Types of Society in India

Types of Society

This planet on which man lives is made up of people in social relationship with each other. It breaks down into specific societies where people with a common culture carry on a shared life based on their interdependence. The type of society has not been the same everywhere on this planet nor has it been similar throughout the course of human history.

Sociology recognises many types of Society and defines these types of society in a very clear manner. Three main types of society tribal, agrarian and industrial have been marked out on this globe. The African society is tribal; the Indian society is agrarian while the American society is industrial.

Similarly, in India also, there exist these three classes.


A. Tribal Society

According to Ralph Linton, tribe is group of bands occupying a contiguous territory or territories having a feeling of unity deriving from numerous similarities in culture ,frequent contacts and a certain community of interests.

Ghurye calls the tribal of India as imperfectly segment of the Hindus.

D.N Majumdar defines tribe as a social group with territorial affiliation endogamous with no specialization of functions ruled by tribal officers hereditary or otherwise united in language or dialect recognizing social distance with other tribes.

According to Bogardus, “The tribal group is based on the need for protection, on ties of blood relationship and on the strength of a common religion.”

The tribe is a group of persons having a common definite territory, common dialect, common name, common religion and a common culture. They are united by blood relationship and have a peculiar political organisation.

A large section of tribal population depends on agriculture for survival. The examples of agricultural tribes are: Oraons, Mundas, Bhils, Santhals, Baigas, and Hos etc. The Toda furnish classic example of pastoral economy. Their social and economic organization is built around the buffaloes. They obtain their living through exchange.

In some parts of India the tribal people are engaged in shifting cultivation. It is known by different names- Nagas call it Jhum, Bhuiya call it Dahi and Koman ,Maria of Bastar call it Penda, Khond refer to it as Podu and Saiga call it Bewar.

Many subsidiary occupations like handicrafts are undertaken in the various tribal zones. These include basket-making, spinning and weaving. For e.g. Tharu depend upon furniture making, musical instruments, weapons, ropes and mats. The Korw and Agaria are well known iron-smelters producing tools for local use


Characteristics of Tribal Society

The tribe inhabits and remains within definite and common topography. The members of a tribe possess a consciousness of mutual unity. The members of a tribe speak a common language. The members generally marry into their own group but now due to increased contact with outsiders there are instances of tribal marring outside as well. The tribes believe in ties of blood relationship between its members. They have faith in their having descended from a common, real or mythical, ancestor and hence believe in blood relationships with other members.

Chief characteristics of tribe:

(i) Common Territory

(ii) Sense of Unity

(iii) Common Language

(iv) Endogamous

(v) Blood Relationship

(vi) Political Organisation: Each tribe has its own political organisation which maintains harmony. There is a chief of the tribe who exercises authority over all the members of the tribe.

(vii) Importance of Religion: Religion plays an important part in the tribal organisation. The members of a tribe worship a common ancestor.  The tribal political and social organization is based on religion because they are granted religious sanctity and recognition.

(viii) Common Name: The tribe has a common name.

A tribe differs from clan. The clan has no definite territory and no common language and is an exogamous group.

Tribe differs from caste, (i) Tribe is a territorial group, whereas caste is a social group, (ii) Caste originated on the basis of division of labour, tribe came about because of the evolution of community feeling in a group inhabiting a definite geographical area, (iii) The tribe is a political organisation, whereas caste is never a political organisation.

Tribal Practices
  • Joking relationships prevails in Matrilineal Hopi, Matrilineal Trobriand Islanders,Oraons and Baigas
  • Group marriage prevail among Marquesans and Todas
  • Couvade is practiced mainly in Khasi,Toda,Ho and Oraon
  • Teknonymy in Khasis
  • Ultimogeniture in Khasis
  • Uxorilocal in Garos
  • Matrilineal societies are present among Moplahs,Hopi,Nayars
  • Polyandry practices tribes are -Todas,Ladaki Botas and Nayars
  • Polygamy is found among Eskimo tribes,Crows of North America
  • Levirate marriages are found in Ahirs in Haryana,Kodagus of Mysore and Jats and Gujars of UP


Some of the Indian tribes


  • Constitute the largest tribal group in India.
  • Found mainly in Madhya Pradesh (Jhabua,Dhar,Kahnwa) and east Gujarat.
  • Martial race; primarily agriculturalist.
  • Badwas are witch finder,Pujaro are priests and Kotwal are drummers,Tadni is village headman.
  • Generally endogamous
  • Practice polygamy also.


  • Second largest tribal group in India.
  • Dravidian background
  • Found mainly in Madhya Pradesh
  • Some of the tribal groups are Bastai,Marias,Murias,Prajas,Bhatras
  • Dependent mainly on agriculture, cattle rearing second main occupation.
  • Divided into exogamous sects or clans.
  • Speak Gondi dialect.
  • Lineage is traced through male lines.


  • Third largest tribal group in India believed to be of Pre-Aryan origin.
  • Mainly in Santhal Paraganas of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal etc.
  • Speak Santhali language.
  • Naik is the village priest,Gorait is the messenger,Jogmanjhi is the headmentribal council is Parganait.
  • Singlonga or Sun God is the main deity.


  • Found mainly in Nilgiri Hills of South India.
  • Classic example of polyandry.
  • Call themselves Tora
  • Badaga,Kota,Kurumbaand Irula tribes
  • The word Toda is derived from Tundra, name of sacred tree of Topdas.
  • Divided into two moieties called Taratharal and Teivaloil.These are endogamous units.All the sacred herd and cattle are owned by Tartharal thus they occupy a higher status.
  • The clans are divided into families locally known as Kudupeli.
  • Fraternal polyandry found.
  • Divorce freely allowed.
  • Todas have classificatory type of kinship calling many relatives or friends by some designation.
  • Females have low status.
  • People are governed by council of five elders called as Naim.Three members of this council come from Tarthar clans,two from Teivali clans and one from Badagas.
  • Two of the main deities are Teikirizi and On.


  • Mainly found in Andhra Pradesh on the river Krishna.
  • They are mostly settled cultivators and very much influenced by neighboring plains people.
  • They speak dialect of Dravidian origin.
  • Now they have started living in semi-permanent huts.
  • They are divided into exogamous clans and have animal totems.
  • Divorce is common.
  • Chenchus have traditional leader Peddamanshi.
  • Bhaivov and Garelamaisama are popular local deities.


  • One of the matriarchial tribes of world.
  • They are mainly in Jaintia hills of Meghalaya.
  • Divided into four main sub-groups- Khynrian,Pnar,War and Bhoi.
  • They speak a dialect that belongs to the Mon- Khmer branch of Austric family.
  • Each of the sub-tribes is divided into a number of clans known as Kurs.
  • Marriage within the clan is prohibited.
  • Khasis are characterized by matrilineal descent.
  • The clan is further sub-divided into sub class known as kpoh (composed of descendents of one grandmother.


B. Agrarian Society

Societies are classified on the basis of dominant types of economic activity into agrarian and industrial societies. In an agrarian society the dominant type of economic activity is agricultural whereas in an industrial society factory production is the dominant type of economic activity. Only in the past century and a half has the world known industrial society. Even today, from two-third to three-fourths of the world’s people live in agrarian or peasant societies.

The earliest men lived in relatively small bands, formed on the basis of family and blood ties. Their economy consisted of seed and root gathering, of hunting and fishing. The Neolithic Revolution marks one of the greatest changes in the history of society, one matched only by the Industrial Revolution. The Neolithic Revolution began in the Near east and the Nile Valley about 13,000 years ago.

It spread to central and western Europe three or four thousand years later. During this period men began to polish some of their stone tools, giving them a sharper cutting edge, and they invented the arts of pottery and weaving. But these were not the most important changes. It was the domestication of plants and animals which laid the foundation of agrarian society.

The development of agriculture greatly altered the social structure and institutions. The new form of economy made possible a more rapid growth in population. It also meant a more settled abode. Man founded villages and thereby created the need for new forms of social structure and social control.

Structure and Features of Agrarian Society:

(i) Occupational Structure:

An agrarian society is generally associated with the domestication of plants and animals. The domestication of plants means farming and that of animals means herding. Often there is mixture of farming and the use of such domesticated animals as cow, goat and sheep.

But along with agricultural and herding there are other economic activities of the people in an agrarian society. Thus there are artisans like weavers, potters, blacksmiths, petty shopkeepers, service holders such as sweeper, watchman, domestic servant and others pursuing lowly occupations.

(ii) Forms of Land Ownership in Agrarian Societies:

Generally, there are landlords, supervisory farmers, cultivators and share croppers. The landholders own the land but do not work on it. They let it out for sharecropping. The supervisory farmers are those who live by having their land cultivated by hired labourers. The cultivators cultivate the land for themselves.

The share-croppers are those who live by tilling other people’s land or; a crop-sharing basis. The artisans own their means of production and produce by their own labour in their homesteads. The traders are not large size businessmen. It may be noted that the artisan and trader class in an agrarian society sometimes also own land which they either cultivate through hired labour or let it out for shareholding.

(iii) Village Community System:

An agrarian society is highlighted by the institution of village community system. The agrarian economy made fixed dwelling houses necessary. Living close together for protection and co-operation and living nearer to the land gave birth to agricultural villages. The village is not only the residential place of farmers; it is also the social integrator.

It serves as the nucleus of the society and life operates almost completely within the village. The life-patterns of the people are fixed. Their habits, attitudes and ideas are sharply marked off from those of the people living in the industrial society. The production-relations between the different classes living in the village community become so stabilised that even the new forces find it difficult to break them through.

Inspite of all the talk of uplifting the ‘Harijan’ (agricultural labourers) from their miserable conditions, the Indian leaders have not succeeded to break through the production-relations between the agricultural labourer and his landlord.

(iv) Minimal Division of Labour:

Another structural feature of agrarian society is a minimal division of labour. Except for the basic division founded on age and sex differences, there are few specialized roles. There is only one predominant type of occupation i.e., domestication of plants and animals. For all the people the environment, physical as well as social, is the same.

The agrarian society is a homogeneous society where people are engaged in the same economic pursuit. There is not much division and sub-division of work. There is no multiplicity of organisations, economic and social.

There are no trade unions or professional associations. The different physical types, interests, occupational roles, values, religious groups and attitudes so obvious in an industrial society are absent from the agrarian society. The people tend to be much alike in body build as well as cultural patterns.

(v) Role of Family:

One striking feature of the agrarian society is the great importance of the family, not only as a reproductive and child-rearing agency but as an economic unit. In many societies it is not the individual as such but the entire family as a group that tills the soil, plants and harvests the crops, and carries out co-operatively the other necessary farm functions.

The farm family is of the patriarchal type: the father is the final arbiter in most of the family’s major decisions. The status of the family is the status of the individual. There are established family traditions in regard to marriage, religion, recreation and occupation.

The life of ail men and women is merged in family life. Since there are not many special organizations, family is the only organisation to perform the tasks of aid and protection.

(vi) Sense of Unity:

The members of an agrarian society exhibit a strong in-group feeling. Since the whole of their social lives is wrapped up in a society which is physically, economically and socially homogenous, they are inclined to view the entire outside world as an out group.

There is a strong ‘we- feeling’. In the name of village glory, the people are ready to sacrifice their lives. Any outsider violating the village norms and customs is heavily punished.

The relations among the village people are personal. In an agrarian society neighbourhood is one of the important units which has disappeared from the industrial society.

(vii) Informal Social Control:

An agrarian society is regionally divided into villages. In a village community the force of traditional mores is more dominant than in the urban community. In the village everybody is known to everybody. The members in a village community help each other and share the joy and sorrows of each other.

Crime in an agrarian society is rare. Sanctions are imposed informally through gossip, ridicule or ostracism. Behaviour is governed by folkways and mores; there is little formal law. Infernal pressures are sufficient to enforce the norms.

(viii) Simplicity and Uniformity:

Life of the people in an agrarian society is marked by simplicity and uniformity. Their main occupation is agriculture which largely depends upon the vagaries of nature. The farmer acquires an attitude of fear and awe towards natural forces and starts worshipping them. The people thereby come to develop deep faith in religion and deities.

An agrarian society is a religious society. Moreover, the farmers lead a simple life. Their clothing, agricultural practices and vehicles have been carried out with little change for generations. They regard simple life as good life.

They are far away from the evils of industrial civilization. Their behaviour is natural and not artificial. They live a peaceful life. They are free from mental conflicts. They do not suffer heart-strokes. They are sincere, hardworking and hospitable. They view land as the most substantial of all heritages.

To conclude, it may also be said that agrarian society in our times is being influenced more and more by the features of industrial society. The farmer now produces surplus goods for a wider market, makes use of the money economy of industrial era and takes part in a larger political order by paying taxes and voting.

The continued extension of commercial farming with an eye to profits, along with the introduction of machinery has greatly influenced the social organisation of agrarian societies. The Indian society which is an agrarian society is gradually undergoing transformation under the impact of industrialisation.

The introduction of commercialization and mechanization into agriculture means that the urban ways of life more and more influence agrarian culture. And once the shift gets well under way, business and industrial views and methods will affect not only production and marketing but the level of living and other cultural patterns as well.


3. Industrial Society

A very important factor in the history of society has been the Industrial Revolution which has brought about far-reaching consequences in the structure of societies. Prior to the Industrial Revolution most workers secured their own raw materials and owned their own tools.

They worked under their own roofs on their own time, and determined both the quality and quantity of what they produced and sold the finished product to the consumer. The worker took pride in his product and he used to establish his reputation as a man who had made the best product. He lived a life of simplicity controlled by traditional community mores. His children saw his father working on the product, helped him and gradually learnt the job the father was doing.

This social structure began to change with the beginning of Industrial Revolution. An entrepreneur, an individualist capitalist came in and took over some of the operations. He was an intelligent, ambitious man and established a factory. He secured the raw materials, gauged the market, and took workers from under their own roofs to produce things in his factory.

He took the produce and sold it. In this process the worker came to be separated from the means of production. He now owned neither the raw material, nor the tools, nor the building nor the product. He was now a labour. Factory production, fixed capital and free labour were the characteristics of this revolution.

As a result of this economic revolution, several important alterations occurred in the social structure and a new type of society called industrial society was born.

Features of Industrial Society:

(i) Emergence of Modern Family:

The emergence of modern family in place of traditional patriarchal family is the first feature of industrial society. The family in industrial society has moved from an institution to companionship. The woman is no longer the devotee of man but an equal partner in life with equal rights.

It is not only the males who go to the factory and offices for work, but the women also are as good earning members as the men. The family has changed from a production to consumption unit. It now no longer performs the functions which it did in the pre-industrial society. The machines and appliances have lessened the drudgery of cooking, bathing, cleaning and washing.

Even the functions of child bearing and rearing are differently performed in the industrial society. The hospital offers room for the birth of child and he is brought up in the nursing home while the mother is away to the factory. The family members of industrial society are individualized in their outlook. In short, the structure and functions of the family in industrial society are different from those in the agrarian society.

(ii) Economic Institutions:

The most important difference between the industrial society and pre-industrial society can be seen in the structure of economic institutions. The industrial society is marked by a new system of production, distribution, and exchange. In place of house-holds there are factories where the work is divided up into little pieces. Large plants have been set up. Corporations have come into existence.

Ownership has been separated from control. The large industrial business, such as Tata’s and Birla’s is owned not by one man but by millions of people. The stockholders among whom this diversified ownership is spread do own their companies. But they delegate control of the corporation to salaried management.

As a matter of fact, we have a sort of collectivization of ownership in an industrial society. Capitalism with all its necessary features is an important aspect of industrial society. Thus it is marked by the institutions of private property, division of labour, profit, competition, wage and credit. The growth of trade unions is also an important feature of industrial society.

(iii) Occupational Sub-cultures:

As referred to above, there is extreme division of labour in industrial society. Both the production of goods and management of factory are divided into little pieces leading to occupational specialities. There are thousands in a factory to produce specialized tasks in order to produce, say, a pair of shoes.

Like-wise, the management work is also divided, one looking to the purchase of raw material, the other one looking to the maintenance of plant and machinery, the third one looking after advertisement and publicity and so on.

Such a division of labour leads to what some sociologists have called situses sets of related occupational specialities arranged hierarchically parallel to and separate from other sets of related roles, which are also arranged in hierarchies. Each situs or family or related occupation builds up a set of norms peculiar to it.

These occupational sub-cultures insulate their participants from the members of another situs. Doctors and nurses hold values not shared by engineers and truck drivers. The occupational norms of the lawyers are not those of teachers.

The industrial society as it is marked by extreme occupational specialisation is thus fragmented by occupational sub-cultures. This can be seen at its extreme when doctors in India and United States have more to talk about with each other than either group has with the farmers from its own country.

(iv) Segmentalized Roles:

People in industrial societies have segmentalized roles. One may be a welder, a religious preacher, a father, a member of a political group, a member of the cricket team. No one of these bears the same necessary relationship to another that the roles filled by a tribe’s man in a tribal society do. In such a society, one need only know his clan membership to predict his occupation, his relation and his educational attainment.

(v) Impersonality of Relationship:

An industrial society is marked by impersonal rather than personal relationships. Occupational specialization contributes a good share to impersonality of industrial life. The secondary character of association, the multiplicity of occupations, the specialization of functions and areas and competitiveness narrow the attachments and detract the individual from a feeling of identification with the entire society.

Further the separation of place of work from place of residence removes working fathers from the view of their children. Most children do not know what daddy does when he goes to work. They just know that he goes and comes back. As a matter of fact, not only do most children not know what their fathers do, but neither do many wives know exactly.

The wife only knows that her husband works in the textile mill, but what he actually does there, whether he works on the assembly line, or is he a machine operator or is he a supply man, is not known to her. Under such circumstances, family fails to enable the child to walk out of adolescence into an adult occupational role.

(vi) Status to Contract:

The most important feature for an understanding of industrial society is the trend that sociologists describe as movement from status to contact. In medieval society the serfs had lands because of their status. A baron was born a baron. His grandfather had been a baron and it was his right.

The serfs owned him certain obligations not because of achievement, but because each man was born into his status. The whole society was structured on ascribed status. The industrial society has shattered this structure.

In an industrial society most people work for big organizations and contracts are substituted for status system. There is a wage contract, a social security contract, an unemployment insurance contract and so on. In place of mutual obligation system there is found contract system in industrial society.

(vii) Social Mobility:

Since an industrial society has moved from status to contract, therefore, as a consequence thereof, it is marked by social mobility. The member of industrial society can by his achievement raises or lowers his status during his life time. The role of caste as a factor in determining status gets minimised in an industrial society.

(viii) Position of Women:

In an agrarian society there are few economic pursuits open for women. They are mostly confined to household drudgeries; and render help at the time of planting and harvesting of the crops. In an industrial society there are more opportunities open for women.

Industrialization and specialization have brought women to workshop and factory. They have entered into the wider life which has altered their outlook and liberated them from the exclusiveness of domesticity. Seats are now reserved for them in legislatures and other elective bodies. The ‘lib’ movement is a contribution of industrial society.

(ix) Deviance and Anomie:

The industrial society is a mass society with differing sub-cultures. Its members live under stresses and strains caused by acute competitiveness. The factories run day and night. People indulge in too many activities and work at tremendous speed. They are surrounded by complex and heterogeneous rules of behaviour laid down by various agencies which impose an enormous number of constraints on human behaviour.

Capitalism, exploitation, class conflicts, cultural lags, impersonality of relationships, predominance of individualism and mechanical life are the attributes of industrial society which create mental and emotional disorders. The members of industrial society suffer from neurosis, psychosomatic disorders and psychosis. The incidence of suicide and drug addiction is also higher in industrial society.

To conclude, the industrial society has brought about great changes in the institutional structure and norms. The American society is an industrial society where the people are highly literate, scientifically trained, economically prosperous but individualistically oriented.

Will human relationship in such a society be more stable and integrated? The answer is not definite. However, more and more agrarian societies are entering the phase of industrialization and in future we shall have more industrial societies.