Evaluating Indian values
Reviewed by S L Sharma

Indian Sociology Engagement with Values
by Kapila Khemundu. Kalpaz.
Pages 424 , Rs 1250.

What is happening to human values these days? Are they decaying or advancing? Closer home, what is happening to Indian values? Are they caving in under the impact of modernisation and globalisation or are they still present and agile? Are they simply changing, or adapting to changing times, or getting altered? Questions like these keep bothering all of us from time to time. Some of us may be having our opinions about the current situation but nobody quite seems to know the definite answer.

This book is a good source of information on this subject, as it comprises the discussion on the views of some of the well-known sociologists. Radhakamal Mukerjee was the first Indian sociologist to make a major contribution to the study of values in India. Differentiating between intrinsic and instrumental values, the former are viewed as high-end and the latter as mundane, he laments the decline of the former under the sway of the latter. He postulates a hierarchy of values keeping spiritual values at the top, followed by social and biological values, in that order. He adds that the hierarchy stands reversed at present, particularly in the industrial-urban civilisation.

However, he believes that the intrinsic values of individuality, openness, wholeness and transcendence are going to eventually win in the future. Taking a philosophical stand on the matter, A.K. Saran asserts that tradition is neither old nor new and neither modern nor anti-modern. It is eternal, universal and sacred. Unlike that, modern civilisation is suffering the throes of value crisis. Like Saran, Ramakrishna Mukherjee also observes that the world is faced today with the crisis of values as never before. Its expressions may differ in different societies: Economic and political in the developing societies, ideological in the ideologically developed societies, or social and cultural in the economically developed societies.

Mukherjee further distinguishes between cardinal and ordinal values, the former having universal validity and the latter indicating the order in the series. He identifies four cardinal values: Survival, security, prosperity and progress and observes that science and technology do have a significance for them, but not always positive. Unlike the above viewpoints, which hail the vigour of the Indian tradition, some others bring out its changing dimensions. For example, M.N. Srinivas conceptualises such changes in terms of sanskritisation, Westernisation and secularisation. Yogendra Singh, advances the thesis of modernisation of Indian tradition and illustrates how its underlying principles of hierarchy, holism, continuity and change are undergoing an adaptive transformation.

Not limited to such value issues, the book casts its net wide to provide a comprehensive account of the treatment of values in sociology both in the West and in India. Those familiar with sociology know that it originated out of the value dynamics triggered by the industrial and political revolutions. Along with it, there also appeared a great debate on the question of the role of values in social research and the role of sociologists in influencing the course of social change.

On one side of the debate was Max Weber, who maintained that sociologists should not let their value biases vitiate their research enterprise nor should they manipulate social change. On the other side was Karl Marx who contended that free social science is untenable and that social scientists should not just analyse but also change social reality. Ramkrishna Mukherjee strikes a realistic note in stating that while the orientation of research has shifted from an ethically normative to an objective basis; the inducement of social change has rested, as before, on value premises.

The subsequent chapters of the book claim to deal with value discourses in Indian sociology and comparative analysis of some select discourses. However, it takes a discerning reader to cull out the debates from the general tone of the discussion. In this respect, the treatment of value discourses in the book falls short of expectations.

This deficit notwithstanding, the book is a welcome contribution to the literature on Indian sociology. For its being the first to view Indian sociology from the perspective of its engagement with values. For its bringing together the contributions of various Indian sociologists, thus providing comprehensive information on the theme at one place. For its strong theoretic orientation, which is scarce in present-day Indian sociological pursuits. What may irk serious readers, however, is the occasional recurrence of avoidable linguistic errors reflecting lack of careful editing.