In the early part of the 18th century the Moghul Empire in India was splitting into its constituent parts. There were wars in India between Muslim and Hindu states, as there were wars in Europe between Protestant and Catholic states.
Social life and culture in the eighteenth century were marked by stagnation and dependence on the past. Despite a certain broad cultural unity that had developed over the centuries, there was no uniformity of culture and social patterns all over the country.
Nor did all Hindus and all Muslims form two distinct societies. People were divided by religion, region, tribe, language and caste.
Moreover, the social life and culture of the upper classes, who formed a tiny minority of the total population, was in many respects different from the life and culture of the lower classes. Caste was the central feature of the social life of the Hindus.
Apart from the four varnas, Hindus were divided into numerous castes jatis which differed in their nature from place to place. The caste system rigidly divided people and permanently fixed their place in the social scale.
The higher castes, headed by the Brahmins, monopolized all social prestige and privileges. Caste rules were extremely rigid. Inter-caste marriages were forbidden. There were restrictions on inter-dining among members of different castes. In some cases persons belonging to the higher castes would not take food touched by persons of the lower castes.
Castes often determined the choice of profession, though exceptions occurred on a large scale. For example, Brahmins were involved in trade and government service and held zamindaris.
Similarly, many shudras achieved worldly success and wealth and used them to seek higher ritual and caste ranking in society. Similarly, in many parts of the country, caste status had become quite fluid. Caste regulations were strictly enforced by caste councils and panchayats and caste chiefs through fines, penances prayaschitya and expulsion from the caste.
Caste was a major divisive force and element of disintegration in eighteenth century India. It often split Hindus living in the same village or region into many social atoms. It was, of course, possible for a person to acquire a higher social status by the acquisition of high office or power, as did the Holkar family in the eighteenth century.
Sometimes, though not often, an entire caste would succeed in raising itself in the caste hierarchy. Muslims were no less divided by considerations of caste, race, tribe and status, even though their religion enjoined social equality on them.
The Shia and Sunni nobles were sometimes at loggerheads on account of their religious differences. The Irani, Afghan, Turani and Hindustani Muslim nobles and officials often stood apart from one another. A large number of Hindus who had converted to Islam carried their caste into the new religion and observed its distinctions, though not as rigidly as before.
Moreover, the Sharif Muslims consisting of nobles, scholars, priests and army officers looked down upon the ajlaf Muslims or the lower-class Muslims in a manner similar to that adopted by the higher-caste Hindus towards the lower- caste Hindus.
The family system in eighteenth-century India was primarily patriarchal, that is, the family was dominated by the senior male member and inheritance was through the male line.
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