Westernization-Features and Impact on Indian Society


Westernization is a process whereby societies come under or adopt Western culture in areas such as industry, technology, law, politics, economics, lifestyle, diet, clothing, language, alphabet, religion, philosophy, and values. Westernization has been an accelerating influence across the world in the last few centuries, with some thinkers assuming Westernization to be the equivalent of modernization, a way of thought that is often debated. The overall process of Westernization is often two-sided in that Western influences and interests themselves are joined with parts of the affected society, at minimum, to change towards a more Westernized society, in the hope of attaining a Western life or some aspects of it, while Western societies are themselves affected by this process and interaction with non-Western groups.

The concept was also constructed by M.N. Srinivas to describe the process of social and cultural mobility in the traditional social structure of India. It has also emerged, in Srinivas’ study of the Coorgs of south India. The author has defined westernisation as “the change brought about in Indian society and culture as a result of over 150 years of British rule, the term subsuming changes occur-ring at different levels in technology, institutions, ideology and values”. M.N. Srinivas refer Westernisation to ‘the changes brought about in Indian society and culture as a result of over 150 years of British rule and the term subsumes changes occurring at different levels – technology, institutions, ideology, values.’

He traces westernisation from the period of British Raj. Surely, the colonial rule brought with it exploitation and suppression of the masses of people both at the rural and urban levels. At the same time, it also brought certain radical changes in Indian society and culture. The land was surveyed, revenue was settled, a new bureaucracy emerged, and army, police and law courts were established. The British rule also developed communications, railways, post and telegraph and also started schools and colleges.

Yet another force released by the British rule was the working of Christian missionary. The Christian missionaries worked in the different parts of the country, particularly in those which were backward and inhabited by tribals and untouchables. This brought the weaker sections closer to westernisation.

In contemporary India, when we talk about westernisation, a tremendous change has come in rural India. The impact of five-year plans has brought the village people in the wider network of commu-nication and modernisation. The democratic institutions such as Panchayati Raj and massive spread of education have brought the villagers to come closer to westernization.


Impact of Westernization on Indian Society:

The encounter between the Indian tradition and western culture was of immense sociological significance. The western tradition had a meaningful impact upon the cultural, political and social systems of India to such an enormous extent that it has been told that such a contact had initiated a new era of change in the Indian cultural tradition. The mode of the western cultural impact on the Indian tradition had distinctive features. Historically, various western traditions came to India with differing political and cultural orientations and exerted variegated influences upon Indian society and culture. The following are some of the areas in which the western impact was visibly noticed.

1. Growth of a Universalistic Legal System:

The process of westernization brought in its wake new legal norms which contributed to the growth of a universalistic positive form of law in India. Formerly the legal system was founded on the principles of hierarchy and holism. Accordingly justice was meted out on the basis of the status of various castes and classes in the local hierarchy. Thus, following the prescription of Manu, a Brahmin slandering a Kshatriya had to pay a fine of fifty Panas, but for slandering a Vaishya or Shudra he had to pay twenty five and twelve panas respectively. If the lower castes slandered the high castes, the penalties were more severe. The principle of hierarchy was strictly followed in matters of dispensing justice.

Our traditional legal system continued to be group-oriented and non-equalitarian. With the establishment of the British power in India, there came a new turning point in the legal system of the country. Various forms of legal innovation based on the principles of universalism, rationalism and individualism were introduced and thereby to making the new judicial system individual oriented and universalistic. It enacted legislations introducing social reforms in many sensitive areas such as marriage customs the age of marriage, the age of consent for marriage. It established the principle of equality and generated a consciousness of positive rights among the down-troden castes.

2. Impact of Westernization on Education:

Contemporary education is of western origin. Traditionally, the content of education was metaphysical. It was confined to the upper classes or the twice born castes. Its structure was hereditary and closed. The roles of both the teachers and the taught were qualitative-ascriptive. But Modern education has a fundamentally different orientation and organization. Its content is liberal and it preaches scientific world-view. Freedom equality, humanism and denial of faith in dogmatism are the major themes of modern education. Its professional structure is not ascriptive. It can be achieved by merit by anyone in the society.

3. Impact on the Communication network:

The media of communication have been introduced in India through the western contact. Printed newspapers came into existence only after India’s contact with the West. The Britishers introduced the telegraph, railways and modern postal system in India. Similar improvement has also been made in the other media of communication and transport. The expansion in transport by the railways, roadways, airways and waterways has contributed to the intensification in the volume of interaction and contact between one region with another. The concept of purity and pollution has been given discount since the people of all castes are travelling in the same railway coach or bus.

4. Growth of Nationalism:

Both Nationalism and democracy in the contemporary form are the gifts of westernization. Nationalism implies consciousness of one’s nationhood. Its sociological manifestation is the idea of nation-state. Democracy is a special form of political organization and system of values on which nation-state can be founded. The feeling of nationality and respect for democratic norms is a consequence of westernization.

It was the fervent patriotic zeal of the western people that made our leaders think of developing India as a united country. Most of the nationalist leaders of the freedom struggle in India got inspiration from western literature and thought. Indian nationalism, however, was not modelled completely on the western pattern.

5. Impact on Food habits and Mode of eating: 

Westernization has reached the level of food habits and way of eating. Traditionally, Indians ate their meals sitting on the floor. Food was served either on the leaves or onbrass, bronze or silver plates. Among the upper castes, and especially among Brahmin, eating was a religious act. The food had to be cooled while the women in charge of cooking and serving it must be in a ritually purer state. Food was being served to children and adults in order of seniority. At the end of the meal, the dining leaves became impure and were thrown out and the places where the leaves rested were purified with a solution of cowdung.

But now the westernized groups increasingly prefer to eat at tables with stainless steel utensils, spoons etc. thus the new mode of eating has contributed to an increase in secularization as the table is not likely to be purified with cowdung after meals and the ritual acts traditionally performed before and after meals and almost dropped. Changing food habits has brought people nearer to modern food technologies. The use of ghee has increasingly been replaced by vegetable oil both in rural and urban areas. Tea shops are now common in most road side villages and persons of all castes take tea in china cups, glasses or earthen-cups, even if tea might be drawn by a lower caste person. Eating meat and eggs by higher caste members is on the increase. Poultry farms which were previously considered polluting are opened in large numbers.

6. Impact on the Dress Pattern:

Under the influence of westernization even people living in villages have opted for factory-made clothes like nylon, Terylene, terycot etc. in place of home-spun clothes, readymade garments have become popular. The mode of dress has also under gone a drastic change. The old style of shirt has been replaced by the modern style shirts. It marked a gradual weakening of ideas of ritual purity. The western clothes became more popular even Brahmins sat at dinner with their shirts on.

7. Change in Language:

Many terms from the English language have entered the dialects of the rural folk. The expansion of civil administration popularized the terms like court, collector, judge, barristers etc. similarly the expansion of transport facilities has rendered the terms like rail, station, signals etc. matters in daily usage. Politicization of villages since Independence has introduced villages to terms like party, socialism, communism, ministry etc. and similarly, spread of medical facilities now makes expressions like injections, mixture, penicillin etc also household words.

8. Weakening of Traditional Culture:

Modern education and increased utilitarian and rational values of the Indian elite led them to make sharp criticisms of their own culture. They began casting aspersion on the evils of our traditional culture which used to make submissive. The loathing of and longing for a new culture, the raising aspirations of population for better future made them sort out what was desirable and vice versa. Indians today are more individualistic, free thinking and lead relatively a more free life. Modernization of the tradition is taking place in India today under the impact of the process of westernization.

9. Impact on Marriage:

Westernization has also brought about noticeable changes in matrimonial relationship. Marriage today is no longer seen as a relationship between two families rather it has transformed to the relationship of two individuals i.e. husband and wife. Husband and wife do not treat each other as superior or inferior but as friends and companions. Love and marriage has sidelined religion. Even marriage ceremony itself has changed.

10. Impact on Family:

Western culture preaches the individualistic ideology of family which is diametrically opposite to the collective ethos on which the joint family system is founded, imbibing the individualistic philosophy people give importance to the individual over the group there by they encourage self-men. This has cut the joint family from its very root for which it has started crippling down. Members in a family today prefer freedom to enjoy marital life. Today’s brides do not like to remain under the control of laws. New democratic conventions find their place in household affairs too.

11. Impact on the Status of Women:

A strong influence of the west is tangible on the status of women today. The medieval period in Indian history is witness to the status of women sinking to the nadir and if we find today women getting their due in almost all the fields, a major part of the credit goes to westernization. Education on the one hand generated and encouraged liberal ideas among men while on the other hand it prepared women to strive for natural status of equality.

12. Impact on Religion:

Impact of science and western education did bring about a significant change in our perception of religion. Uncritical acceptance of religious ideas is being replaced by logical interpretation and acceptance. The social value of religion has gone down. From a collective activity religion has become an individualistic activity. The activity pace of religion is gradually decreasing. There was a time when social, economic, political scenes were all dominated by religion but now it is evolving more or less as an independent institution.

13. Impact on Customs:

Indian masses which were a bit reluctant initially in accepting the ways of the west are now jumping to their ways. From clothes to houses we live in, all bear the stamp of western style and it has become a status symbol. Cosmetic, decoration of pieces, crockery and even the methods of greetings have all become westernized. In fact, in every activity of life, the impact of the west is easily seen as far as customs are concerned.

14. Impact on Art and Literature:

The literally sub-culture of India was too influenced by the English literary tradition. ‘Romanticism’ and ‘Psychiatrism’ of the west can be found in almost every kind of literary expression of today. Experimentalism, Hedonism and Romanticism have found place in Indian poetry. Equality, environment, freedom, social movement and other related topics have also got place in Indian art and literature. Modern art is definitely a by-product of westernization which could not be easily adopted because of its radically different concepts.

15. Eradication of Social Evils:

Social evils which had plagued the society and in a way were responsible for making Indian society so much vulnerable to foreign annexation, could only be given a determined fight after the process of westernization took its root. No doubt, a few social workers had raised their fingers against these social evils before but it was the process of westernization which prepared a broad base through which efforts against these evils could bear fruit.

The practice of widow burning, infanticides, stealing of children for slavery, child marriage, ban on widow marriage, untouchability are some of those social evils which are still being fought. Science and technology from the west have done some demystifying effect on these types of practices.


Features of Westernization:

1. The process of westernization subsumes changes occurring at different levels of technology, institutions, ideology and values. Broadly, it includes all changes that any non-western country like India or any other colonial country, undergoes as a result of prolonged contact with a western culture.

2. The most important area of change was the value preferences of the non-western societies:

A most important value which in turn subsumes several other values, is what may broadly characterized as humanitarianism which means active concern for the welfare of all human beings irrespective of social inequalities based on caste, economic position, religion, age or sex. Equalitarianism and secularization also form part of the value of humanitarianism. Humanitarianism refers to many of the reforms introduced by the British in the first half of the 19th century such as civil, penal and procedural laws which put an end to certain inequalities that were part of the Hindu and the Islamic jurisprudence.

The principle of equality found expression in the abolition of slavery, in the opening of new schools and colleges- which were, in theory at least, opened to all irrespective of religion, race and caste. The new economic opportunities were also open to all, although in practice caste and other elite groups who traditionally lived in the big towns, enjoyed considerable advantages over others.

3. The introduction of reforms and new laws by the British led to several changes in the Indian customs which were earlier enforced as part of one’s religious duty:

A religious custom had to satisfy the test of reason and humanitarianism if it was to be allowed to survive. As the British rule gained roots in India, the values of rationality and humanitarianism also became firmly entrenched in the caste-ridden society. The formal system of education introduced by the British played an effective role in perpetuating these values.

4. Westernization is an all inclusive term:

It covers a wide range of changes from western technology at one end to the experimental method of modern science and modern historiography at the other. In the field of technology it has revolutionized the process of mass communication, transportation, industrialization and improved health care facilities and has made available new comfortable gadgets for better living conditions. These changes are intimately linked with the life of the common man and have proved consequential.

5. The process of Westernization in India was uneven:

Only a tiny fraction of Indian population came into direct, face to face contact with the British. And those who came in contact with the British officers did not always become a force for change. Indian servants of the British, for instance, probably wielded some influence among their kin groups and local caste groups but not among others. They often came from the low castes as well. Their westernization was of a superficial kind as the upper castes made fun of them.

6. The process of westernization has neatly intensified in many ways since 1947:

The first and most critical step in westernization was the establishment of Pax Britanica and the revolutions in communications that followed. Extension of the administrative and trading frontiers broke the centuries old isolation of the different groups inhabiting the remote parts of the country. Similarly the means of transportation and communication opened up avenues for new contacts.

Thus, development of communications and the removal of internal custom barriers integrated the economics of various regions in the country. In a word the political and administrative integration of India as well as the development of communication and the beginning of industrialization and agricultural development, increased spatial and social mobility of both the elite and the rural poor which laid the foundation of subsequent nationwide westernization.

7. The form and pace of Westernization of India varied from region to region and from one section of population to another:

For instance, one group of people became westernized in their dress, diet, manners, speech, sports and in the gadgets they used while another absorbed western science, knowledge and literature, remaining free from external attributes of westernization. For example, Brahmins accepted the western style of dressing and appearance, sent their children to westernized schools used gadgets like the radio, car etc. but they did not accept the British diet, dancing, hunting, and the casual attitude of the British about population.

8. Another feature of Westernization is that it creates many inter contradictory forces which, instead of consolidating, contradict each other:

In the political and cultural fields, westernization has given birth not only to nationalism but also revivalism, communalism, casteism, linguism, regionalism etc.









Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post