The role’ Westernisation‘ has been very significant in understanding the socio-cultural changes of modern India. British rule produced radical and lasting changes in the Indian society and culture.
The British brought with them, (unlike the previous invaders) new technology, institutions, knowledge, beliefs, and values. These have become the main source of social mobility for individuals as well as groups.
It is in this context, M.N. Srinivas, a renowned sociologist of India, ‘introduced the term’ ‘ Westernisation’ mainly to explain the changes that have taken place in the Indian society and culture due to the Western contact through the British rule.
Definition of the Term “Westernisation”:
According to M.N. Srinivas,’ ‘Westernisation” refers 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.
M.N. Srinivas criticises Lerner’s concept of ‘modernisation’ on the ground that it is a value- loaded term. According to him, “Modernisation” is normally used in the sense that it is good. He, therefore, prefers to use the term’ Westernisation’.
He describes the technological changes, establishment of educational institutions, rise of nationalism and new political culture, etc. as almost the bye- products of Westernisation or the British rule of two hundred years in India. Thus, by Westernisation, Srinivas primarily meant the British impact.
”During the 19th century the British slowly laid the foundations of a modern state by surveying land, settling the revenue, creating a modern bureaucracy, army and police, instituting law courts, codifying the law, developing communications — railways, post and telegraph, roads and canals— establishing schools and colleges, and so on…” (Srinivas).
The British brought with them the printing press which led to many-sided changes. Books and journals made possible the transmission of modem as well as traditional knowledge to large number of Indians. Newspapers helped the people living in the remote corners of the country to realise their common bonds and to understand the events happening in the world outside.
More than any other thing the Western education had an impact on the style of living of the people. They gave up their inhibition towards meat-eating and consumption of alcohol. They also adopted Western style of dressing and dining.
As Gandhiji wrote in his “Autobiography”, educated Indians undertook the task of ”becoming English gentlemen in their dress, manners, habits, choices, preferences, etc.” It included even learning to appreciate Western music and participating in ball dancing. Western education resulted in a big change in the outlook of those educated.
M.N. Srinivas says that it is necessary “to distinguish conceptually between Westernisation and two other processes usually concouilait with it. — Industrialisation and Urbanisation.”. He gives two reasons for this: (i) Urbanisation is not a simple function of’ ‘industrialisation” and there were cities in Pre-industrial world” also.’ ‘(ii) There are cases of rural people who are more urbanised than urban people”.
Main Features of Westernisation:
1. In comparison with Sanskritisation, Westernisation is a simpler concept. As it is already made clear, it explains the impact of Western contact (particularly of British rule) on the Indian society and culture.
M.N. Srinivas defends the uses of the term when he says that there is “need for such a term when analysing the changes that a non-Western country undergoes as a result of prolonged contact with a Western one”.
2. Westernisation “implies, according to Srinivas, “certain value preferences”. The most important value, which in turn subsumes several other values, is “humanitarianism”.
It implies “an active concern for the welfare of all human beings irrespective of caste, economic position, religion, age and sex”. He further observes that equalitarianism and secularisation are both included in humanitarianism. Humanitarianism underlay many of the reforms introduced by the British in the first half of the 19th century. As British rule progressed “rationality and humanitarianism became broader, deeper and more powerful…”
The humanitarian outlook among the Westernised elite led first to social reform movement and later on to the independence movement. They were actually aware of existing social evils like child marriage, tabooes against widow remarriage, seclusion of women, hostility to women’s education, tabooes against intercaste marriages, intercaste dining, untouchability etc.
Social reform movements started with the efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy who founded the “Brahmo Samaj”. Arya Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Sri Ramakrishna Mission and such other movements that followed later, too had imbibed in them the humanitarian values.
3. Westernisation not only includes the introduction of new institutions (for example, newspapers, elections, Christian missionaries) but also fundamental changes in old institutions.
For example, India had schools long before the arrival of the British. But they were different from the British- introduced schools in that they had been restricted to upper caste children and transmitted mostly traditional knowledge. Other institutions such as the army, civil service and law courts were also similarly affected.
4. The form and pace of Westernisation of India varied from region to region and from one section of population to another. (Srinivas 1985). For example, one group of people became Westernised in their dress, diet, manners, speech, sports and in the gadgets they used. While another absorbed Western science, knowledge and literature, remaining relatively free from certain other aspects Westernisation.
For example, Brahmins accepted the Western dress habits and educational systems and also used gadgets such as radio, television, car, telephone etc. But they did not accept the British diet, dancing, hunting and such other habits. This distinction is, however, only relative and not absolute.
5. According to Srinivas, Westernisation pervades political and cultural fields also. He writes: “In the political and cultural fields, Westernistion has given birth not only to nationalism but also to revivalism communalism, ‘casteism’, heightened linguistic consciousness, and regionalism.
To make matters even more bewildering, revivalist movements have used Western type schools and colleges, and books, pamphlets and journals to propagate their ideas”— (Pages 55-56).
6. As M.N. Srinivas claims, “The term Westernisation unlike ‘Modernisation’ is ethically neutral. Its use does not carry the implication that it is good or bad, whereas modernisation is normally used in the sense that it is good.”
7. According to Srinivas, “the increase in Westernisation does not retard the process of Sanskritisation. Both go on simultaneously, and to some extent, increase in Westernisation accelerates the process of Sanskritisation.
For example, the postal facilities, railways, buses and newspaper media, which are the fruits of Western impact on India render more organised religious pilgrimages, meetings, caste solidarities, etc., possible now than in the past”.
8. The term Westernisation is preferable to ‘Modernisation’, M.N. Srinivas asserts. “He contends that modernisation presupposes ‘rationality of goals’ which in the ultimate analysis could not be taken for granted since human ends are based on value preferences and “rationality could only be predicted of the means not of the ends of social action”.
He considers the term “Modernisation” as subjective and the term ‘ Westernisation’ as more objective. (Whereas writers such as Daniel Lerner, Harold gould, Milton Singer and Yogendra singh consider the term ‘Modernisation as more preferable in place of Westernisation).
Westernisation: Some Comments:
Most of the scholars have recognised the importance of the twin concepts of ‘ Westernisation’ and ‘Sanskritisation’ introduced by M.N. Srinivas in explaining the social and cultural changes taking place in the Indian society.
Westernisation can be considered an agent of Sanskritisation in so far as it promotes the spread of cultural ideas and values among the lower castes. The process of Sanskritisation implies mobility within the framework of caste, while westernisation implies mobility outside the framework of caste.
As M.N. Srinivas has pointed out “One of the many interesting contradictions of modern Hindu social life is that while the Brahmins are becoming more and more Westernised, the other castes are becoming more and more Sanskritised.
In the lower reaches of the hierarchy, castes are taking up customs which the Brahmins are busy discarding”— (M.N. Srinivas in his “Caste in Modern India and other Essays: Pages 54-55).
It is also true that with the Westernisation of Indian society, caste becomes more or less secular due to the new ideas introduced by the West. Westernisation as a social process has influenced the various aspects of social life of the Indian community.
Scholars like Bernard Cohn and Milton Singer have supported the validity of the concept of Sanskritisation on the basis of their empirical studies. They observed that “while upper caste was Westarising its style of life and religious beliefs, the lower caste was Sanskritising and assuming more traditional forms of ritual, practice and belief.
Scholars have also criticised the concept ‘Westernisation’. Some such criticisms can be recalled here.
1. The concepts of Sanskritisation and Westernisation primarily analyse social change in ‘cultural’ and not in ‘structural’ terms. This denoted that these terms have limited range of application and use.
2. “Srinivas’s model explains the process of social change only in India which is based on the caste system. It is not useful for other societies” (Prof. Ram Ahuja – Page: 360).
3. Zetterberg (1965) has stated that the twin concepts of Srinivas are “Truth asserting” concepts. Yogendra Singh also endorses this opinion in his own way: “Obviously, Sanskritisation and Westernisation are, theoretically loose terms; but as ‘Truth-asserting’ concepts they have great appropriateness and viability”.
This connotation is often vague especially regarding Sanskritisation. Because, Srinivas himself has said Sanskritisation is an extremely complex and heterogenous concept.
4. Though Srinivas claimed that the concept of Westernisation is “ethically neutral”, it is not really so. He himself says that it implies “certain value preferences” such as humanitarianism, equalitarianism, secularisation, and a degree of rationalism. A reference to these values definitely implies that Westernisation is, in general, good and desirable.
5. It is also commented that the Western model which Srinivas has eulogised has its own contradiction. The Western model sometimes conveys values that are contrary to the ones mentioned above. In this context, mention can be made of the facts of Western life such as racial prejudice, colour segregation and exploitative nature of the Western economy, etc. These facts contradict humanitarian ideals or rational outlook on life.
6. The concept has its own limitation in yet another sense. The concept will be of little use in explaining the nature of social change taking place in post-Independent India. Professor Srinivas is aware of this limitation when he says:”/ am using it deliberately in spite of its vagueness and omnibus character”.
7. Daniel Lerner has raised some objections to the use of Westernisation as conceived by Srinivas:
(i) It is too local a label and the model which is imitated may not be a Western country, but Russia;
(ii) “One of the results…of prolonged contact with the West is the rise of an elite class whose attitude to the West is ambivalent”. It is not invariably positive. In this context, Lerner refers to the appeal of Communism in non-Western countries;
(iii) Westernisation in ortearea or level of behaviour does not result in Westernisation in another related area or level. The two remain discrete;
(iv) ‘While there are certain common elements in Westernisation, each European country along with the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, reperesents a particular variant of a common culture and significant difference exist between one country and another”.