I am delighted to be part of this conference on India and I would like to begin by thanking the organizers for inviting me and enabling me to come to Rio de Janeiro to present my paper before you. India, in some ways like Brazil and China, the three growing economic powers of this period, is an ancient society which has seen considerable modernization and change. When Indianists, sociologists and anthropologists began to study Indian society, they depicted it principally in accordance with three variables: caste, village and family. These were said to be the three great institutions of traditional Indian society. Of course, traditional society was also considered largely as Hindu society.
Thus, the three-to-five generational, patrilineal, patrilocal joint family was considered the bulwark of traditional Hindu society. This society was divided into numberless castes, regionally specific; but, across the country the logic of varna ordered the castes into a more rigid hierarchy: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra. The avarnacastes were considered pariah, even untouchable. Even Marx understood India as a village society, its villages ‘little republics’, largely untouched by the dynamics of political or social change. These pictures of Indian culture and society were, as we shall see, to a considerable extent true but were also somewhat problematic and scholars soon began to realize that the real situations had always been more complex and intricate.