The Indian journal of Social Work, Vol XXl, No. 2 (September 1960), S O...
The Indian journal of Social Work, Vol XXl, No. 2 (September 1960),
S O C I A L C H A N G E S I N I N D I A
D R . E . ASIRVATHAM
T h e author discusses in the following article the philosophy of social change in India.
He avers that change is in accordance with the law of life. It is necessary for survival
as well as for progress. In the opinion of the writer, state enterprises tend to create a
pauper mentality and rob people of initiative and self-respect. Concluding the general survey
of social changes in India, he says that no change can last longer if it is not accompanied
by necessary moral change—a change of heart. " I t is a truism to say that social change
and moral change act and react upon each other. . . . Without corresponding civic and moral
change, legislative and administrative changes will turn into ashes in our hands. T h e
socialistic pattern of society is an excellent ideal. .. .neither the people of India as a whole
nor their leaders by and large today are good enough for it." He emphasises that social
changes for their fulfilment depend upon strong character.
D r . Asirvatham is Professor of Political Science in the Bihar University.
A sound discussion of social problems in opposites. It is a negation of negation. It
any country necessitates a preliminary treat-
is not necessary for us to subscribe to this
ment of the philosophy of social change. T h e philosophy of change in explaining social
moment such a term is used, there are those phenomena.
who are apt to shrug their shoulders and ' Social change is both conscious and un-
say t h a t all of it is empty theorizing. They conscious. It is more conscious than
argue t h a t there is no such thing as a unconscious because man has the capacity for
philosophy of social change any more than reasoning and forethought. No other animal
there is a philosophy of love. For ourselves plans for the future as minutely and com-
we believe that such a philosophy is indis-
prehensively as does m a n . M a n is also
pensable to a proper understanding of social distinct from the lower animals because of
change. It gives us a direction towards his reasoning, consciousness, fellow-feeling
which to move. Without such a direction and sympathy, the last of which terms is
or goal social change may result in chaos. described by psychologists today as empathy.
It is a truism to say that m a n is a planning
Social change is necessary for survival.
animal. " H e looks before and after and The law which operates through the whole
pines for what is not". Therefore, he always of life is "adapt or perish". This is
constructs a theory or philosophy of life. emphatically true of the competitive world
This is true of the social part of his life in which we live today. Social change is
necessary because conditions around us
Change is in accordance with the law of change all the time. O u r social climate does
life. M a n goes through the stages of embryo, not remain the same. Any species which does
childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age not adjust itself to the changing environment
and death. M u c h of the change which we soon perishes. T h e dinosaur is extinct today.
find in life is spontaneous, imperceptible and We only see skeletons of it in museums. In
unconscious. A great philosopher like Hegel the course of evolution some sea creatures
believed that change is in the nature of a took to land; some land creatures took to
dialectic, the result of an interaction between sea; and some alternated between the
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D R . E . A S H I R V A T H A M
sea and land. Those which could not do philosophy undoubtedly brought about many
any of these naturally perished.
social changes in the nineteenth century, but
today it has lost its force. T h e idealists who
The Law of Life.
—Survival in the case of have held the ground for a fairly long period
man means individual biological survival, define their goal in terms of good life,
group survival, national survival, and we freedom, fulfilment of personality, attain-
may add international survival in the closely-
ment of a state of blessedness, etc. Idealism
knit world of today. T h e law of life is that is on the discount today among social and
once you are alive, you want to live on for political thinkers in general. Yet one sees
ever in some form or other. This partially so much good in it that it cannot be wiped
accounts for the almost universally felt belief off the face of the earth permanently. For
in the immortality of the soul.
ourselves we like to see a combination of
Social change is necessary for progress. utilitarianism and idealism in our search for
Yet we need to remind ourselves that not a sound philosopry of social change. Such
every change is progressive. Some changes a philosophy may be stated in terms of a
are regressive. T h e monkey has been promotion of a life of happiness in its higher
hopping from branch to branch for centuries. reaches as well as a life of nobility. This
Yet in historical times at least it has not was the view of Aristotle centuries ago.
become a man, but has remained a monkey.
The Role and Techniques of Social
Changes which emulate the monkey in its Change.
—Any sound social change should
restlessness are generally not progressive. enable us to live in large numbers and live
Writers of an earlier day wrote as though well. Yet the multiplication of numbers to
progress was inevitable. Herbert Spencer, astronomical figures is nothing short of a
for example, assumed that m a n was bound crime. It is estimated that in seven years'
to add a cubit to his stature whether he liked time, the population of India is likely to
it or not. We no longer accept such a naive reach 480 millions. Unless effective
view of progress. T h e twentieth century man measures are adopted to prevent such a
is not as optimistic as was the nineteenth reckless multiplication of population, the
century man. With the coming of the atomic future of India is bound to be dark.
age we realise that a few wrong calculations
made by politicians and military men may
All over the civilised world longevity has
result in the destruction of practically the been on the increase for some time. India,
whole of life.
however, still has a low expectancy of life.
F r o m twenty-four years of age which was
W h a t m a n wants is planned social change, the expectancy until a few years ago, the
and not change brought about by mere expectancy has now gone up to thirty-three.
accident or by the method of trial and error. In several of the western countries the
Planned social change calls for a teleogical expectancy is between sixty-eight and
view of life. Such a view, however, in the seventy-two. A vexing social problem in the
very nature of the case can only be stated West today is how to take care of a great
in broad terms. T h e utilitarians defined number of old people. We in India are not
progress in terms of the promotion of the anywhere within sight of t h a t situation.
greatest happiness of the greatest number. Longevity in itself is not a blessing unless
Their goal was the securing of the largest it means a life of usefulness to oneself as
number of pleasurable sensations for the well as to others. M a n is not to become a
largest number of people in the world. This mere satisfied pig.
SOCIAL C H A N G E S IN INDIA
1 2 5
Along with longevity we need to have of it as equality of consideration according
economic decency for everyone in the to which, "other things being equal, my
community. If m a n is to live well, he needs good is of the same intrinsic value as the
a certain amount of the material things of good of anybody else." D e m a n d for justice
life. Years ago, the famous French philo-
today means among other things that a m a n
sopher Augustus Comte said: " T h e noble should enjoy the fruits of his labour within
things of life rest on the less noble". In limits. Yet there is no justification for
working out a plan of economic decency for colossal inequality between m a n and man.
everybody, the provision of a civic minimum This is the burden of John Ruskin's book.
as well as a civic maximum deserves con-
Unto This Last.
sideration. Plato was not a fool when he
We m a y further state the goal of social
wrote in his Laws that no one was to be change in terms of freedom. A person
more t h a n five times as rich as the average. should have the freedom to express himself,
Gandhiji laid down that in the new India his initiative and his ingenuity. In a sound
of his dream five hundred rupees was to be society there should be ample opportunity
the m a x i m u m salary for any Government for complete self-expression and the utili-
servant but that ideal has been quietly zation of individual talent. Yet it needs to
forgotten since the attainment of indepen-
be borne in mind that in the name of talent
dence. Social justice requires t h a t the no one has a right to levy a toll on the less
mountains should be brought low and the fortunate members of society. Until recently
valleys raised so long as individual initiative the educated people of India were guilty
and enterprise are not thrown to the winds. of that. Today the nemesis is at work when
O n e of the problems attending the introduc-
the tables are being turned round.
tion of large-scale state enterprises into a
backward country like India is that it tends
A further goal of social change may be
to create a pauper mentality and rob people stated in terms of mutual aid. Some of the
of initiative and self-respect. No social lower order of creation like the ants and
change is justifiable if it emphasises material bees have developed it to perfection. Man
things for their own sake. M a t t e r is only who is a social animal should develop mutual
a means for the cultivation of the h u m a n aid far more than he has done so far. In
the words of St. P a u l : "No one lives to him-
self nor does he die to himself". This means
Equality and justice are undoubtedly that a practical goal for every on going
some of the goals at which to aim in the society is "each for all and all for each".
moulding of a society. Equality does not
mean a dead mechanical equality, giving
This idea of mutual aid should in time
everybody an equal share in the material to come lead to the vivid realisation of
things of life. To give equal educational awareness of humanity and the international
opportunities to the dunce and the genius is community. We are not only denizens of
not justice. In a sound society, it is necessary our own country, but also of the world as
to provide equality of opportunity for all a whole. Therefore, we need to be good
those who can benefit by it including the nationalists but better internationalists.
equality to strive. Aristotle aptly summed
up this idea in his well-known phrase
A question of practical importance to
"equality among equals and inequality social workers is, should social change follow
among unequals". Hastings Rashdall speaks or precede public opinion and community
1 2 6
DR. E. ASIRVATHAM
conscience? Without appearing to be Social Changes in India and their
dogmatic, we may say that it should be both Evaluation.
—The last twelve years in Indian
ways. Generally speaking, social change history have seen greater social changes than
should express the felt needs of a community the last two or three thousand years have
if it is to be effective and not become a done. Among these changes, the pride of
mere mockery, as in the case of prohibition place should be given to respect for man as
in several countries which have tried it. But man. Whatever the merits of caste may have
yet legislation or planned social change can been in the past, as a cohesive factor and
become a lever in changing public opinion. as an agent of social discipline, it militated
against respect for man as man. As a result
Tests of Good Social Change.
—Sidgwick of the impact of men like Mahatma Gandhi
has put forward three tests of a good social and the Western influence in general,
change. First of all, it should be in the revolutionary changes are taking place.
common interest. The only trouble with this
test is that in many cases only the sequel
Legally at least untouchability has been
can tell whether or not a change was in the abolished. There are laws against the
common interest. In the second place, a practice of untouchability from the point of
desirable social change should do more good view of Government employment, in public
than harm. Lastly, it should be admlnistra-
eating places, in hotels and as regards temple
tively. effective. These tests proposed by entry. Educational opportunity is thrown
Sidgwick primarily from a utilitarian point open to all and sundry. Inter-marriages are
of view, are as valuable today as they were still rare.
when first propounded.
What we need to stress today is to make
In effecting a social change, the individual, people inter-marriageable, socially and edu-
state and society as a whole have their cationally. When this has been brought
particular responsibilities. In a free demo-
about, inter-marriage becomes a matter of
cratic society, the preliminary spade work course. There are today many dirty people
should be undertaken by enlightened indivi-
in India because they are obliged to do such
duals and groups of individuals. To quote dirty jobs as scavenging and the skinning of
the words of Bosanquet: "Voluntary dead animals. The remedy is to
organizations are the laboratories of social dirty occupations by mechanizing them.
experimentation". Voluntary effort is more
important than state legislation. But in a
Danger of a New Class.
—There is today
society where people have been lethargic a danger of creating a new privileged class
over a long period, where initiative and made up of former untouchables or out-
traditions of self-help are lacking, and where caste and backward classes. If India is to
custom reigns supreme, state direction may progress on all sides, it is necessary that
serve as a lever by means of which public artificial props should be withdrawn as soon
opinion can be raised to high levels. A as expedient. Beyond a certain point, special
sound principle to follow is that a social scholarships and the waiving of rules
change should be at least one or two steps regarding recruitment to public services do
in advance of the prevailing public opinion, more harm than good.
but not too far in advance. When social
In every aspect of life we need a growing
change of this limited character is enforced, equality between men and women. Our
it becomes an effective agency in the raising world for a long time has been a man's
and strengthening of public opinion.
world. We often go poetic over the virtues
SOCIAL C H A N G E S IN INDIA
1 2 7
of women, but that is often a subterfuge to legislatures. T r a d e in h u m a n flesh has been
keep them in a subordinate position perma-
increasingly brought under control.
nently. Today rapid changes have taken
Children's Acts have been enacted with
place in our treatment of women. Accord-
a view to preventing the exploitation of
ingly educational opportunities are being children. Children under twelve and women
provided. T h e value of girls in the market are prohibited from working in mines.
place goes up according to their educational Sweated labour of children in such small
attainments. T h e H i n d u Marriage Bill industries as beedi
manufacture is being
makes monogamy the general rule for the checked. Attempts are being made to enact
entire Hindu Community in the country and a Domestic Servants' Act. Begar
provides for divorce at the instance of either labour has been abolished.
party in certain specified circumstances.
Sumptutory laws of various kinds have
T h e raising of the age of marriage is been enacted from time to time. T h e
certainly a step in the right direction. T h e principal one among them is prohibition.
Sarda Marriage Act which has been on t h e Indian opinion is not yet uniform on t h e
statute books for many years is being benefits of prohibition. Even though pro-
observed a little more fully now than before. hibition has brought in its trail such abuses
There is more freedom among educated as bootlegging, a general disrespect for law,
girls to exercise some preference at least for and increasing laxity in administration, there
"the men they are to marry. Bigamy and is more to be said for prohibition than
polygamy among Hindus are banned. " O n e against it. T h e fact that bootleggers are said
m a n one wife" is becoming more and more to be warm supporters of prohibition is an
universal, primarily because of economic argument in favour of the prohibition of
reasons. Divorcing a wife because of her liquor. Traffic in opium and other deleterious
failure to produce a son and heir, as was articles is being brought under control. It
done by the Shah of Persia, is becoming is right that addicts should be given licence
unthinkable in India today. Governmen
t not those who are well.
officers, barring some exceptional cases, are
India still struggles along with her millions
dismissed from service if they take a second of useless cattle. To slaughter the cow is
wife while the first is still alive. Steps are looked upon as a heinous crime. Yet a free
being taken to ban dowry which is becoming India will increasingly look upon such pro-
a growing menace in India especially among hibition as an unwarranted interference with
the middle-class people. It is necessary to people's food habits. No one wants to have
abolish it by educating public opinion, if a "tyranny of the majority".
possible, and by legislation, if necessary.
Women are not mere chattels but are living
Growing Economic Equality.
personalities made in the image of God. It growing economic equality in the country.
is significant that the H i n d u religion rightly Efforts are being made to give the underdog
regards many of its objects of worship as a break. Dearness allowance and special
goddesses rather than as gods.
dearness allowance are the order of the day.
In some industries at least there is the Mini-
As a result of the Hindu Succession Act, m u m Wage Act in operation. Tenancy legis-
lation has been passed all over the country.
daughters today have an equal share with Proposals have been made for placing a
sons in the father's property. T h e Immoral ceiling on land holdings. The Bhoodan Yagna
Traffic Act has been enacted by several state
1 2 8
D R . E . ASIRVATHAM
Movement has five million acres of land of our politicians are misleading the public
given to it as donation. Even though it may by arguing that with improved economic
not have much direct economic value, it has conditions, population will not be a serious
a great deal of moral value. It has made problem. As said above, while people should
people realise their responsibility to the less live in large numbers, it is equally necessary
fortunate as well as awaken in them the that every h u m a n being who comes into the
consciousness that material possessions are world should have a fair chance for the
full development and utilization of his
talents. This is not possible under present-
Some efforts are being m a d e in slum day conditions. What agricultural and
clearance but because of people's ways even industrial improvement is being brought
newly built sections of towns soon become about is more than undone by the reckless
slums. Legislation has been enacted for the way in which we allow the population to be
compulsory acquisition of property for public multiplied. Voluntary sterilization is a
purposes with or without compensation. measure which can well be popularised
T h e most recent measure to be taken up besides dissemination of knowledge relating
is co-operative or joint farming, the details to birth-control. Any one who can devise
of which have not yet been fully worked out. simple and inexpensive methods of promo-
There is a fear on the part of some that ting birth-control will be doing immense
this may lead to some form of Communism good to India.
and the coercion which accompanies it. But
men like Nehru are confident that a via
T h e new taxes which the Government has
solution can be worked out. In India been imposing have come in for much criti-
there is room for a variety of social experi-
cism. But the advantage is that these new
mentation. No experiment, however, can taxes will help to equalize opportunities and
succeed unless people have the requisite bridge the gulf between the rich and the
character. As Jai Prakash Narain has said, poor. Taxes such as excess profits tax, gift
co-operative farming would not be successful tax, inheritance tax, wealth and expenditure
unless there was an army of persons who are tax, if honestly collected and properly admi-
sincere in the service of the public without nistered, can go a long way in creating an
any selfish motive.
egalitarian society for India. W h a t we need
is not so much of nationalisation as of
W h e n property is acquired for public socialisation.
purposes, the general rule should be to pay
a fair compensation. In the case of large
Since Independence many far-reaching
estates, however, the compensation may have reforms have been enacted in the field of
to be scaled down.
land legislation. Tenancy reforms have been
T h e abolition of begar
or forced labour enacted although not faithfully administered.
is a welcome step. Labour today is practi-
In some quarters there is a proposal for a
cally free to move about as it pleases or to ceiling on land. This is probably a right
accept or reject work on its own terms. step, yet it needs to be constantly borne in
There are still, however, pockets in remote mind that there is no single legal remedy
areas where conditions are still far from for mass economic needs.
Health reforms have received much atten-
O n e of the most serious problems facing tion since Independence. M u c h money is
India today is that of over-population. Some being spent upon medical colleges and
SOCIAL CHANGES IN INDIA
hospitals. Dispensaries and clinics are being
No social change can be of a lasting
set up in remote areas. T h e service rendered, character unless it is accompanied by
however, is not always up to the mark. necessary moral change or, to use M a h a t m a
Inexperienced and incompetent doctors and Gandhiji's language, a change of heart.
nurses can do more h a r m than good. In Without elementary honesty, truthfulness,
general, there is a lack of missionary spirit dependability, faithfulness in the fulfilment
in the administration of medical and health of the terms of a contract and desire for
service, no social change can bring about
More drugs are being manufactured in the desired result. Sound social change
India than before the attainment of I n d e -
should be initiated in the home, at the school
pendence. But the prices are still high and and in the neighbourhood and community
are not within the easy reach of the common organisations—all of which remain virgin
man. A limited amount of compulsory fields in India today. It is a truism to say
health insurance is being tried in Delhi. As that social change and moral change act and
time goes on, it is possible that this experi-
react upon each other. They go together
ment will be extended to include other parts pari passu.
They condition and recondition
of the country. Life insurance has been each other. Without corresponding civic and
nationalised. T h e social consequence of it moral change, legislative and administrative
still remains to be seen.
changes will turn into ashes in our hands.
Concluding this general survey of social The socialist pattern of society is an excellent
changes in India, it may be said that most ideal, but it must be admitted that neither
of them are from above. People's initiative the people of India as a whole nor their
and enthusiasm are lacking. There is a leaders by and large today are good enough
general apathy everywhere. U n d e r these for it. Therefore, the daily prayer and
conditions our services appear very well on earnest endeavour of every Indian should be
paper but not equally well in practice. It that we make ourselves equal to the ever-
may further be said that there is today over-
increasing challenges of our day. In the end,
legislation and under-administration. It is it may rightly be said that social changes for
far better to pass few laws and administer their fulfilment depend upon strong and
them honestly and efficiently than to pass sterling qualities of individual and national
a whole gamut of laws which are poorly character.