Modernity in India


Dr. Ravi P. Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

Modernity is a universal aspect of the  Modern World. We see its signs in the world as well as in India in various ways. Earlier Modernity  was essentially a western concept. It was analysed by western scholars and sociologists — especially the French scholars such as   Voltaire, David    Hume,   Jean Jacques  Rousseau. Other scholars who worked in these areas and developed additional features of MY were Immanuel Kant and Adam Smith.

Modernity resulted due to breakdown of medieval order and beginning of a new era with new possibilities. Its new order was strongly affected by the presence of science and technology in society. How the social changes occurred and how people accepted these changes — rather how scholars’ attitudes and behaviour promoted these changes, is now broadly appreciated by scholars especially the western scholars . Of course these changes resulted in transforming Indian scholarship also — especially epistemology— philosophy of knowledge in India.

Aspects of enlightenment that are important are — reason, empiricism, Science and Technology (S&T) , secularism and universalism etc. Immanuel Kant called the new form of S&T and universalism — light of reason — society awakening from deep slumber of superstition and ignorance.

Modernity makes us believe that it is possible to accept social, political, economic and cultural changes in the world . This way we can free man from dogma and prejudice and create a new world order. Science is an essential element  in the new order. In fact science is inherently liberating. It enables man to tap natural resources for human well-being.

Modernity requires dynamic and expansionist capital order —a new and large administrative and bureaucratic system of social organisation. It allows dominance of secular, cultural, rationalist values and separation of private and public issues. It is believed that science is liberating — allowing man to employ natural resources for his well being . This results in formation of rational, cultural and efficient economy and administration for his well being. It breeds idea of a nation state, idea of citizenship and provides necessary democratic freedom.

There are some negative aspects — causing alienation . It also results in degrading human uniqueness. It violates nature and destroys possibility of symbiotic relationship between mankind and Mother Earth. Its preoccupation with S & T reduces non rational faculties of human existence, making the world dull, uniform and homogenised .

Today prevalence of social knowledge — Sociology— is largely shaped by experience of modernity — its promises and also by its discontents , both  positively and negatively.

Sociology emerged as an intellectual response to modernity. Earlier French scholars and practitioners tried to promote a new order of society as detailed in sociology This is now well entrenched in society in various ways and aspects. The new order or system helps us to accept changes that occur naturally in society.

One can see some important and interesting aspects of modernity in India. Earlier Indian family usually consisted of three generations — grandfather , grandmother, father and mother, and their children . Today three generation living together is rare even if the people are alive. The grandfather generation usually lives separately — either in a special family system where other people of the relevant age group also live. Rarely does this generation live with their sons or daughters. The family usually consists of parents and their children. The children in the age groups 25 or 30 years or older, also move out due to their getting jobs in other states or towns.

However , we do see Indian families comprising parents and their children living together. The children are usually in their teens.

Of course in villages we see rural families living together  which helps them in various ways. Break ups of these families is usually very rare.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 Apr 2024.

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