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20 Nov


Kinship in India
The kinship system, that is, the way in which relations between individuals and groups are organized, occupies a central place in all human societies. Marriage is a link between the family of orientation and the family of procreation. This fact of individual membership in two nuclear families gives rise to kinship system. Theodorson has defined Kinship as “a social relationship based upon family relatedness”. The relationship which may be consanguine based on blood relation or affinal, based on marriage, determines the rights and obligations of related persons. As such, kinship system is referred to as “a structured system of statuses and roles and of relationship in which the kin (primary, secondary, tertiary and distant) are bound to one-another by complex interlocking ties”.
After family, kinship group plays a very crucial role in daily life, rituals and social ceremonies of Hindus. People turn to their kin not only for help in exigencies of life but also on regular occasions. The important kinship groups, after the family, are vansa (lineage) and gotra (clan).
Vansa is a consanguineous unilateral descent group whose members trace themselves from a known and real common ancestor. It may be either patrilineal or matrimonial and is an exogamous unit. The members of a vansa are treated as brothers and sisters. Lineage ties remain up to few generations only.
The main linkage among the families of a lineage is common participation in ritual functions like birth, death etc. The vansa passes into gotra which though is a unilateral kin group but is larger than the lineage. It is an exogamous group.
The kinship features in North and Central India differ from those in South India. The socio-cultural correlates of kinship system are language caste and (plain and hilly) region. In spite of the effect of these three factors in the kinship relations, it is possible to talk of kinship organisation on some collective basis.
Northern zone
Consists of Sindh ,Punjabi ,hindi Pahari), Bihari, Bengali, Assami and Nepali. Though kinship behaviour in the northern zone changes slightly from region to region and within each region from caste to caste, yet comparative study shows that it is possible to talk of an ‘ideal’ northern pattern referring to practices and attitudes generally found to be common among a majority of the castes. Sociologists have given some important features of the kinship organization of the northern zone:
In these areas caste endogamy, clan exogamy and incest taboos regarding sexual relations between primary kins are strictly observed. Marriage among close kin is not permitted.
Kin junior to ego are addressed by their personal names and senior to ego by the kinship term.
All children in ascending and descending generations are equated with one’s own sibling group (brothers and sisters) and all children of one’s sibling group are again equated with one’s own children.
The principle of unity of generations is observed (for example, great-grandfather and grandfather are given same respect as father).
The duties and behaviour patterns of the members of three generations are strictly regulated.
Within the same generation, the older and the younger kin are kept distinct.
Some of the ancient kinship terms having Sanskrit origin have been replaced by new terms, for example, pitamaha is replaced by pita. Suffix ‘ji’ is added to kinship terms used for kin older than the speaker for example, chachaji, tauji, etc. In Bengal, instead of ‘ji’ suffix ‘moshai’ is added.
After marriage, a girl is not expected to be free with her parents-in-law, but when she becomes a mother, she achieves position of respect and power and restrictions on her are lessened.
The family is so structured that children, parents and grand-parents either live together or social kinship obligations towards them are clearly met.
Apart from the joint family which represents a person’s intimate and nearest circle of relations, there is always a larger circle of kin who play a part in his life.
2) Central Zone: The central zone comprises the linguistic regions of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Kathiawar, Maharashtra and Orissa with their respective languages. All the languages of this region are of Sanskritic origin and therefore, they have affinity with the northern zone. But there are pockets of Dravidian languages in this region. There is also impact of the eastern zone. Tribal people have their unique and somewhat different position compared to other people. The salient features of kinship organization of Central India are not much different from those of North India. The important features of kinship in Central India are:
Cross cousin marriages are prevalent which are not witnessed in the north zone.
Every region follows northern India practices of marriage, that is, consanguinity is the main consideration which rules marriage.
Many castes are divided into exogamous clans. Among some castes, the exogamous clans are arranged in hypergamous hierarchy.
• The kinship terminology shows intimacy and closeness between various kin. The relations between kin are governed by the custom of ‘neota gifts’ according to which cash-gift is given equivalent to cash-gift received. The neota-registers are maintained and preserved for generation.
In Gujarat, mamera-type of cousin marriage with mother’s brother and levirate (marriage with husband’s brother) are practiced by some caste.
• The custom of periodic marriages in Gujarat has led to child marriages as well as unequal marriages. Such marriages are practiced even today.
• In Maharashtra, there is impact of both modern and southern zones in kinship relations. For example, the clan organization of the Marathas is similar to that of the Rajputs which is arranged in a ladder manner. Clans are grouped into divisions and each division is named according to the number of clans it comprises; for example panch-kuli, sat-kuli, etc. The clans are arranged in hypergamous order, the highest being the panch-kuli, followed by the sat-kuli, etc. The panch-kuli can marry among themselves or can take a girl from the satkuli etc.
Some castes like Marathas and Kunbis in the central zone practice bride-price too, though dowry custom also exists among them.
Though the family system in Maharashtra is patri-lineal and patri-local, yet unlike in the north, where a wife permanently stays with her husband after marriage and rarely goes to her father’s house. In castes like Marathas, she moves to and from her father’s house very frequently. Once she goes to her father’s house, it is difficult to get her back to her husband’s house. This shows the impact of the south on relations with kin.
Though the kinship terms are mostly northern yet some terms are borrowed from the Dravidians in the south; for example, use of the term anna and nana for brother along with term dada. Similarly, use of term akka, tai and mai for sister.
• The kinship system of the tribals in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh is somewhat different from that of the caste Hindus. The difference exists in terms of kinship terminology, marriage rules, inheritance system and clan obligations.
Thus, though the kinship organization in the northern and central zone is almost similar, yet it can be described as a region of transition from the north to the south. A state like Maharashtra is a region of cultural borrowings and cultural synthesis.
3) Eastern Zone: The eastern zone is not compact and geographically not contiguous like other zones. In Eastern Zone, kinship organization is different. Besides northern languages, Mundari and Monkhmer languages are also spoken. The area consists of a number of Austro-Asiatic tribes. There are more tribes than caste Hindus in eastern India. The more important tribes are: Khasi, Birhor, Hos, Mundas and Uraon. The kinship organization here has no single pattern.
People speaking Mundari languages have patrilineal and patrilocal families. However, joint families are rare in this zone.
Khasis have joint family with common worship and common graveyard, but the husband and wife live together in a small house of their own. People maintain patri-clan relations by common worship of ancestors and residence. They extend help to each other but live independent lives.
Cross-cousin marriages are rarely practiced though bridge-price is common. Service by the would-be husband in girl’s fathers’ house is also considered as bride price.
Kinship terminology is borrowed both from Sanskrit and Dravidian languages. Garos also have matrilineal joint family system like Nairs in the south. After marriage, a man rarely lives with his parents and establishes a separate house.
4) Southern Zone: There are five regions in this zone Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the regions of mixed languages and people. The southern zone presents a complicated pattern of kinship system. Though patrilineal and patrilocal family is the dominant family type for the greater number of castes and communities, for example, Namboodris, there are important sections of population which are matrilineal and matrilocal, for example, Nayars, Tiyans. There are quite a few castes whose systems possess features of both matriarchal and matrilineal organizations, for example, Todas. Similarly, there are some castes/tribes who practice only polygyny, for example, Asari, Nayars and yet others, who practice both polygyny and polyandry, for example, Todas.
Similarly, there are patrilineal joint families and also matrilineal joint families. All this shows varied patterns in kinship organizations in southern zone.
In the matrilineal family, the kinship relationship of women to one another is that of a daughter, mother, sister, mother’s mother, mother’s sister and sister’s daughter. In the kinship relationship of women with men, males are related to women as brother, son, daughter’s son and sister’s son. The kinship relationship of males to one another is that of brother, mother’s brother and sister’s son. All these kinship relations are based on blood. There are no relations by marriage. This is because husband visits the family occasionally.
We, therefore, find:
Absence of companionship between husband and wife and absence of closeness between father and children; and
There is complete independence of women as regards their livelihood; they do. not partake of the earnings of their husband.
This is how some southern families differ from the northern families.
The Nayars, the Tiyans, some Moplas in Malabar region and the Bants in Kanara district have matrilineal and matrilocal family and it is called Tharawad. The important characteristics of Tharawad are:
The property of Tharawad is the property of all males and females belonging to it. • Unmarried sons belong to mother’s Tharawad but married sons belong to their wife’s Tharawad..
Manager of Tharawad’s property is oldest male member in the family; called Karnavan. Karavan is an absolute ruler in the family. On his death, the next senior male member becomes Karnavan. He can invest money in his own name, can mortgage property, can give money on loan, can give land as gift and is not accountable to any member in respect of income and expenditure.
When Tharawad becomes too large and unwieldy, it is divided into Tavazhis. A Tavazhi in relation to a woman is a group of persons consisting of a female, her children and all her descendants in the female line.
In southern zone there is a system of caste endogamy and clan exogamy similar to northern system.

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