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Indian Thinkers

What would Siociology be without its great sociological thinkers who have contributed so much to this mother of social sciences? A study of some of the major thinkers of sociology and their important theories and viewpoints.


Emergence of Sociology in India

Sociology as a discipline emerged as the contributions made by social thinkers, philosophers, administers who worked at understanding the Indian society.

The contributions made by the Indologists such as Henry Maine, Alfred Lyell etc. helped in the development of sociology in India. They emphasized the need to preserve the indigenous social institutions found in Indian society rather than destroying them and imposing the alien way of life on the people. They recognized the past glory of Indian cultural and literary traditions.

There were also British administrators who made extensive study of Indian people, their races and culture. Most of these studies helped generate a body of knowledge preserved in the Census reports, Imperial Gazetteers, District Gazetteers etc. as well as in the books and monographs used by the sociologists and social anthropologists extensively.

Alongside of sociology anthropology was also developing in Indian universities. In the Indian context it is not possible to distinguish between anthropology and sociology except in terms of methodology. Sociology has studied urban-industrial groups while anthropology focused on tribes, castes and communities. In the Indian academic studies we find that tribe, caste and region have been linked with each other in variety of ways. Both sociology and anthropology in India are mainly based on empirical data. They deal with aggregates of people in a number of locales, village, town and city.

During British rule a number of ethnographic works were written by J H Hutton, Edwards Thurston, Risley and others. There were also writings of Sir Henry Maine and Baden Powell on the village community in India. In India the religions did not place a bar on freethinking. The stimulus to creative work in the Indian social science came from interaction with the west.

The emergence and development of sociology and anthropology was influenced by the growth of nationalism in India. The nationalist movement was itself a product of the impact of the west especially colonial rule in India. The repercussion of this impact was felt widely due to several reasons such as improvement in communication, transport facilities and printing press etc.

Modern law and western education generated a new self-awareness in Indian people. The awareness of people along the lines of religion, sects, caste, tribes etc. became more heightened on the one hand while a wider level a new sense of unity emerged. All these social changes gave rise to new problems.

In 1769 Henry Verelst the Governor of Bengal and Bihar stressed in his directives to revenue supervisors the need for collecting information about the leading families and their customs. Besides the officials, the missionaries too recorded valuable data about the society of that period. In 1817 the first all – India census was undertaken by the British government.

In 1901 Sir Risley attempted to establish an ethnographic survey of India that was part of the census. The census data became an instrument of official policy. It became a method of creating barriers between Hindus and other groups like tribes between the various castes and so on. The British began recording the scheduled castes as distinct from the other Hindu castes as a policy.

B N Seal a professor of Philosophy at Calcutta University was one of the first scholars to draw the attention of the university towards sociology. He was actively involved in refuting the unilinear evolutionary doctrines, which believed that like an organism society has evolved from a simple primitive stage to more complex industrial stage. Indian society like several others in its various aspects represented the lower rungs of a ladder.

The 20th century European civilization represented the highest point of this ladder. This was an ethnocentric belief of European scholars who believed that their society was the best and most evolved while the rest of the world was in various stages of evolution. Seal rejected this view and wrote and lectured extensively in defense of Indian culture throughout his Comparative Sociology. He was responsible for introducing sociology in Calcutta University and later Mysore University.

In Bombay Patrick Geddes was responsible for the introduction of sociology. He opened department in 1919 that was a landmark in the development of sociology in India. Le Play an eminent sociology influenced Geddes. Geddes was interested in human geography and town planning with specific interest in the problems of urban deterioration. He studied the town planning of such cities as Calcutta; Indore etc. that are of great value.G.S Ghurye, Radhakamal Mukherjee show the influence of Geddes in their sociological writings.

The others who firmly established sociology in India are D N Majumdar and N.K Bose. D N Majumdar of Lucknow University was trained in anthropology. He worked extensively in both the anthropological field as well in social anthropology. He studied the races, tribes and cultures in various regions in India. His specific interest was in the study of problem of culture changes and adaptation of tribes and their social problems.

N K Bose made a very significant contribution to the development of sociology in India. He was a political and social activist who was a director of the Anthropological Survey of India from 1959-64 and from 1967-70 held the office of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Government of India. His contributions were basically in the study of Indian civilization and culture. His best work is believed to be the Hindu Samajer Garhan that is in Bengali.

Irawati Karve extensively used the indological literature in her sociological writings. She was the student of GS Ghurye and did extensive fieldwork in various regions of India. Her knowledge of Sanskrit helped her in understanding ancient literature like scriptures, law books and epics. She used this data to understand the kinship organization in India. Her book Kinship organization in India is one of the best analyses of kinship system found in India. She has divided India into four zones and attempted their comparison. The work starts with the genealogies of the characters in the Hindu epic Mahabharata and incorporates field notes from different parts of India. She combined her interest in the study of classics with field studies.

Irawati Karve's initial work was on the anthropometric measurements of various groups in Maharashtra. She distinguished social groups by their linguistic affiliations and was able to trace origins of different people following the same occupation and found how some of their groups were exogamous and formed castes. On the other hand their cluster of occupation-based castes was a joining together of such castes. Irawati Karve was hailed as the first feminist sociologist of India.