India is a country with diverse cultures. Customs and traditions vary from region to region. Yet, of course, some commonality does exist in the social structure, which is a unifying force. Let us try to understand the various social formations that provide the unifying force as well as distinct characteristics to the Indian society.
Varna and Jati
The social structure is based on the varna and jati systems. Varna system categories society into four sections based on personality characteristics and activies:
There is also a category of people that are outside of this catgorization - the Sanyasi-s or ascetics.
Traditionally, Brahmins are priests and other scholarly people who are responsible for protecting and expanding knowledge. Kshatriyas are politicians and the armed forces--responsible for protecting the nation from threats within and without. Vaishyas are the business men whose primary responsibility is to generate wealth. Sudras form the majority of the population and are the workers.
The Sanyasi-s live outside of society and are focused on pursueing knowledge and enlightenment. In the process, they often act as researchers, counselors and teachers supporting and in-turn being supported by society. While they may generate a great deal of wealth through donations - they typically give it back to society keeping only as much as required to sustain themselves.
The Jati system is a social structure of vocational groups that combines vocation, culture, language, food, dress, etc. These groups form a support structure for their members in a way that is not possible in modern society. They allow a way to highlight accomplishments and to be the "best" that is possible while removing the requirement to continue to switch vocations in order to reach the "upper" segments of the broader society.
Families no longer live as joint family with parents. Historically, women have played a significant role in the social and political structure of India. In the ancient times, women enjoyed much freedom, but with advent of the Muslims the purdah system came into vogue in the northern part of India. In many regions, women remain very submissive, although with the improved education levels, women have become more assertive. In the Indian society, a man is considered to be the bread-earner and shoulders the responsibility of the family. He is very dominating by nature and prefers to rule over his women.
India is mostly a patriarchal set-up, with the father having control over the family unit. The man controls the reins of the family unit. He is the head of the family. The eldest male member has much say in the matters of the family.
In Kerala, in the south of India, the woman of the house is the dominant force. She decides the issues of the family. Marriage – This is an important social obligation which most Indians adhere to. It is given much importance by society. Marriages are generally arranged, but now many are choosing their own partners in urban areas. Children born outside marriage are looked down upon. Marriages are conducted with elaborate rituals and much money is spent on this occasion.
This is an occasion for rejoicing. Ceremonies and rituals are held to celebrate the occasion. The birth of male child is looked up to. In some areas, the birth of a girl is looked down upon.
This is also an important occasion in the family system. Death is considered to be inevitable. Ceremonies are held on this occasion and even after the death of a person, yearly rituals are held in remembrance of them.
Thus, Indian society is very complex, but yet remains intact as people follow certain guidelines laid down by the society. They prefer not to deviate from it.