Globalization: The Impact on Indian Society

Globalization is nothing new to India. For centuries, people have migrated here, bringing their own cultures, social norms, value systems and ways of life.


There have been the Chinese, and Portuguese traders, and those from other parts of the world. These merchants have not just brought in their goods, but new concepts, ideologies and ideas too, and this changed people of the land. The Buddhist influence was so great that a lot of people embraced the religion at the time. The next to arrive were the Mughals from the west, with their own beliefs, religion and ways of life. Much of north India took to these new influences. Social structure, food habits, and even folk culture changed. And finally there were the Europeans – the British, Dutch, French and the Portuguese.


All these influences have brought about a gradual end of traditional ways of life. Sometimes the impact hasn’t been that severe. But ways of life, social practices, and even the culture changed a great deal. In fact the values of Indian society and its self-awareness have changed several times over the centuries.


British rulers revolutionized traditional schools and education systems, bringing in Western education. This gave Indians a kind of global perspective for the first time, opening up the minds, and making them receptive to change, which finally paved the way for more change.


But it’s probably the internet that has had the biggest impact. Access to the World Wide Web, social media, and even satellite television before that, has exposed Indian society to global practices, trends, fashions, values, and everything else. The Indians learned to think and act differently. Many of their age-old traditional beliefs, values and practices came under threat. Many Indians have developed a westernized lifestyle for good or for worse. Its impact is felt even in folk culture and performing arts.


Globalization and India’s Performing Arts


Changing trends in performing arts rarely manifest themselves with dramatic abruptness. They usually creep up silently, changing practices and traditions stealthily, but resolutely. In India, this change has happened even with some of the phrases and terms used.


For instance, practitioners are today referred to as being part of the “entertainment industry”. That’s a paradigm shift. What this implies is that arts must amuse or entertain the masses, and must be part of an organized industry. That was never the case before. For artists and creators in the past, it was much more about the artistic urge – art for art’s sake.


Mainstream Hindi film music is another classic example. This without doubt enjoys the greatest listenership. It’s the economically wealthiest genre too.


The content quality has undoubtedly gone down from an artistic point of view, but its popularity and financial success has surged. One reason for this is Hindi movie songs’ ability to fit into a template that’s found in the global music industry. A three to five-minute song template with danceable grooves, snappy tunes and accompanying visuals of Bollywood stars is picked up easily by an increasingly global market. The easily downloaded format is a huge hit in an overpopulated country and amongst the masses of people of Indian origin overseas.


Other genres like Indian pop music, hip hop, electronic music, fusion and remixes are doing well too, mainly because of the western influence in them, and the propensity of Indians to consume such arts.


On the positive side, there is now worldwide recognition of Indian culture, even classical music. Babul Supriyo, a playback singer and now a Member of Parliament, sees the positive side of globalization. “Indian music and dance troops are going on foreign trips regularly. Many foreigners are taking Bharatanatyam classes as well”, he says.


And not just that, western music and dance forms like salsa, jazz, hip hop, and others have become popular in India as well. Many groups are experimenting, mixing east with west. This has enriched Indian arts through the birth of various forms of fusion music and dance.


The internet is not just globalizing Indian arts, it is actually making them more popular as well. Artists are able to easily upload their work. And it’s become easier to reach an audience. There was a time when budding talents had to frantically search for a sponsor or event manager. Not anymore. A lot of singers and musicians in the west have become stars through their YouTube videos and attracted big-time labels. This is happening in India as well. One break-out performance can make all the difference.


Socio-Cultural Effects of Globalization


Unprecedented interaction and mobility have dented local cultures. Large scale immigration and a transnational workforce - the product of globalization - is dispersing cultures across the world, leading to a unified world culture. India is no exception.


There was a time when Indians used to greet each other with “Namaste” or something similar in regional dialects. But now it’s “Hi” and “Hello” among a large section of the population. However, Dr. Kumar Ashutosh, who has a Ph.D. in History, says that, “It’s not a question of being good or bad. It’s an issue of changed preferences”.


The joint family system of India, which has been appreciated worldwide, is breaking up, paving the way for nuclear families everywhere. Most people now like an independent life, a by-product of globalization. There are old-age homes and senior communities everywhere, in the major cities at least. And what’s a real worry is that, many of these nuclear families are getting further divided because of strained relations between partners.


Traditionally, life partners were searched from local communities, usually within the same caste. Inter-caste marriages are now common. Parents are turning to the web to search for prospective brides and grooms, and often, they prefer NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) for their westernized outlook, lifestyles, and higher disposable income. A fatter bank account is more important than the happiness index.


Globalization and India’s Languages


English is already the primary language in India because it connects everybody. Yet each state in the country has a separate first language, and it can sometimes become very difficult without English. For instance, Kannada is the first language in Karnataka, and Malayalam in Kerala. Though these are neighboring states, a person from Kerala would still not understand Kannada.


Hindi and English are thus commonly used by almost everybody. English is slowly taking over because of the effects of globalization. But are the local languages dying out?


Hardly! The internet is actually preserving them. Take for instance the efforts to preserve Bengali and the works of Rabindranath Tagore. The Gitabitan project is an online archive of all the songs, stories, books and poems of Tagore. The internet is not just preserving this, it’s actually taking Tagore’s work to the world and making it more popular.


A Global Workplace and the Family Life


Globalization is affecting the marital space too. Work is forcing a married couple to lead separate lives, away from each other over a long time. This is typical for those in Information Technology who are working overseas, in the UK, US, France, Australia and elsewhere.


The husband or wife is away. Sometimes, both are working in different locations, because it’s not always possible to find jobs in the same place, whether it’s the same firm or another. And sometimes, in a career-driven society, the partners are not willing or able to give up this employment. It’s long-distance romance for them! But what happens to the kids?


Either they don’t have kids till late in their married life, or the kids don’t enjoy the full family. They just have to stay with the dad or mom, or with the grandparents because of schooling compulsions. Many Indian schools are following an international curriculum to meet the demands of increasingly globalized parents.


Globalization and Indian Festivals


Thankfully, Indian festivals haven’t changed a lot as yet, though some influences can be found. Many festivals have gone global though, as a lot of Dussehra’s, Diwali’s, and Ganesh Chaturthi’s are celebrated abroad by the diaspora. Many locals attend these festivals as well, and get to learn about Indian religious events.


But here’s a change within the country that’s quite a surprise. We are celebrating many more international events now such as Friendship Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and even Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. These events hardly had any relevance in Indian society even a couple of decades back.


India is changing and integrating with the world. Many Indian traditions, festivals, performing arts and ways of life are centuries old, and while these run the risk of taking a backseat in an increasing global space, the internet is also playing a big part in preserving traditions which may otherwise have been forgotten.



Niladri Bose is a Post Graduate in Mass Communication and former journalist. Niladri writes on economic issue, and also on social, political and Internet trends.


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Niladri Bose

Niladri Bose is a Post Graduate in Mass Communication and former journalist. Niladri writes on economic issue, and also on social, political and Internet trends.

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