Social Life in Eighteenth Century India

The social life in eighteenth century India was continuation of the past legacy. Despite some universal features of socio-cultural unity through out India over the centuries, there was no uniformity in the social patterns.

The society was divided into multi layered identities on the basis of religion, region, tribe, language, class and caste. Hindus were divided on the basis of hundreds of castes. The caste was decided by birth, fixing the permanent place of the people in social hierarchy. Inter-caste marriages and inter-caste dining was forbidden.

Traditionally, caste was the basis of the profession but by the eighteenth century to some extent social and professional mobility was being followed. For example Brahmans started adopting various progenies and pursuing trading activities. The caste continued to be a major divisive force.

Muslims were also influenced by the considerations of race, caste, tribe and status. The Shias and Sunnis had major religious differences while the Irani, Afghani, Turani and Hindustani Muslims had lot of differences to stand apart from each other. People converted to Islam carried their caste into the religion.

The basic social unit was the family based on patriarchal patterns except Kerela where matrilineal system was prevalent. Women were expected to live as the role models of ideal daughters, wives and mothers. Women of the upper classes, in north India, had to follow purdah. Child marriages was prevalent and marriage was a social obligation between the two families.

Among the upper classes polygamy and dowry was prevalent but the greatest evil of eighteenth century India were the custom of sati and the condition of widows among the Hindus.

The education system could not change according to the requirements of the time. The curriculum was confined to literature, languages, law, religion, philosophy and logic and excluded the study of physical and natural sciences, technology and geography. There was lack of progressive ideas as theoretical framework dominated. Elementary education was widespread. Mediums of higher education were Sanskrit and Persian only. Moreover, this education excluded females and low caste people.