Discuss with examples the three major approaches to understand Indian society.


Sociology, which in India is closely associated with social anthropology, is a relatively loosely-defined area of study in this country as in other parts of the globe. Different scholars adopt different approaches to it and have even different conception of its scope. But, most of them appreciate the need for studying the socio-cultural antecedents of its birth and growth. They agree that sociology in India bears the imprint of Western sociology. They differ in their evaluation of this impact of Western sociology.

Three Major Approaches to understand Indian Society

By the end of the eighteenth century three types of western interpretation of Indian reality became evident: 1) the orientalist, 2) the missionary, and 3) the administrative (Cohn 1968; Singh. 1979). The orientalists were enchanted by the Indian spiritual tradition mythology, philosophy, etc. Their reliance on textual view led to a picture of Indian society as being static, timeless and space less. The missionaries, who were zealots of the Christian religious traditions, looked at it as a socio-cultural and ethnic system which needed total religious traditions, looked at it as a socio-cultural and ethnic system which needed total religious conversion. Both the groups agreed that Hinduism, as practiced within the realm of their observation, was filled with superstitionand abuses. Though, the orientalists considered the situation of their contemporary Indians as a fall from a golden age. The missionaries, of course, added a lot to the empirical study of the Indian society which was strengthened by the administrators. The interpretation of Indian reality by the administrators, trained in British universities and indoctrinated by utilitarian rationalism, was more pragmatic and more matterof- fact. Their purpose was to understand it in order to exploit its resources.

The administrators sought to develop categories that would help them in ordering their ideas and actions relating to the life of the natives of India avoiding the enormous complexities characterising it. For example, B. H. Baden-Powells 3 volumes of The Land Systems of British India (1892) were not just a compilation of data but contained a series of arguments about the nature of Indian village and its resources in relation to the state and its demand over these resources. Baden-Powell recognized that there were in general two claims on the produce of the soil, the states and the landholders.

He postulated that the government derived its revenue by taking a share of the actual grain heap on the threshing floor of each holding. In order to ensure the collection of this share a wide range of intermediaries between the state and the grain heap developed. They asserted in their turn varying degrees of control or ownership/possession right over land and its produce. In addition, rights over the land were established by conquest.

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