salvation attached to the rite, 6) antiquity and adoration of the practice.

The British had shown interest in the abolition f sati in 1813.  The persuasive propaganda techniques failed to prevent the occurrence of the practice.  Ram Mohan Roy took it upon himself to eradicate this social evil.  He announced that the rite of sati was not a part of the shastras.  A number of religious leaders opposed Ram Mohan Roy’s crusade against sati.  Through the cooperation of the princes, it was virtually stopped in the princely states, but it was not made an illegal act for a long time.  Even today,  occurrences of sati are reported from various districts of Rajasthan.  In the majority of cases, the police have either reached late or remained ineffective.


Infanticide:Female infanticide was found mainly among the Rajputs of Benaras, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and in parts of Punjab and Sind and among some Sikhs.  The institution of female infanticide arose due to 1) the deplorable position of women in Hindu society 2) the dowry system 3) hypergamy, and 4) the sense of honour and pride.  Marriage of a female is considered compulsory.  In 1779, infanticide was declared to be murder by the Bengal Regulation XXI.  In 1804, this was extended to other parts of India.  However, the practice continued in secret till recently, particularly among the Rajputs in Rajasthan.  Dowry was its main cause.

Child Marriage:Child marriage is prevalent even today among the rural people and among the urban illiterate and poor.  The institution of child marriage is also the result of hypergamy, dowry, the notion of virginity and chastity.  It has resulted in the problems of over-population, poverty, unemployment, ill-health, dependence upon parents, etc.  The first legislation was passed in 1860 under Hindu the minimum age for consummation of marriage in the case of girls was raised to ten.  In 1891, the age of consent for girls was raised to twelve and in 1925 to thirteen for married girls and fourteen for unmarried ones.

In 1929, the Child Marriage Restraint Act (Sharda Bill) was passed.  Under this act, the minimum age of marriage for girl was fixed at fourteen and for a boy at eighteen.  This act came into being in 1930.  According to the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, the minimum age for a bride of fifteen, and for a bridegroom eighteen.  The legislations have not proved effective in this case.  Education, economic pressures, and migration to towns and cities, from rural areas have certainly contributed to the raising of the age at marriage of both the sexes.

Slavery : Slavery was of two types: 1) domestic and 2) predial (agricultural).  There were also the institutions of the nautch (dance) girls and prostitutes.  The latter was found particularly in the princely states.  Predial slavery was found in Bengal, Madras, Assam, Coorg and southern Bombay Presidency (presently in Karnataka and Maharashtra respectively).  The slaves of this category were insolvent debtors.  Some of them were migrants from Raputana.

Even slaves were sold out.  There was also the practice of entering a contract by a person to work for a specific period of time either to pay the debt or to have a fresh one.  Domestic slavery was confined to females.  The foreigners also indulged in the purchase of children in a clandestine manner and exported them overseas.  Proclamations were made in Bengal, Madras, Bombay, etc. to prevent the institution of slavery.  Today, the institution exists in the form of bonded labour.  It is known by different names in different states.  The policy of apparent and selective non-interference in social matters encouraged the institution of slavery and other institutions which supported this evil.

Widow’s Remarriage and women’s Rights: With the efforts of Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act was passed in 1856.  In 1861, a Widow Marriage Association was formed.  The Arya-samaj gave top priority to this programme.  The following legislations have enhanced the status of Hindu women in matters of marriage, adoption and inheritance: 1) the Hindu Law  of Inheritance (Amendment Act) of 1929, 2) the Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act of 1937, 3) the Hindu Marriage Disability Removal Act of 1946, 4) the Special Marriage Act of 1954 5) the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, 6) the Hindu Succession Act and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956 7) the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, 8) the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, 9) the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 and 10) the Criminal Law Amendment, 1983.

Quest for Equality

Woman’s quest for equality with man has become universal.  It has given birth to women’s movements and feministic activities and associations.  All over the world, feminism has its origin in social structure.  Several constraints, such as inequalities between men and women and discrimination against women, have been age-old issues.  For a long time women remained within the four walls of their households. Their dependence on menfolk was total.  Educated women in particular and the poor ones in general realized the need for taking up employment outside the household.,  in recent years, the middle class women have taken up the issue of price-rise and have –launched anti-price-rise movements in various cities of India.  Within the household, women have demanded equality with men.  What exists for men is demanded for women.  This demand for equality with men, speaks of a notion of men’s tyrannical hegemony.

Women have hardly any choice but to adopt an independent path for their upliftment. They want to have equality within the framework of the existing highly rigid patriarchal society further; women want to have for themselves the same strategies of change which menfolk have had over the centuries.  Today women’s organizations have taken up the issues of price-rise, dowry, rape, exploitation, etc. to seek equal status with men and a dignified life.  Women have demanded their share of jobs in the police and other such services.  Women’s organizations have created a sense of consciousness for gender equality, particularly in the urban areas.

Consequent upon these urgent social problems connected with women, International Women’s Day, International Women’s Year,’ Conferences and Seminars on women, and way since the late 1960s and 1970s.  the provisions made in the Constitution of India regarding equality of women with men have also been Widely popularized  by these organizations and associations.  A notable development was the appointment in 1971 by the Government of India of the Committee on the Status of Women.  The committee submitted its report in 1974.  The report of the Committee was very widely welcomed.  There is also an All-India Association of Women’s Studies.  Demonstrations, processions and strikes against rape, dowry deaths and the murder of women have become a regular feature in Delhi, Bombay and other cities.


The tribes of India are in integral part of Indian civilization and they have maintained a rich culture of their own.  They mainly belong to Negrito and Mongoloid races.  The Constitution of India has recognized some 250 tribes as Scheduled Tribe.  These constitute around 7.8% of the total Indian population.  About 80% of tribal population is concentrated in the central India comprising Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.

Important Tribes of India

Tribes   Places Where Found
  Abhors : Assam and Arunachal Pradesh  
  Adivasis : Aborigines of Central India  
  Agami : Nagaland, Manipur, Assam,  
  Aptanis : Arunachal Pradesh  
  Badagas : Nilgiri Hills (TN)  
  Baiga : Madhya Pradesh  
  Bhils : Central India and Rajasthan  
  Bhot : Himachal Pradesh  
  Bhutias : Garhwal and Kumaon regions of UP  
  Chakma : Tripura  
  Chenchus : Andhra Pradesh, Orissa  
  Gaddi : Himachal Pradesh, Jammu  
  Garos : Hill tribes of Meghalaya  
  Gonds : Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh  
  Gaylong : Himachal Pradesh  
  Gujjars : Himachal Pradesh  
  Jarawas : Little Andamans  
  Khas : Jaunsar – Bhabhar area of UP  
  Khasis : Meghalaya  
  Khasira : Assam, Meghalaya  
  Khond : Orissa  
  Kol : Madhya Pradesh  
  Kotas : Nilgiri (TN)  
  Kolam : Andhra Pradesh  
  Kuki : Manipur  
  Lepchas : Sikkim  
  Lushai : Mizoram  
  Murias : Madhya Pradesh (Bastar)  
  Mikirs : Assam  
  Moplahs : Kerala  
  Manoya : Arunachal Pradesh  
  Santhals : Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa  
  Sentinelese : Andaman and Nicobar  
  Shompens : Andaman and Nicobar  
  Semas : Nagaland, Manipur and Assam  
  Todas : Nilgiri (TN)  
  Tagkul : Nagaland, Manipur and Assam  
  Uralis : Kerala  
  Warli : Maharashtra  



States and Tribes Found

Madhya Pradesh : Baiga, Bhil Meena, Munda, Nat, Kol, Bhils, Banjara, Lambadi, Gonds, Bhuiyas, Kharia, Savaras, Asurs & Agariyas, Bhumia, Muria, Maria, Abujhmaria, Korwan, Kolam and Jhajwaar.

Bihar : male & Mal Paharias, Munda, Ho, Birhor, Korwar, Asur, Bhuiyan, Kol, Kharia, Oraon, Banjara, Santhal, Lohra, Baiga, Gond.

Orissa : Santhal, Kol, Khonds, Juangs, Ho, Oraon, Bondo Poroja

West Bengal : Lodha, Bhumij, Santhalas, Koch, mech, rajbangshi

Assam : Kacharis, Rabhas, Kasi, Jaintia, Mikirs, Garo And Bhoi

Nagaland: Aos, Semas, Angamis, Chang, Lothas, Zeliang, Konyaks and Phom.

Manipur : Kulki Tribes such as Paite, Hmar, Simte, and Thadou, Tankhul and Rongmei.

Arunachal Pradesh : Apa Tani, Dafia, Miri, Minyong, Mishmi, Abhors, Mompas, Wancho, Tangad and Necto

Mizoram : Imizo, Lakher, Pawi and Lushais

Meghalaya : Garo, Jaintias and Khasis

Tripura : Itripuri, Lushai and Riang.

Uttar Pradesh: Tharus, Raji, Bumsa, Kos, Khas, Mana or Niti, Bhotiyas.

Himachal Pradesh : Lahauli, Gaddi, Kinnauri, Gaddi

Rajasthan : Meena, Damor, Patwa, Sansi, Garasiya, Bhils

Andaman & Nicobar Islands: Jarwa, North Sentinelese, Onge, Andaman & Nicobari.