Organization of Social Life in India
Organization of Social Life in India
The acceleration of urbanization is profoundly affecting the
transformation of Indian society. Slightly more than one-quarter of the
country’s population is urban. Mumbai (Bombay) is currently the sixth
largest urban area in the world at 18 million, and Kolkata (Calcutta)
ranks fourteenth at 13 million. In recent years, India’s largest cities
have grown at twice the rate of its small towns and villages, with many
of the increases due to rural-urban migration.
The largest cities are densely populated, congested, noisy, polluted,
and deficient in clean water, electricity, sanitation, and decent
housing. Slums abound, often cheek-by-jowl with luxury apartment
buildings, with the roads overrun with pedestrians, cattle, refuse, and
vehicles spewing diesel fumes.
Traditional caste hierarchies are weak in cities, but caste ties remain
important, as scarce jobs are often obtained through caste fellows,
relatives, and friends. Ingenuity and tenacity characterize poor urban
workers supporting themselves through a multitude of tasks as
entrepreneurs, petty traders, and menial laborers.
The ranks of the growing middle class are increasingly evident in
cities, where educational and employment opportunities benefit them.
For them, as for all in the city, linkages are affirmed through
neighborhood solidarity, voluntary associations, and festival
Cities, of course, are the great hubs of commerce, education, science,
politics, and government, upon which the functioning of the nation
depends. India’s movie industry is the world’s largest, centered in
Mumbai and Chennai, and popular television stations are proliferating.
These bring vivid depictions of urban lifestyles to small-town dwellers
and villagers all over the country, affecting the aspirations of
Social revolutions, too, receive the support of urban visionaries, such
as those shaping the growing women’s movement. Largely led by educated
urban women, the movement seeks gender justice on a wide variety of
issues, focusing particularly on the escalating issue of dowry-related
murders of young wives, which number in the thousands annually. The
overwhelming economic needs of poor female workers are being addressed
by organizations such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)
of Ahmedabad, led by Ela Bhatt.
Now numbering over one billion, India’s population grew by more than 18
million—the equivalent of an Australia—every year over the past decade.
In ten years, the most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, expanded more
than 25 percent to some 166 million, equal to 60 percent of the
population of the United States. India supports a population more than
three and a half times the size of the American population in an area
about one-third the size. Family planning is gaining in popularity, so
the rate of population increase is gradually declining, but it is
estimated that by the year 2050, India’s people will number some 1.5
billion, and India will have surpassed China as the world’s most
In India’s vociferous democracy, different groups are increasingly
demanding their share of scarce resources and benefits. While new
agricultural crops and techniques are expanding productivity, forests,
rangeland, and water tables are diminishing. As competition grows,
political, social, ecological, and economic issues are hotly contested.
Justice in matters pertaining to class, gender, and access to desirable
resources remains an elusive goal.
India is but one of many nations facing these crucial problems and is
not alone in seeking solutions. For many centuries, the people of India
have shown strength in creating manageable order from complexity,
bringing together widely disparate groups in structured efforts to
benefit the wider society, encouraging harmony among people with
divergent interests, knowing that close relatives and friends can rely
upon each other, allocating different tasks to those with different
skills, and striving to do what is morally right in the eyes of the
divine and the community. These are some of the great strengths upon
which Indian society can rely as it seeks to meet the challenges of the