top of page

Sociology | Class 12 | Cultural Change


We will see how crucial those structural adjustments are in understanding the cultural transitions this chapter is trying to analyse. This chapter examines two connected developments that were both intricate byproducts of colonial influence.

The first discusses the deliberate and intentional efforts made by nationalists in the early 20th century and social reformers in the 19th century to change social practises that discriminated against women and "lower" castes.

The second involves less conscious but nonetheless significant modifications to cultural norms that can be broadly categorised as the four processes of sanskritization, modernization, secularisation, and westernisation. Sanskritization began before colonial rule began.

Sociologists define "culture" as "socially established norms or patterns of behaviour" and "social structure" as a "continuing arrangement of persons in relationships defined or controlled by institutions."

Social reform movements in the 19th & early 20th century

The challenges that colonial Indian society faced led to the social reform movements that appeared in India in the 19th century.

It's not like efforts to combat social discrimination in pre-colonial India did not exist. They played a crucial role in the Bhakti, Sufi, and Buddhism movements. The contemporary setting and eclectic mix of ideas distinguished these 19th century attempts at social reform. It was a clever fusion of contemporary western liberalism and a fresh perspective on classic literature.

Sociologist Satish Saberwal explains the contemporary setting by outlining three components of colonial India's contemporary framework for change:

Different forms of communication were accelerated by new technologies. New ideas were spread quickly thanks to the printing press, telegraph, and later the microphone, as well as the transportation of people and goods via steamship and railways. Social reformers from Punjab and Bengal exchanged ideas with those from Madras and Maharashtra within the country of India. In 1864, Bengali Keshav Chandra Sen paid a visit to Madras. Pandita Ramabai visited numerous locations across the nation.

There were established contemporary social organisations like the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal and the Arya Samaj in Punjab. Anjuman-E-Khawatn-E-Islam, also known as the All-India Muslim Ladies Conference, was established in 1914.

Indian reformers engaged in discussion not only in open forums but also in open media like newspapers and journals. Social reformers' writings have been translated from one Indian language to another.

New concepts of liberalism and freedom, homemaking and marriage, motherhood and daughterhood, and self-conscious pride in tradition and culture all emerged.

Education's value grew significantly. A nation was thought to need to become modern while preserving its ancient heritage.

Women's education was a hotly contested topic. Notably, the first school for women in Pune was founded by social reformer Jotiba Phule. Reformers argued that women must receive an education if society is to advance.

They engaged in lively discussion about what tradition and modernity meant. Thus, while some, like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, emphasised the glory of the Aryan period, Jotiba Phule recalled the glory of the pre-Aryan age. In other words, reform in the 19th century sparked a time of reflection, reinterpretations, and intellectual and social development.

There were some common themes among the various social reform movements. However, there were also notable differences. Some people's worries were restricted to the issues that middle-class and upper-caste women and men faced. Others' main concerns were the injustices experienced by the castes that were subjected to discrimination.

There was a lot of discussion about the resolution that forbade polygamy in the Muslim press. The leading publication for women in the Punjab, Tahsib-eNiswan, came out in support of the resolution, but others were not as enthusiastic.

During this time, community debates were frequent. For instance, the Brahmo Samaj opposed sati. Creating the Dharma Sabha organisation, conservative Hindus in Bengal petitioned the British, claiming that reformers had no right to interpret sacred texts.

Major Cultural Changes In India


M.N. Srinivas is credited with coining the term sanskritization. The process by which a "low" caste, tribe, or other group adopts the traditions, beliefs, ideologies, and way of life of a high caste may be briefly defined.

However, research in various regions reveals that it functioned differently in various regions of the nation. The culture of the entire region underwent some Sanskritization where a caste with a high degree of Sanskritization predominated. It was their influence that was more pronounced in areas where non-Sanskritic castes predominated. This is referred to as the "de-Sanskritization" process.

"A group's position in the local caste hierarchy is typically improved by the Sanskritization of that group. It typically assumes either an improvement in the group's economic or political situation or a higher level of group self-consciousness brought on by contact with a source of Hinduism's "Great Tradition."

Different levels of criticism have been levelled at the idea of Sanskritization:

  1. One criticism is that it overstates social mobility or the ability of "lower castes" to rise in society. Because it only affects some people's positions, it has no structural impact.

  2. Two, it has been made clear that the sanskritization ideology accepts the ways of the "upper caste" as superior and the ways of the "lower caste" as inferior. Therefore, it is considered natural and desirable to emulate members of the "upper caste".

  3. Third, "sanskritization" appears to support a system based on inequality and exclusion. It seems to imply that believing in the impurity and purity of particular groups of people is acceptable or justifiable. Therefore, it is a sign of privilege to be able to look down on some groups, just as the "upper castes" did with the "lower castes."

  4. Fourth, because sanskritization results in the adoption of rites and rituals from upper castes, it encourages behaviours like the seclusion of girls and women, the use of dowries as bride prices, the practise of caste discrimination against other groups, etc.

  5. Fifth, this trend has the effect of eroding the essential elements of dalit culture and society. For instance, the labour performed by "lower castes" is devalued and made to appear "shameful."


Westernization, according to M.N. Srinivas, is the term used to describe changes in Indian society and culture as a result of more than 150 years of British rule. These changes can be found in technology, institutions, ideology, and values. According to Srinivas, while "lower castes" sought to adopt Sanskrit culture, "upper castes" sought to adopt Western culture.

There were different kinds of westernisation:

  1. One type discusses how a minority group of Indians who first encountered Western culture gave rise to a subcultural pattern that was more westernised. This included the intellectual subculture of Indians who not only embraced numerous cognitive patterns, or ways of thinking, and lifestyles, but also supported its growth. They made up a large portion of the reformers in the early 19th century.

  2. In addition to this, there have been changes in people's general habits and styles due to the general spread of Western cultural traits like the use of new technology, clothing, and food. A sizable portion of middle class homes nationwide have a television, a refrigerator, a sofa set of some description, a dining table, and a chair in the living room.

  3. Indian art and literature were influenced by the west in addition to lifestyles and thought processes. Artists like Bankimchandra Chattopadhya, Abanindranath Tagore, Chandu Menon, and Ravi Varma all struggled with the colonial encounter. The box below illustrates the various ways that indigenous and western traditions have influenced the style, technique, and overall theme of an artist like Ravi Varma.

Secularization and Modernization

The term "modernization" started to be associated with wholesome and desirable values in the 19th and 20th centuries. People wanted to live in modern societies. Modernization was initially used to describe advancements in technology and manufacturing methods. However, the term's usage expanded over time.

Our modernization and secularisation histories are very different from how they developed in the west. This was made clear earlier in this chapter when we discussed westernisation and the efforts of 19th-century social movements.

Because of the changes in circumstances, people's attitudes toward the natural and human environments have improved. Religion and nature are not related. In fact, we agree with the environment.

We cannot participate in the global village if we don't uphold all traditions, and we cannot advance and expand if we don't modernise them.

Instead of the outdated concepts (child marriage etc). New concepts have emerged (education of girl child, etc). The focus today is less on following customary practises and more on improving the status of women and dalits.

The two contrasting sides of a coin are modernity and secularism (tradition). They are interrelated. Secularization in the modern west has typically meant a process of declining religious influence.

All modernization theorists have made the assumption that secularisation in modern societies will continue to increase. The degree to which people hold religious beliefs as well as levels of involvement with religious organisations (such as rates of church attendance) have all been cited as indicators of secularisation.

Usually, religion can vanish from a person's life. We anticipate that as society becomes more modern, the value of religion will decline. This is untrue because honour killings and the practise of dowry still exist.

In India, a sizable portion of ritual is directly related to the achievement of secular goals. There has also been a lot of discussion about what some people perceive to be the secularisation of caste.

The caste system in ancient India functioned within a religious framework. Its practise was heavily influenced by belief systems about purity and pollution. These days, they frequently serve as political pressure groups. Caste associations and caste-based political parties have formed in modern India. They try to impose their demands on the government. Caste has been referred to as becoming secularised as a result of this altered role.


bottom of page