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City and village: Continuity And Change In Social Mobility

More striking than new opportunities for group mobility within the traditional status hierarchy has been the appearance in recent decades of new status hierarchies-new arenas for status competition. They have emerged from the impact of urbanization and westernization but are not independent of the traditional social organization in which they are based.

Urbanism is nothing new in India but rapid urbanization is new. The emergency of industrial employment, of easy communication over long distances, of increasingly efficient distribution of goods and services and of more effective centralized administration has made urban living a more accessible alternative to more people in India than ever before.

Urban life affords a measure of independence from the ties and constraints of membership in rural based social groups by granting a degree of individual anonymity and mobility quite unattainable in rural communities.Caste, religion, ritual, tradition and the social controls implicit therein are not as rigid or pervasive in the city. People are increasingly able to seek status and other rewards on an individual or small family basis largely independent of caste or the other larger social entities of which they are also a part. They do this primarily by going to the city although the values of the city also extend into the country-side and have loosened the hold of tradition even there.

To a great extent urban Indians can achieve status as a result of behaviors and attributes rather than simply as a result of birth. According to Harold Gould industrialization brought about the transfer of specialized occupations of all kinds from the context of the kin groups to factories organized on bureaucratic principles. This meant that occupational role and role occupant would be in principle separated and that the preponderant criteria for determining occupations would be performance qualities and that economic rewards and social mobility would constitute the principle standards for evaluating the worth or the status of any given role.

Traditional status -caste status does not disappear in the city. It remains important in the most private contexts; the family and neighborhood. Some neighborhoods essentially reproduce the village setting in personnel as well as social structure; others do not.

A very large proportion of city dwellers are in close touch with their native villages. Tradition and ascription are important in the city in those relationships upon which the day to day functioning and future composition of the family depends of which the epitome is marriage. In the city primary relationships occupy a diminishing proportion of most people's time, attention and energies. Much of the individual's interaction takes place on the basis of particular or even fragmented roles. He can often behave in a way consistent with the requirements of the situation without reference to his group membership. He is even able to pass if that is his desire by learning the superficial symbols of the status such as that of white collar worker, student, middle class householder or professional. In these statuses skill in handling the language, in pursuing the occupation or success in acquiring money or an appropriate life style may be socially recognized and rewarded irrespective of caste and family.

Contemporary urban life has available more means to mobility and suggests to those who seek it a greater likelihood of success that the highly structured closely controlled traditional village setting. Mobility occurs in all settings. Some low status groups have been victims of technological displacement with the result that their economic, political and social statuses have declined. They drift either into the status of rural landless laborers or into unskilled urban employment, both of which are overpopulated and underpaid. The result is underemployment, unemployment, poverty and lack of opportunity for improvement. For examples: water carriers comprise a caste whose members have been displaced in many parts of Northern India with the advent of handpumps.In some instances new occupations have been created and with them opportunities for enhancement of economic and social status thus allowing certain mobility.