Essay on Social Change in India for students!
The study of social change in modern India is a vast enterprise, which requires that the same problem areas are explored not only from multi-disciplinary but also from multi-ideological perspectives. This entails fruitful communication and exchange between scholars following not only different disciplines but different, and sometimes conflicting, ideological approaches.
It must be explicitly recognised that no single approach has answers to all the important questions nor has it the monopoly of all the useful insights. There is no master-key to all the secrets of the social reality and the belief that there exists such a master-key is the product of ignorance, intellectual inertia, or vested interests.
One should also make allowance for diversity of perspectives even within one or the other seemingly homogeneous intellectual approach. For instance, there should be scope for diversity of interpretations of social reality even within the framework of the common approach, which is labelled Marxist.
Countries of the Third World should avoid in this respect reproducing some of the negative features of the intellectual history of the Western and the Communist worlds. The lack of intellectual appreciation of conflicting approaches and ideologies has been an important feature of the Western world especially during the cold war phase, and of the Communist world during the Stalinist era.
It took sometimes the form of a total conspiracy of silence against dissident ideologies and approaches, and sometimes even of their suppression, through non-intellectual means or naked coercion. Old habits of thought die hard and social science can be free from them only by tolerance of dissent and vigorous battle of ideas.
The practice of either open or veiled coercion in the realm of ideas should be rejected because there can be no science without free scope for divergent, even opposite, points of view. There could be no Marx without a Hegel and there could be no Weber without a Marx.
The creation of a cultural environment in which diverse schools of thought can contend with each other may contribute to scientific development in another way. An individual scientist or a group of scientists may begin their study of a problem with a bias for a definite ideological standpoint. But the very process of research, if it is pursued freely, has its own inherent logic.
Scientific enquiry, much to the astonishment of that individual or that group, may ultimately force a modification or a rejection of that approach rather than provide its confirmation. Reality after all is much bigger than any school or system of thought.
The Third World in this way provides a testing ground for many established approaches and theories. In course of time it may also throw up common approaches and perspectives on fundamental questions relating to study of society and social change 10 the contemporary period.
It should be noted that the developmental experience of countries of the Third World has already been serving as a dissolvent of many ideological cleavages and many established conceptions of the Western world about them (i.e. Third World countries). However, this developmental experience has not received adequate attention from social scientists.
It has not yet become the basis for re-evaluating, or empirically verifying, the dominant approaches, theories and hypotheses about developing countries. Many of these intellectual frameworks originated during the colonial period but they have continued to influence social science research even after overt political colonialism ended.
Old intellectual orientations have thus become more sacred than the facts of life and there is no serious attempt to readjust the former to the latter. In fact, there is an attempt to ignore the latter in order to escape an agonising reappraisal of the former.
The severest indictment of many studies of social change based on these intellectual orientations is that they do not show any awareness of the intrusion of colonialist or conservative ideology into their studies. These social scientists, therefore, are not adequately scientific in their method and approach.
It must be recognized that the analysis of society by a social scientist cannot be expected to be wholly free from biases derived from the social milieu. A social scientist is free from value biases not in the sense of having or not having biases but only in the sense of being ignorant or aware, being less or more aware, of his value orientations.
Objectivity in scientific analysis, therefore, is related to the degree of awareness of the existence of value orientations and of their nature. Further, in order to ensure that objectivity is not seriously hampered by value biases, it is necessary to proceed at two levels.
Firstly, scientific enquiry must also be focused on the question of values, especially on the questions of the social basis of divergent and conflicting valuations. Secondly, a social scientist must consciously expose himself to various facets of reality. Further, he should not merely look for facts, which support his standpoint or hypotheses. It should also be his scientific duty to look for facts, which do not support or corroborate his hypotheses.
It is our firm conviction that a serious intellectual effort at both these levels—at the level of sociological enquiry into values and at that of painstaking investigation into realities of developing countries since their emergence as independent countries—will contribute greater depth and authenticity to the scientific analysis of social change.
It may also reduce the ideological hiatus between social scientists. As a result of this process students of social development may in coming years distinguish more between the scientific and the non-scientific rather than between the radical or non-radical, liberal or non- liberal approaches.
By explicitly recognising the influence of ideology on scientific study and by exposing the social roots of various ideological approaches, social science may rise above ideologies and present a synthesis of vital elements of different and conflicting ideologies. In this way the light- bearing mission of social science is bound to be fulfilled to a much greater extent than before.
And by performing better its light-bearing function, social science may emerge as a unifying rather than a divisive force. It may play a much greater role in promoting a cognitive revolution in the case of countries of the Third World than it did in the case of the Western world where the social sciences originated.
Why the study of social change raises the value problem much more sharply and why ideology colours scientific analysis much more in this sphere than in other spheres is also a point, which deserves to be explored. It should be explored as part of the general question why in the contemporary setting the value problem has re-emerged as a crucial issue is all spheres of scientific analyses pertaining to economics, politics, sociology, culture etc.
The value problem in the social sciences is again inseparable from the value crisis affecting countries like India. The roots of this crisis lie deep in the historical background of externally imposed rather than autonomously induced social change or modernisation. The contrast between countries such as Japan and India is relevant in this context.
In Japan social change was the consequence of voluntary and critical borrowing from the Western world. In the case of India social change was not a consequence of the natural cultural contact between the East and West. Here the Western impact came mainly via colonialism.
By depriving the Indian people of their autonomy, colonialism converted modernisation for them into a process controlled by outside forces rather than by forces within Indian society. In fact, by converting the traditional ruling class into the social base for colonial exploitation, colonialism created a deep inner schism within Indian society.
The native ruling groups were alienated from the people and they ceased to be a force responsible to their own society. The value problem, therefore, could not be resolved within the colonial context. In order to resolve it, it was necessary first to put an end to colonialism. Thus, even though colonialism did not create the value problem, it was responsible for accentuating it.
It should be remembered that all late-comers to the process of modernisation are faced with the value problem, or the problem of defining the content of modernisation and of selecting the paths to modernisation. There is thus no escape from the value problem for developing countries.
The main point is whether this problem is continuously resolved by these countries as politically sovereign societies or that ‘choices’ are imposed on them by more powerful countries which have deprived the former of their political sovereignty. In the case of such dependent countries the modernisation process gets perverted because it is deliberately adapted to the needs of the dominant countries. It ceases to be genuine modernization. It is only artificial modernization. Such a society becomes neither genuinely traditional nor genuinely modern.
The end of colonial rule closed the chapter of externally- imposed modernisation; it opened the prospect of moderniation as a conscious and creative process for many countries including India. The value problem, however, has not been fully clarified largely because some of the basic assumptions of the colonial era have continued in disguised if not naked forms in order to clarify the value problem, it is necessary to identify these old assumptions which obstruct a creative approach to this problem.
It must be recognised that colonialism generated two major tendencies on the value plane both of which emanated as defence mechanisms to the colonial impact; the traditionalist ideology which sought an escape in glorification of traditional society and the ‘modernist’ ideology which sought an easy escape in wholesale Westernisation.
Social scientists studying social change have seldom undertaken any systematic analysis of these ideologies and their social background. As a result, scientific analysis itself has often tended to be coloured by partisanship of this or that ideological orientation.
According to the ‘modernist’ view, the West is the model to be emulated by the late-comers to the historic transition towards an industrial society. Thus, the capacity for change or progress has generally come to be equated with the capacity for re-producing the Western type of social institutions and values, which are interpreted as an ideal framework of a modern society. Even colonialism from this standpoint is presented as a modernising agent in societies like India, which had failed to advance autonomously towards modernity.
In a nutshell, the implication of most of the ‘modernist’ approaches is that for the developing world the meaning as well as the path of modernisation has been pre-determined as it were by the examples of the Western (or the Communist world). When Karl Marx observed that the country that is more developed industrially shows to the less developed the image of its future, he was recording a fact which appeard valid for his times.
But later the non-Western patterns of modernisation in Japan and Russia exploded the myth of the Western pattern as the ideal pattern for late-comers to the modernisation process. The example of these two countries clearly demonstrated that in the case of late-comers ‘capacity for change’ should not be equated with the capacity for reproducing the Western pattern; it should in fact be equated with the capacity for innovation of new patterns or paths by the developing countries.
But the right lessons have not been drawn even from the Japanese and Soviet cases. If for some modernisation meant following the Western path, for some others it became equated with the Japanese or the Soviet paths of economic development.
Studies of social change have suffered very much from such ethnocentric bias and the absence of a truly scientific approach. This is not a mere academic lapse but a great practical handicap for the planners of social change.
Such modes of thought have led people both in the realms of thought and action to exaggerate the liabilities rather than the assets, the resistances to change rather than the potentialities for change, in the developing countries. Prejudice has also assumed the form of overlooking or even dismissing new experiments in change as, for instance, the Chinese experiment.
Here is a typical case of value orientations hampering perception and anticipation of new possibilities and perspectives of social change in the non-Western world. Since economic development constitutes an important aspect of social change in backward countries this bias is most marked in the failure to take note of new features contributed to the industrialisation process by the developing countries.
Alexander Gerschenkron, one of the very few social analysts who have contributed valuable insights into these new features, makes this very clear in the following passage- “What makes it so difficult for an advanced country to appraise properly the industrialisation process of its less fortunate brethren is the fact that in every instance of industrialisation, imitation of the evolution in advanced countries appears in combination with different indigenously determined elements. If it is not always easy for the advanced countries to accept the former, it is even more difficult for them to acquiesce in the latter. This is particularly true of the institutional instruments used in carrying out industrial developments and even more so of ideologies which accompany it. What can be derived from a historical review is a strong sense for the significance of the native elements in the industrialisation of backward countries”.
It is this ‘strong sense for the significance of the native elements’ which is lacking in the existing approaches to the analysis of social change in developing countries. This is particularly so in the absence of painstaking investigation into their development experience during the last quarter of a century.
The literature on under-development pertaining to India and other countries often tends to suggest as if no economic breakthrough is possible in these countries without a change in their social structures in the direction of Westernisation.
In the very recent period Subhayu Das Gupta has again raised the pertinent question whether the Hindu ethos can meet the challenge of change in India. He seems, however, to be convinced that the emergence of the Western spirit of individualism is a necessity if India is to successfully cope with this challenge.
Even though dealing with the vital question of traditional ethos and challenge of change, Das Gupta does not take pains even to mention Japan, the most, dramatic case of change without social and cultural Westernisation. Japan’s case casts doubt on the facile association between individualism and modern economic development as typified by the Western model.
Some observers might regard this spiritual legacy of Old Japan as a gloomy spectra which haunts and inhibits its present. But here again, the anomalous, the accidental and the outmoded has been turned to good purpose a weakness, if you like to call it that has been transformed into an advantage.
Much of the stress and shock of industrial life, its ugly clashes of jostling interests, have been cushioned by the old habits of thought. Individualism has its virtues and awards, but not in a peasant family whose tenuous bonds can often be maintained only on the pittance remitted by a daughter working in some textile mill.
Or again, the old feudal sense of clannishness has been modified to embrace the whole nation so that it has served at moments of great national crisis to forge a spirit of national unity which all the tawdry theatre of a Mussolini or a Hitler cannot so effectively cope. Writing over twenty years ago Veblen commented pithily upon this interval between the borrowing of Western industrialisation and its full psychological acclimatisation and termed it Japan’s opportunity.
Having raised the question of the Japanese pattern, it is also pertinent to ask what are the lessons of this pattern for the Third World today?. There is no doubt that the resilience and preadaptation of Japan’s traditional social structure in the context of her transition to a modern economy shows that the social requirements of modern industrialisation have not been identical for all countries and for all historical periods.
But is it proper to conclude from the Japanese experience that in every backward country the traditional institutions and values are capable of readjustment to the requirements of economic development?
It must be noted that the traditional ideology, which is not averse to economic development but would insist on achieving it with minimum interference with the traditional institutions and values seeks to derive support from the Japanese case in many developing countries.
How far the social structure of ex-colonial countries like India allows for a repetition or reproduction of the Japanese path of modernisation? How far is the repetition of this model consistent with the social and political forces, which have been released during more than a century following Japan’s emergence as a modern nation? These are the pertinent questions raised but not resolved by the traditionalist ideology. These questions, however, have not yet been systematically pursued. Some advocates of the ‘modernist ideology’ have, however, doubted whether ‘traditional society’ has the potentiality to promote modern economic, social and political development.
But the weaknesses of the modernist critique of traditionalist approach to Indian development are threefold. This critique tends to regard the traditional society as more survival-and-security-oriented than growth-oriented though this contention is not based on scientific data-based analysis.
The fact that India’s traditional social structure is markedly different from the type of structure which is associated with economic and social progress in the Western world is regarded as enough evidence for the contention.
This approach had considerable fascination for the modernist elite in the past but it is possible now to reevaluate. It in the light of the recent experiences of transplanting Western institutions in non-Asian environment. It may be noted that far from being the vehicles of growth oriented value systems these institutions under different conditions turned into the opposite viz. into vehicles of survival and security-mindedness.
It is necessary to have a much deeper analysis of the Indian social structure and the factors influencing it than what has been provided either by the traditionalist or the modernist ideology in the past. In this background the third basic weakness of the modernist approach is its failure to analysis the nature of the colonial impact on the Indian social structure and to distinguish between the qualitatively different character of traditionalism of the Indian society before and after the colonial impact.
There has been a tendency to characterise the Indian social structure as ‘conservative’ or hierarchical without analysing the role of colonialism in shaping this conservative or hierarchical character of Indian society. In fact, the roots of this conservatism are traced by some scholars entirely too Indian tradition and values without any reference to the colonial impact and the response of the Indian people to it.
Any exploration into the colonial impact would reveal that deepening conservatism of the Indian society was a natural reaction to the traumatic shock of the colonial impact and to widespread insecurity and uncertainty associated with it. It must be remembered that the major social problem facing India then was not that of growth and progress.
It was that of survival and security under the tyranny, oppression and uncertainty created by colonialism. Considered from the real needs of the Indian society during this crisis period, the ‘conservative’ social structure did fulfil a positive function: it served as a massive shock-absorber.
In order to reorient a society from a psychology of survival to a psychology of change and development, it is necessary to alter the conditions of insecurity and uncertainty. For, if these conditions remained unaltered, the authority of the old institutions and values will remain undiminished.
In the following passage Louis Dumont draws attention to the fact that: “The desire for security and the old loyalties carry the day against whims for independence. One could find no better demonstration to date how powerless are modern education and social and political transformation to overthrow the traditional system.”
Dumont is, however, not very illuminating when he interprets this phenomena in terms of the unchanging nature of the traditional (caste) system without going deeper into the pressures and compulsions of the total social situation, specially the material circumstances of a given period.
The failure to analyses Indian social institutions and values with reference to the economic, political and cultural history of different periods is a source of distorted conceptions of Indian society in the case not only of Dumont but of several other scholars as well.
At the root of many of these misconceptions is again the value bias—a compulsive orientation to consider India and other backward Asian countries as inherently hierarchical or traditional and, therefore, stubbornly resistant to change.
Here then are a few examples of how explaining social change is linked with the value problem and how a scientific approach to values is necessary in order to provide a meaningful understanding of social processes relating both to the past and present. It is also necessary that a scientific treatment of values may ultimately force a rejection of many well- established interpretations of social change.
It is further necessary to indicate that an assessment of present trends and future potentialities may be facilitated as greater clarity is achieved about the relation of values to analyses of social change on the basis of re-evaluation of past history.
If it is conceded that modernisation is a creative rather than a fixed concept and that it follows no pre-determined paths, then one should also concede the prospect of new patterns of modernisation in countries of the Third World and the possibility of ‘non-Western countries bypassing Western stages to new forms of development’.
If these possibilities are conceded, then social scientists must continuously look for new features in the development process of developing countries. They must also evolve new categories and concepts so as to comprehend these new features. They must attempt radical departures in the spheres of social thought and theory.
In fact, instead of trailing behind events in the under-developed world, they must evolve new theoretical orientations, which may help in going beyond post-mortem analysis and towards anticipating and predicting change.
W.F. Wertheim has aptly indicated the consequences flowing from the attempt to understand the changing realities of the Third World with out-of-date conceptual frameworks: “The interesting thing is, however, that to a certain extent in Asia the so-called fundamentalists are the real innovators. This is equally true of Mao Tse-Tung, the Leninist fundamentalist. In opposing some aspects of Western ‘modernity’ or Soviet ‘modernity’ for that matter they are really searching for new paths of progress. In this process of trying to find novel solutions they may even succeed by bypassing quite a few institutional patterns, which we ‘Westernisers’ or ‘European Marxists’ consider essential in modernising a society. If we are not aware of this… we might soon be outdone by their greater inventiveness; and our type of modernism might be turned by this lack of adaptation and empathy into a new kind of traditionalism.”
It should be stressed once again that many features of Western development including capitalism represented a penalty, which the West had to pay for being first in the race for modernisation. Must the countries of the Third World necessarily have to reproduce these features in order to evolve a modern identity?
Must they necessarily pass through the capitalist ordeal in order to outgrow their economic backwardness? Why should modernisation be conceived as a new kind of tyranny involving compulsory movement towards predetermined paths and conformity to rigid moulds of thought and practice, leaving no choices and no alternatives?
Why should modernisation involve transition from the old to the new cage? To raise these questions is to plead for a fundamental reappraisal of the normative assumptions in studies of society and social change. Why is it that these value questions are not sharply posed and their implications for choices of the paths of social change are not seriously explored? Why is modernisation presented as a fait accompli rather than a creative challenge involving choices and innovations?
Before making some observations on the inter-relations of the value question and the class structure, it is also necessary to comment briefly on the traditionalist approach to the question of values in countries like India. Indeed, any discussion of the value question is wholly inadequate or incomplete without reference to the traditionalist standpoint.
If the basic deficiency of many anti-traditionalist approaches is an uncritical and unhistorical denigration of native social structures, the traditionalist view has been guilty of the opposite tendency, viz. an idealisation of the past as the Golden Age and of Tradition as an ideal and immutable scheme of things valid for all times.
The traditionalist standpoint is basically a defensive standpoint; it is not creative and forward-looking. Both the traditionalist and the anti- traditionalist orientations reflect a failure to understand the nature of the challenge facing ex-colonial societies after their liberation from colonial rule.
If the former is based on the premise of Indian exceptionalism, the latter derives its alleged validity from the idea of universalism and superiority of institutions and values of the developed countries. Therefore, if the former seeks a return to the past the latter tends to interpret development as a transfer of institutions and ideologies from the advanced to the backward countries. Both are simplistic and erroneous approaches.
The view that the traditional society needs no fundamental change to meet the demands of changing times is as fallacious as the opposite view that these demands can be met only if traditional society is replaced by a society of the Western (or Soviet) type. It is not accidental, therefore, that the more strongly these anti-traditionalist views get identified with the idealisation or the universalisation of the Western (or Soviet) type of society, the more aggressive is also the articulation of a traditionalist ideology upholding the superiority of native culture and its validity for all times.
The intellectual inadequacy of these approaches is that both represent a flight from reality and from real challenges. The traditionalists in particular fail to see that the basis of the pure traditional society which they cherish has been undermined by the colonial impact; and that the attempt either to look for a traditional society where it does not exist or to revive it leads one into a blind alley.
Traditionalism, despite its outward appearance of aggressiveness, reflects basically a timid approach to the value problem. It evades the painful task of sorting out the basic issues connected with value choices in response to the changing demands of life in the modern world.
It should be noted that the native vested interests when threatened by the forces of change construct the myth of reviving tradition and the Golden Age. And in this venture they try to capitalise on the deep-seated fear of change expressed by the most numerous and the most characteristic social stratum of the old society viz. the peasantry. Traditionalism thus solves neither the moral nor the practical problems facing the peasants in the context of change.
But it should not be overlooked that, having lost the old world without gaining a new one, peasantry stands in a Trishanku like position, suspended in a void; it is thrown in a state of melancholy and hopelessness. And traditionalism with its false promise of stability may have enormous fascination, howsoever temporary, for peasants exposed to the stresses and strains of involuntary modernisation.
The throw-back from the process of Westernisation into diverse forms of traditionalism in many developing countries only confirms our point how Westernisation (or pseudo- Westernisation) and traditionalism re-inforced each other. The challenge of traditionalism cannot be met through borrowed modernity i.e. pseudo-Westernisation.
It can only be met by grappling with the challenge of change on the plane of all-round innovation and creativity, with due regard especially to peasant interests. And this takes us to the role of the class structures of developing countries in thwarting the process of renewal in the realm of values.
The roots of unresolved value dilemmas in developing countries lie deep in their class structures. It should be remembered that these structures emerged not as a result of organic growth but as a consequence of forcible imposition from above, during the colonial period. They have continued though in a modified form even after the achievement of independence.
These class structures have been responsible for a deep schism between the upper and the lower classes. This schism has its ramifications in all spheres—the economic, the political, the social and the cultural. Since the days of colonialism the upper classes in countries like India have formed deep ties and allegiances with the upper classes of the western countries.
Even when drawn into conflict with the dominant interests in the Western world in the course of the nationalist struggle, they have nursed the ambition of recreating a modified version of the Western society in their own countries. The dominant elites in countries like India have, therefore, seldom put into the forefront the question of a total ‘cultural revolution’. The value problem has in this way never been posed as the central problem of Indian renaissance by any school of thought, whether it be liberal, Marxist or Indian- traditionalist.
The elitist dream of creating a modified version of the Western society has, however, resulted only in producing grotesque caricatures in many developing countries. The experience of the last quarter century has shown that in these countries the bourgeois emerges as a lumpen bourgeois, the petty-bourgeois as a lumpen petty-bourgeois and the proletariat as a lumpen proletariat.
Transplanted social structures thus turn into the very negation of what they represented in their original milieu. Far from being the carriers of productive values and orientations, these classes turn into bulwarks of social parasitism. Even socialism in this social setting degenerates into vulgar socialism; it turns either into a naked pursuit of power, or a negative, even violent, reaction to deprivation.
A sharp break is therefore necessary from the colonial and neo-colonial tradition of identifying development with mechanical transplantation of institutions and cultures from the Western to non-Western setting. Abandoning the habit of continuously looking outwards, it is necessary now to look inwards and to move towards innovation of patterns and paths suited to one’s own total milieu.
The basic weakness of this mechanical transplantation is that it does not release the creativity of the most important social force in the developing countries viz. the peasantry. In fact, it causes the uprooting of peasants from old ways without integrating them into a new social framework. The peasants in all past models of development have been the object rather than the subject of social change.
Peasant interests have generally been sacrificed at the altar of the modernisation process. To repeat these patterns in agrarian countries like India is to invite disaster for millions; it also amounts to reducing modernisation into a destructive rather than a regenerative force for the peasantry, which still constitutes the backbone of ancient countries such as India.