Different Forms of Social Stratification in the Indian Society.

Mitike Shrivastava

Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur Chhattisgarh



Human societies have evolved, crystallized and expressed themselves through stratification. India, since times immemorial through the modern times has remained deeply and rather enigmatically, one of the most stratified of societies with the caste system being its most unique invention as also its most enduring tradition. In this paper a small attempt has been made to understand social stratification and its different contours and hues in the Indian context.  We have tried to understand social stratification in India using the conceptual frameworks of two of the greatest social scientists of all times – Karl Marx and Max Weber. Both Marx and Weber have themselves been ardent students of Indian society.Marx’s theory of capitalist development with its focus on uncovering the essentially antagonistic nature of class war between the bourgeoisie who control the modes of production and the proletariat who supply the labour force provides a robust framework to understand the evolution of India’s economic and societal growth. Weber’s three pronged stratification theory brings new insights in comprehending the contradictions of India’s social dynamics.  Both Marx and Weber, in many ways, seem to be relevant even today, in explaining much of the complexities of social stratification. As India engages in its struggle to emerge from the throes of its troubled past with all its caste and class paradoxes and get ready to take its hallowed place amongst the global powers, it has a long way to go in resolving and carrying along its many layers of social realities.

KEY WORDS: Social Stratification, Caste, Class, Gender Stratification, Karl Marx, Weber.



Men have long dreamed of an egalitarian society, a society in which all members are equal.  Yet all societies at all times have been deeply unequal. I find Martin Luther’s quote an apt confession of the truth: “An earthly kingdom cannot exist without inequality of persons. Some must be free, some serfs, some rulers, some subjects”. Social inequalities have always seemed inevitable and pervasive.

It is however important to understand what does social stratification really mean and how social stratification differs from social inequalities.

In sociology and other social sciences, social stratification refers to the hierarchical arrangement of individuals into divisions of power and wealth within a society. Stratification derives from the geological concept of strata - rock layers created by natural processes. The term most commonly relates to the socio-economic concept of class, involving the "classification of persons into groups based on shared socio-economic conditions ... a relational set of inequalities with economic, social, political and ideological dimensions."[1]



According to Ogburn and Nimkoff[2] the process by which individuals and groups are ranked in a more or less enduring hierarchy of status is known as stratification. Melvin Tumin[3] defines social stratification as an arrangement of any social group or society into a hierarchy of positions that are unequal with regard to power, property, social evaluation and psychic gratification. According to Lundberg[4] a stratified society is one marked by inequality by differences among people that are evaluated by them as being lower and higher.


The term social inequalities simply refer to the existence of socially created inequalities.   Stratification is a part of social inequality. It refers to the presence of social groups ranked one above the other, usually in terms of the amount of power, prestige and wealth their members’ possess. Those who belong to a particular group or stratum will have some awareness of common interests and common identity. They will share a similar life style which to some degree will distinguish them from members of other social strata. The Indian caste system provides a classic example of social stratification system.


Sociologists have tried to understand stratification from different perspectives. Two of the world’s greatest ever social scientists – Karl Marx and Max Weber – who are both classified as ones who adopted what is called the Conflict Approach – provide a fascinatingly profound basis for analysing and understanding stratification. 


Karl Marx and His Basic Postulates:

According to Karl Marx in all stratified societies there are two major social groups: a ruling class and a subject class, both having inherently antagonistic interests. Marx determined these as the Bourgeoisie (Owners of capital or means of production) and the Proletariat (workers or providers of labour). Marx believed that the bourgeoisie use a mode of production in the form of capitalism to oppress the proletariat. The owners of production (bourgeoisie) use the workers (proletariat) labour to produce their surplus value. In turn, they pay their workers the smallest amount possible to make the highest possible surplus value or profit, thus exploiting the working class. Therefore, Marx’s theory is that it is a person’s relationship to the means of production that determines his class both inside the workplace and in the wider society. The ruling class derives its power from its ownership and control of the forces of production. It exploits and oppresses the subject class. The various institutions of society such as the legal and political system are instruments of ruling class domination and serve to further its interests.


Marxian Postulates on Social Stratification:

1.   Capitalist controls political power, since they control the means of production.

2.    Capitalists constitute a minority group, who hold the majority of wealth

3.    The dominant ideas of an epoch/period are usually those that originate and or are    perpetuated by the ruling class

4.    All the major institutions in a society reflect the interests of the ruling class. Marx believed that western society developed through four main epochs-primitive communism, ancient society, feudal society and capitalist society. Primitive communism is represented by the societies of pre-history and provides the only example of the classless society. From then all societies are divided into two major classes - master and slaves in ancient society, lords and serfs in feudal society and capitalist and wage labourers in capitalist society.


Marx on Indian Society:

It is interesting to note that Marx wrote extensively about India in a series of newspaper articles, and later in the ‘Grundrisse’ and ‘Capital’.  In these pieces, he assessed the impact of the British presence placing Indian society in its materialist history.  


The simplicity of the organisation for production in these self-sufficing communities ..supplies the key to the secret of the unchangeableness of Asiatic societies. “.[5]


To Marx, the Indian village community was an epitome of changelessness.  Members tilled their own plots, but village land was common property. “The individual has no property but only possession.” [6] The communities were virtually isolated and self-sustaining.   Its members engaged in farming and small-scale industry but primarily for the community’s needs.  The “domestic union of agricultural and manufacturing pursuits.” [7] inhibited the development of the division of labour brought about through exchange.   Instead, there was “an unalterable division of labour” [8] produced by a caste system that fixed an individual’s occupation through heredity, and a community that provided the individual with an unchanging market.  It is this isolated and scattered character of the communities that made them vulnerable to foreign invasion.   Further, as they were dependent on a central authority for large-scale irrigation projects and other public works they increasingly came to be at the mercy of the Oriental despot who “stands over them [the direct producers] as their sovereign and simultaneously as landlord.” [9] Marx saw the Asiatic form of primitive community as the most resistant to change because “the individual does not become independent vis-a`-vis the commune.” [10]. And despots exploit communities as a whole without disturbing their internal solidity.    Marx was thus driven to make the fascinating conclusion that “Indian society has no history at all.” [11]                                          


This analysis of Marx has been seriously disputed and challenged by many latter sociologists like Suniti Ghosh and Chris Harman. However I would not like to go into the details of this critiquing because I believe that on the whole Marx may have erred in the degree of his characterizations but not in the general direction of his conclusions of the Indian society.

Let me move on to the period of British rule because that’s where Marx has spent considerable time and attention in analysing how the British colonial period helped shape the Indian society. “England has to fulfil a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating —the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundation of Western society in Asia.[12]


Marx believed that England was motivated by the “vilest interests” in India, and that colonization served the needs of British capitalism.   Yet, he saw British colonization as a force that would transform India in an unprecedented way. He prognosticated that introduction of modern infrastructure would demolish the foundations of the Indian community, including the caste system and the union of agriculture and manufacturing.   He did not think we should mourn the loss of these communities too greatly, though, because “inoffensive though they may appear…. they restrained the human mind…. depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies.” [13] These historical energies would come from outside Indian society, from the British. The introduction of modern transportation and communication technologies would lay the groundwork for domestic industry: “When you have once introduced locomotion of a country….you are unable to withhold it from its fabrication….the railway system will therefore become, in India, the forerunner of modern industry.” [14] Modern industry would create a new kind of Indian worker, along with an Indian bourgeoisie, “endowed with the requirements of government and imbued with British science.” [15] Marx also viewed the creation of a civil service, a native army, and a free press as unifying and modernizing institutions.  By creating a “social revolution in India”, Britain was thus “the unconscious tool of history.” [16] I am tempted to remark here that Marx was perhaps inadvertently influencing the views of some key decision makers of independent India including that of its first Prime Minister - Jawaharlal Nehru!


Marx did not say anything about independent India. He was long dead and gone by the time India got independence. So how much of Marxian analysis applies to what has happened in the Indian society since 1947?


Let me borrow from Prakash Karat.[17] Taking a historical perspective Karat focuses on the key role of what he calls the ‘big bourgeoisie’ – the original pre-independence class of people who owned capital and property in a big way. I think he refers to the Mafatlals, Birlas and Tatas and a few others in that class. According to him ‘big bourgeoisie’ dominated the entire Indian capitalist class for virtually all of the last fifty-sixty years. It was the big bourgeoisie which spelt out the type of capitalist development that was undertaken in India from the 1950s:

It was this class which understood the international situation and its own base in Indian society. It needed the Indian State to accumulate capital and develop capitalism. The State capitalism, which the Indian ruling classes sponsored, played a crucial role in enabling the development of capitalism within a constrained framework.


From the beginning, the big bourgeoisie has been dominated by family owned businesses. Fifty years after independence this remains so. New families and companies have entered the ranks of the big bourgeoisie. But the concentration of assets and wealth continues. The richest 100 capitalists have a personal wealth of Rs. 50 thousand crore. This is only the wealth accruing from shares held in companies. The development of the productive forces has not resulted in either an equitable distribution of assets or an equitable distribution of incomes.


The big bourgeoisie was the pivot around which both the alliance with landlordism and the collaboration with imperialist capital could take place for the specific type of capitalist development that was undertaken. However in the last twenty years or so a major change has come about in the attitude of the big bourgeoisie. The big bourgeoisie is no more an advocate of State capitalism. It is no more as dependent on the State as before for capital accumulation and investment.  Four decades of capitalist development under the old regime (till the eighties) has enabled the big bourgeoisie to kick off the crutches of State-sponsored capitalism and embark on the new path of liberalization. This path has also come about in a new world conjuncture -- The neo-liberal offensive which built up momentum in the 1980s and which has now established it triumphantly worldwide with the dismantling of the Soviet Union.


Economic expansion really began with the liberal reforms of 1991, when the Indian government was forced to “restructure” the economy to address a foreign exchange and debt crisis.  It lifted many restrictions to trade, foreign investment and the operation of the stock market; it lowered income taxes and opened the transportation, communication and banking sectors to private competition.  With the dismantling of the “licence Raj,” India was open for business, a marked shift from the Nehruvian era of a centrally-planned and nationalist mixed economy.  The impact of these reforms has been remarkable.  India now possesses a range of expanding industries, from telecommunication and biotechnology to textile and steel.   It is a leader in IT and business outsourcing.  Robyn Meredith writes that “India is fast becoming the world’s back office.” [18] The burst of growth is associated with India’s new and rising middle class—the Indian bourgeoisie.  This class, constituting roughly 20% of the population, is confident in its outlook and aware of its power as producers and consumers.   It is supported by an increasingly business-friendly government (“The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” [19]


Marx’s observation that the dominant class is able to define its own interests as the general interest holds true in India: the mantra that the new capitalism benefits all Indians is pervasive. But has the class conflict – between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – been really relegated to the margin in India because of the wave of globalization and industrialization in India? Let’s look at the data. In 2005 Indian industry had 227 strikes and 229 lock-outs and suffered 300 lakh man-day losses. By 2010, this had declined to 79 strikes, 20 lock-outs and merely 17 lakh man-day losses. [20] But in 2011 once again there is sharp return of the ‘class-war’. All through this year there have been widespread strikes all over the country though mostly in the automotive sector – and mostly in the MNCs – GM, Hyundai, Leyland, Maruti-Suzuki. Why is this happening so? As if almost proving Marx right, economist Surajit Majumdar uses the Annual Survey of Industries(AIS) data to show that the bourgeoisie’s exploitation of the proletariat is after all real.( See box below)


Is the Class War still on?

In the decade between 1998-99 and 2008-09, net value-added by workers increased from about Rs 2 lakh per worker to Rs 6 lakh, whereas in the same period, wages as a proportion of net value added declined steeply from about 18% to 11%. This means in essence that workers are creating more profit than before yet are getting paid less and less.   –  Surajit Majumdar as quoted in Times of India, November 6,2011


Max Weber and His Basic Postulates:

While Weber agrees with Marx’s theory of class distinction between bourgeoisie and proletariat he argued that “social inequality needed to be understood in terms of a number of distinct categories which are not reducible merely to economic property relations: the ownership of land, factories and so on is accepted as an important determinant of social position but is only one factor shaping social stratification” [21]


Weber examined how many members of the aristocracy lacked economic wealth yet had strong political power. Many wealthy families lacked prestige and power, for example, because they were Jewish . Weber introduced thus introduced in all three independent factors that form his theory of stratification hierarchy; class, status, and party (power).


Weber identified three aspects of class: (i) a specific causal component of actors life chances (ii) which rests exclusively on economic interests and wealth, and (iii) is represented under conditions of labor and commodity markets. The possession of material resources, accumulated by advantage in the marketplace, results in distinctive qualities in terms of the standard of living. [22]


While class groups do not constitute communities, according to Weber, status groups normally are communities. Status is defined as the likelihood that life chances are determined by social honor, or, prestige. Status groups are linked by a common style of life, and the attendant social restrictions.


Class and status interests interact in the realm of the legal order, the arena of politics. Political power is, obviously, often based on class and status interests. Parties are the organizations of power. Their purpose is the struggle for domination. Parties commonly operate in the political/legal domain, but as an ideal type, parties are not restricted to this field.


Weberian Postulates on Social Stratification.

Class : A person’s economic position in a society. Weber differs from Marx in that he does not see this as the supreme factor in stratification. Weber noted how managers of corporations or industries control firms they do not own; Marx would have placed such a person in the proletariat.

Status : A person’s prestige, social honor, or popularity in a society. Weber noted that political power was not rooted in capital value solely, but also in one’s individual status. Poets or saints, for example, can possess immense influence on society with often little economic worth.

Party/Power : A person’s ability to get their way despite the resistance of others. For example, individuals in state jobs, such as an employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation , or a member of the United States Congress , may hold little property or status but they still hold immense power.


Weber distinguished the following class groupings in capitalist society.

1)      The propertied upper class

2)      The property less white-collar workers

3)      The petty bourgeoisie

4)      The manual working class


Weber’s analysis on classes, status groups and parties suggests that no single theory can pinpoint and explain their relationship. The interplay of class, status in the formation of social groups is complex and variable and must be examined in particular societies during particular time periods. Marx attempted to reduce all forms of inequality to social class and argued that classes formed the only significant social group in the society. Weber argues that the evidences provide a more complex and diversified picture of social stratification.


Weber on Indian Society:

 It is in his work ‘The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism’ which was part of his major work ‘Collected Essays in the Sociology of Religion’ that we find extensive views of Weber on Indian society and variable and must be examined in particular societies during particular time periods.

The fundamental purpose of Weber's research was to discover religion's impact on social change. For example, in Protestantism, especially the “Protestant Work Ethic,” Weber saw the roots of capitalism. In the Eastern religions, Weber saw barriers to capitalism. For example, Hinduism stresses attaining higher levels of spirituality by escaping from the toils of the mundane physical world. Such a perspective does not easily lend itself to making and spending money.


Weber argues that the hereditary caste structure of the Indian society with it’s ritual segregation of occupations, precludes the emergence of a ‘bourgeoisie’ as well as of a ‘city commune’. [23]  Although several merchant castes and very many craft castes with innumerable sub-castes existed, they cannot be equated with the occidental burgher estate. Weber observes that the national form of Indian religion is Hinduism and that the term ‘Hindu’ was first used under the foreign domination of the Mohammedans to mean unconverted native Indians. Weber takes the view that, in general, the institution of castes – a system of particularly rigid and exclusively hereditary estates played and continues to play a crucial role in the social system of India. He dwells at length on the four main castes of classical learning as represented in the laws of Manu : brahmins( priests), kshatryias(knights), vaishyas( free commoners) and Shudras( Serfs).  


Is Weber relevant to Indian society of today? Overwhelmingly so I think. The extreme inequalities of income, status, education, opportunities and lifestyles, rural and urban divide and so on that are so glaringly prevalent in the Indian society strongly echo the irrefutable logic of Weber. The all powerful play of politics which is almost ‘institutionalized’ in all echelons of the Indian society and all walks of life, exemplify the Weberian premise.


The murderous stranglehold of caste – Even in this age?

Three men were arrested by Delhi police this week for “honour killings” days after the Supreme Court asked eight Indian states to stop these so-called “honour” killings, where family members, typically men, kill daughters and their husbands for apparently bringing dishonour to the family by marrying below their caste.


The killings, in a posh neighbourhood in Delhi, brought the tragic and shameful story of honour killings closer home to Delhi residents, who had so far dismissed the rising instances of these killings as a feature of rural India, equating them to a more traditional and conservative India they claim not to inhabit.


In a country where a majority of youngsters still have marriages “arranged” by their parents, caste and religion dominate matrimonial conversations.


–  http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2010/06/25/india

 As Weber did not see any alternative to bureaucracy, he believed it would ultimately lead to an iron cage [24]: there would be no way to get out of it. Weber viewed this as a bleak outcome that would affect individuals' happiness as they would be forced to function in a highly rational society with rigid rules and norms without the possibility to change it. Because Weber could not envision other forces influencing the ultimate direction of society - the exception being temporary lapses into non-bureaucracy spurred by charismatic leaders - he saw no cure for the iron cage of rationality. Society would become a large bureaucracy that would govern people's lives. If you go by the unendingly rampant stories of corruption and inefficiencies of Indian bureaucracy and the tardy process of growth and development you will be compelled to accept that Weber was right.


Stratification of Indian Society:A plethora of types

Indian society is riddled with paradoxes and contradictions - The extreme rich cohabiting with the extreme poor, the scholars coexisting with the illiterates. the ultra modernists with the orthodox traditionalists, the rural masses and the urban classes, the Brahmins and the shudras, the Generals and the OBCs. The list is endless. We’ll take up for discussion some of the more significant forms of stratifications.


The Indian Caste System:

The Indian caste system describes the system of social stratification and social restrictions in India in which social classes are defined by thousands of endogamous hereditary groups, often termed jātis or castes. Within a jāti, there exist exogamous groups known as gotras, the lineage or clan of an individual. In a handful of sub-castes such as Shakadvipi, endogamy within a gotra is permitted and alternative mechanisms of restricting endogamy are used (e.g. banning endogamy within a surname). [25]

The Indian caste system involves four castes and outcasted social groups. Although generally identified with Hinduism, the caste system was also observed among followers of other religions in the Indian subcontinent, including some groups of Muslims and Christians. Caste barriers show signs of having significantly broken down in large cities, though they persist in rural areas of the country, where 70% of India's population resides. [26]


None of the Hindu scriptures sanctions caste-based discrimination, and the Indian Constitution has outlawed caste-based discrimination, in keeping with the secular, democratic principles that founded the nation. Nevertheless, the caste system, in various forms, continues to survive in modern India because of a combination of political factors and social perceptions and behavior. [27]


Varna and Jati:

According to the ancient Hindu scriptures, there are four "varnas". The Bhagavad Gita says varnas are decided based on Guna and Karma. Manusmriti and some other shastras name four varnas: the Brahmins (teachers, scholars and priests), the Kshatriyas (kings and warriors), the Vaishyas (agriculturists and traders), and Shudras (service providers, laborers). [28]


This theoretical system postulated Varna categories as ideals and explained away the reality of thousands of endogamous Jātis actually prevailing in the country as being the result of historical mixing among the "pure" Varnas – Varna Sankara. All those who did not subscribe to the norms of the Hindu society, including foreigners, tribals and nomads, were considered contagious and untouchables. Another group excluded from the main society was called Parjanya or Antyaja. This group of people formerly called "untouchables", the Dalits, was considered either the lowest among the Shudras or outside the Varna system altogether.


Modern status of the caste system[29]


The Government of India has officially documented castes and sub-castes, primarily to determine those deserving reservation (positive discrimination in education and jobs) through the census. The Indian reservation system, though limited in scope, relies entirely on quotas. The Government lists consist of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes:


Scheduled castes (SC):

Scheduled castes generally consist of former "untouchables" (the term "Dalit" is now preferred). The present population is 16% of the total population of India (around 160 million). For example, the Delhi state has 49 castes listed as SC.


Scheduled tribes (ST):

Scheduled tribes generally consist of tribal groups. The present population is 7% of the total population of India i.e. around 70 million.


Other Backward Classes (OBC):

The Mandal Commission covered more than 3000 castes under OBC Category and stated that OBCs form around 52% of the Indian population. However, the National Sample Survey puts the figure at 32%. There is substantial debate over the exact number of OBCs in India; it is generally estimated to be sizable, but many believe that it is lower than the figures quoted by either the Mandal Commission or the National Sample Survey.


The caste-based reservations in India have led to widespread protests, such as the 2006 Indian anti-reservation protests, with many complaining of reverse discrimination against the forward castes (the castes that do not qualify for the reservation). Many view negative treatment of forward castes as socially divisive and equally wrong.


Caste-related violence:

Independent India has witnessed a considerable amount of violence and hate crimes motivated by caste. Various incidents of violence against Dalits, such as Kherlanji Massacre have been reported from many parts of India. Many violent protests by Dalits, such as the 2006 Dalit protests in Maharashtra, have also been reported.


RanvirSena, a caste-supremacist fringe paramilitary group based in Bihar, has committed violent acts against Dalits and other members of scheduled castes.


Phoolan Devi, who belonged to the Mallah lower caste, was mistreated and raped by upper-caste Thakurs at a young age. She became a bandit and carried out violent robberies against upper-caste people. In 1981, her gang massacred twenty-two Thakurs, most of whom were not involved in her kidnapping or rape. Later, she became a politician and Member of Parliament.


Caste politics:

B. R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru had radically different approaches to caste, especially concerning constitutional politics and the status of untouchables. Since the 1980s, caste has become a major issue in the politics of India. [30]


The Mandal Commission was established in 1979 to "identify the socially or educationally backward" and to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination.[31] In 1980, the commission's report affirmed the affirmative action practice under Indian law, whereby members of lower castes were given exclusive access to a portion of government jobs and slots in public universities. When V. P. Singh's administration tried to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission in 1989, massive protests were held in the country. Many alleged that the politicians were trying to cash in on caste-based reservations for purely pragmatic electoral purposes.


Many political parties in India have openly indulged in caste-based vote-bank politics. Parties such as Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal claim that they are representing the backward castes, and rely on OBC support, often in alliance with Dalit and Muslim support, to win elections.[32]


Gender Stratification:

For India as a whole, the female-male ratio of the population has improved with every decennial census. It has gone up from 927 in 1991 census to 933 in 2001 census of India.The sex ratio as per the Census of 2011 has improved to 940 females per 1000 males. [33]  There are however significant disparities in the Sex Ratio across the states. The state of Kerala with 1058 has best sex ratio in India while Haryana has the lowest sex ratio of 861 females per 1000 males.


Class Stratification as per Income:

Stratification of the Indian society shows the deepest divides when it comes to categorizing people into economic classes. Let’s first take the Rural-Urban divide.

Nearly 70 per cent of the country's population lives in rural areas where, for the first time since independence, the overall growth rate of population has sharply declined, according to the 2011 Census. Of the 121 crore Indians, 83.3 crore live in rural areas while 37.7 crore stay in urban areas, said the Census of India's 2011. For the first time since independence, the absolute increase in population is more in urban areas than in rural areas. The rural-urban distribution is 68.84 per cent and 31.16 per cent respectively.The level of urbanisation increased from 27.81 per cent in the 2001 Census to 31.16 per cent in the 2011 Census, while the proportion of rural population declined from 72.19 per cent to 68.84 per cent. [34]


The income levels show the continuing stratification of rich-vs-poor. As of 2010, more than 37% of India’s population of 1.35 billion still lives below the poverty line. More than 22% of the entire rural population and 15% of the urban population of India exists in this difficult physical and financial predicament. [35] 


Consumption per capita was 5.6 times less in a month for the bottom ten per cent of the population than the top 10 per cent in rural areas during 2009-10. The disparity increases to 9.8 times between the two classes in urban parts, according to recent data released by the National Sample Survey Organisation (see chart). [36] The difference in what was spent on consumption by the bottom 10 per cent between rural and urban parts was Rs 46. Or, that the poorest 10 per cent spent 32.3 per cent less in rural parts than their counterparts in urban areas. This inequality rose to Rs 3,347 when one compares the top 10 per cent in the two parts. Or, that the wealthiest 10 per cent of the urban population spent 133 per cent more on consumption per capita in a month than its equivalent class in rural areas.


The income class disparity reflects an added dimension of regional stratification. A study by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative using a Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) found that there were 645 million poor living under the MPI in India, 421 million of whom are concentrated in eight North Indian and East Indian states of Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. [37]  



I would use the words of Edward Luce to summarize my views on the Indian society and its stratification though what Luce said was more on the economy of India than on it’s society. “Indian society today offers a schizophrenic glimpse of a high-tech 21st century future amid a distressingly medieval past. [38]


Karl Marx through his incisive analysis based on historical materialism involving the bourgeoisie- proletariat class-war contributes to our understanding of the societal stratifications as they have developed through our history and as they stand today with all their myriad contradictions. Weber through his more multidimensional social theory of stratification creates a monumental conceptual framework to throw light on how the economic, social and political undercurrents dynamically interact and shape the current social reality.


The last twenty odd years of liberalisation and growth have no doubt produced an Indian society that appears so much more confident and assertive of its new identity at the global level. The social indicators of gender ratio, literacy, urbanization, health have all shown improvements. Yet India remains the land with world’s largest population of poor and also one with most glaring of income disparities. Urbanization has diluted caste distinctions  but it still remains an important determinant of occupation, and thereby socioeconomic status. The resolution of the class question in India invariably still passes through the caste question with  caste politics being a potent instrument of seeking power. Is it a hindrance to growth or does it have potential for creating social justice. Only a more aggressive and inclusive growth of the Indian economy will pave the way for a more equal and enlightened society.



[1]‘Settlement, Society and Polity in Early Medieval Rural India’ (Social Science Probings vol. 11/12); Vishwa Mohan Jha

[2]  ‘Sociology’, William F Ogburn, Meyer F Nimkoff, (1950)

[3]  ‘Some Principles of Stratification: A Critical. Analysis.’  387–393. Tumin, Melvin M( 1953).

[4]  ‘Foundations of Sociology’ George A Lundberg (1939)

[5]   ‘Capital: A Critique of Political Economy’, Vol-1, Part-1, p-393, Karl Marx.

[6]  ‘Karl Marx: A Reader’  Edited by John Elster (University of Cambridge, 1986), p 190  

[7]  ‘Karl Marx on India’  Edited by Iqbal Husain,( 2006),p-14

[8]   Ibid. p xxiv, Introduction by Irfan Habib, quoting Marx

[9]  Ibid. p xxvii, Introduction by Irfan Habib, quoting Marx

[10]  Karl Marx: A Reader, p 199

[11]  Karl Marx on India, p 46

[12]  Karl Marx on India, p 46

[13]  Ibid. p 16

[14]  Ibid. p 49

[15]  Ibid. p 47

[16]  Ibid. p 17

[17]  http://cpim.org/node/1349:  Karat at the 20th Anniversary of Marxbadi Path, 26th August, 2000

[18]  Robyn Meredith, The Elephant and the Dragon (New York: Norton, 2008), p 77

[19]  Karl Marx: A Reader, p 220

[20] ‘Forces of Labour’, Sunday Times of India, November 6,2011.

[21]  ‘Introductory Sociology’, Bilton et al(1996), p-142

[22] http://www.brooklynsoc.org/courses/43.1/weber.html

[23] ‘Western Sociologists on Indian Society: Karl Marx, Weber..’ by Gurumukh Ram Madan

[24] http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/introduction_to_sociology/society

[25] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/caste_system_in_India

[26] http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/70-indians-live-in-rural-areas-census/141379/on

[27] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/caste_system_in_India

[28] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varna_(Hinduism)

[29] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/caste_system_in_India

[30] Ibid

[31] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandal_Commission

[32] Ibid.

[33] http://www.indiaonlinepages.com/population/sex-ratio-of-india-html

[34] http://www.rediff.com/news/census/2011omy watch, April, 2010.

[35] Poverty in India, Economy Watch, April,2010.

[36]  http://www.business-standard.com/india/news

[37] Poverty http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Povert_in_India

[38] ‘Inspite of the Gods’, Edward Luce,(2008), P-58



Received on 09.11.2011

Revised on   12.11.2011

Accepted on 15.01.2012

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