SALIENT FEATURES OF INDIAN SOCIETY – FAMILY
Family in India
Family is one of the most important aspects of Indian Society. Familial bonds have held together Indian society since ages. Family in India is an institution and a foremost primary group because it is the sheet anchor of the patriarchal authority on the one hand and a protector and defender of individual members’ right to property on the other.
Despite wide ranging changes in Indian society, because of synthesis of collectivism and individualism, the Hindu family continues to be an important social institution. Several studies on family have revealed that industrialization,
urbanization, education and migration have not necessarily resulted in nuclearisation of family in India. Even a nuclear family in India is not simply a conjugal family. A real change in family must refer to changed pattern of kinship relations, obligations of members towards each other, individualization etc. The word family is used in several different ways. These are:
The body of persons who live in one house or under one head including parent, children, servants etc.
The group consisting of parents and their children whether living together or not. In wide sense all those who are related by blood and affinity.
Those descended or claiming descent from a common ancestor; a house, kindred or lineage.
Generally a family consists of a man, his wife and their children. This is known as elementary family. Such a family could be an independent unit; it could also be a part of joint or extended family, without necessarily residing together. An elementary family consists of members of two generations, that of ego (a man) and his offspring’s. Such a family may share property in common with other such units of the ego’s brother’s family. According to Shah, an elementary family could be both, a complete one and an incomplete one. A complete elementary family consists of husband, wife and their unmarried children. In an incomplete family some and not all persons are found.
Joint Family in India
There has been a lot of debate about nature of joint family in India. We can take following starting point for analyzing changes in family in India. In traditional ancient India family was largely ‘joint’ in terms of residence, property and function. There are five characteristics of joint family: common residence, common kitchen, common property, common family worship and some kinship relationship. On this basis, we can define joint family as “a group of people, who generally live under one roof, eat food cooked at one hearth, hold property in common, do common family worship and are related to each other as some particular type of kindred”.
The word ‘common’ or ‘joint property’ here (according to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956) means that all the living male and female members up to three generations have a share in the paternal property. Co-residence and common kitchen are not as important dimensions of joint family as intra-family relationships are. When two families having kinship relationship are living separately but function under common authority, it will be a joint family. This is called as a functional joint family.
In any case, in structural sense joint family implies living together of members of two or more elementary both lineally and laterally. When joint family consists of grandparents, parents and grandsons and daughters, it is called a lineal joint family. When married brothers along with their wives and offspring live together, it is known as lateral joint family. Besides patrilineal joint family, there is also matrilineal joint family.
The characteristics of joint family:
• It has an authoritarian structure, i.e., power to make decisions lies in the hands of the head of the family (patriarch). Contrary to the authoritarian family, in a. democratic family, the authority is vested in one or more individuals on the basis of competence and ability.
It has familistic organization, i.e., individual’s interests are subordinated to the interests of the family as a whole, or the goals of the family are the goals of the individual members.
Status of members is determined by their age and relationship: The status of a man is higher than his wife; in two generations, the status of a person in the higher generation is higher than the status of a person in the lower generation; in the same generation, the status of a person of higher age is higher than the status of a person of lower age; and the status of a woman is determined by the status of her husband in the family.
The filial and fraternal relationship gets preference over conjugal relationship, i.e., husband-wife relationships is subordinated to father-son or brother-brother relationship.
• The family functions on the ideal of joint responsibility. If a father takes loan to marry his daughter, it is also the responsibility of his sons to repay the loan.
. All members get equal attention. A poor brother’s son will be admitted to the same school (even if costly) as rich brother’s son.
. The authority in the family (between men and men, men and women and women and women) is determined on the principle of seniority. Though the eldest male (or female) may delegate the authority to someone else yet even this delegation is based on the principle of seniority, which limits the scope for the emergence of individualism.
Changing Pattern of Family in India
Changes in the family are mainly concerned with the changes in structure and interaction level in the family. Is joint family structure being nuclearised?
Many studies in India have proved that joint family in India is not disappearing. This is evident from various empirical studies conducted by various scholars in different parts of the country.
Based on study of urban families in states of North India it was found that:
Nuclearity is increasing and jointness is decreasing;
Spirit of individualism is not growing, as about half of the households are joint with other households;
The radius of kinship relations within the circle of jointness is becoming smaller. The joint relations are mostly confined to parents-children, siblings and uncles, nephews, i.e., lineal relationship are found between father, son and grandson and the collateral relationship is found between a man and his brothers and uncles.
In the rural community, the proportion of joint families is almost the same as that of the nuclear families. Viewed in terms of castes, in villages, higher castes have predominantly joint family while lower castes show a greater incidence of nuclear family.
In the urban community, there are more joint families than nuclear families. In the ‘impact’ villages (i.e., villages within the radius of 7 to 8 km from a town), the family pattern closely resembles the rural pattern and has no correspondence with the urban pattern.
Taking all areas (rural, urban and impact) together, it may be held that joint family structure is not being nuclearised. The difference in the rural and the urban family pattern is the result of modification of the caste pattern by economic factors.
After a study of family in South India it was concluded that:
The trend of nuclear family units: The small joint family is now the most typical form of family life;
Growing number of people now spend at least part of their lives in single family units;
Living in several types of family during life-time seems so widespread that we can talk of a cycle of family types as being the normal sequence for city-dwellers;
Distant relatives are less important to the present generation than they were to their parents and grand-parents;
City-dweller son has become more spatially separated from all relatives.
Diversity in Family structure:
Family structure was affected by rural and urban; as well as caste implications. Studies based on families in an urban area (Delhi), rural and fringe areas of Rohtak and Hissar districts in Haryana; found two types of nuclear families:
One, husband, wife and sons-dominated children and
Two, husband, wife, unmarried and married sons.
One-fourth families were nuclear and three-fourth were joint as per above study, indicating predominance of traditional families.
There were more nuclear families in upper castes than in middle and lower castes.
Nuclearity tends to rise with the level of education.
Majority of the families are nuclear.
There are regional differences in the proportions joint families. There are higher proportions of joint families in Gangetic plain than in Central India or Eastern India (including West Bengal).
The joint family is more characteristic of upper and landowning castes than of lower and landless castes.
Caste is more closely related to the size and the proportion of joint families.
Ram Ahuja studied families in 1976 in an urban area and in 1988 in rural areas during his two research projects. Both studies pointed out that though the number of nuclear families is growing yet it does not indicate the disappearance of joint family system.
Studies on structural changes indicate that:
The number of fissioned families is increasing but even living separately, they fulfil their traditional obligations towards their parental families.
There is more jointness in traditional (rural) communities and more nuclearity, in communities exposed to forces of industrialization, urbanization and westernization..
The size of the (traditional) joint family has become smaller.
. So long the old cultural values persist among people; the functional type of joint family will be sustained in our society.
Changes from ‘traditional’ to ‘transitional’ family include trends toward new – attributes local residence, functional jointness, equality of individuals, equal status for women, increasing opportunity to individual members to achieve their aspirations and the weakening of family norms.
The important values which sustained joint family structure are:
Filial devotion of sons.
Lack of economic viability of some brothers, i.e., their inability to support their children economically.
Lack of a state-organized system of social security for the old-age men and women.
A material incentive for organizing the size of labour unit since it constituted the major share of the capital required for production of goods and services and people had to depend on family labour.
The factors which are now breaking the joint family are:
Differential earning of brothers generating tensions in the family, as the unit of production and service today is predominantly an individual. Up to a point, the values the members inculcate may enable them to subside tension by mutual adjustment and compromise but brothers separate when they focus on the conjugal units.
The death of the ‘root couple who holds economic power and inability, incompetence and self-interest of sons and their wives to take up the role of ‘parental couple’.
Incentive of dependence on family labour is disappearing with the emergence of a cash nexus.
System of social security, savings and extended livelihood opportunities of the people are leading to nuclearisation of joint family structures.
The changes in intra-family relations may be examined at three levels: husbandwife relations, parental-filial relations and relations between daughter-in-law and parentsin-law. The relations between husband and wife in Indian family have been reviewed by 201 various sociological thinkers and some of the basic facts are below:
Change in power allocation in decision-making: In traditional family, wife had no voice in family decision-making. But in contemporary family: in budgeting the family expenditure, in disciplining the children, in purchasing goods and giving gifts, the wife now credits herself as equal in power role.
Though husband continues to play the instrumental role and wife the expressive pro role, yet both often talk things over and consult each other in the process of arriving at a decision. This also does not mean that husband-dominant family is changing into wife-dominant or equalitarian family. The assumption of economic role and the education of wife have made wives potential equals.
The source of power has shifted from ‘culture’ to ‘resource’ where ‘resource’ is ‘anything that one partner may make available to the other helping the latter satisfy his/her needs or attain his/her goals, as such, the balance of power will be on the side of that partner who contributes greater resources to the marriage.
Study on ‘husband to wife power score’ also supported the hypothesis based on ‘resource theory’ rather than the ‘cultural values theory’. It was found that the middle-class husbands have a higher effective power’ score than the working class husbands. It indicated that compared to middle-class families, working class families have less joint husband-wife activity of all types.
It also means that in middle class families, both husband and wife take more active part than do working class families in attempting to direct the behaviour of the family group toward solution of the problem.
Survey studies thus indicated that both nuclearity and low sócio-economic status are associated with reduction in the husband’s power. Emphasizing ‘resources’ factor does not mean that ‘culture’ (what Max Weber has called ‘traditional authority’) has lost its importance. In fact, both factors are important today in ‘conjugal bonds’. It may thus be averred that though an average Indian family is husband-dominant yet the ideological source of power of women is giving place to a pragmatic one.
Emancipation of wife: The change in conjugal bonds is also evident from the increasing emancipation of wife. In urban areas, wife going with husband for social visits, taking food with husband or even before he does, going
together to restaurants and movies, etc. – indicate increasing companion’ role of wife. Husband no longer regards his wife as inferior to him or devoid of reasoning but consults her and trusts her with serious matters. As regards closeness of man to his wife and mother, man, particularly the educated one, is now equally close to both:
The relations between parents and children may be assessed in terms of holding authority, freedom of discussing problems, opposition of parents by children and modes of imposing penalty. In traditional family, while power and authority was totally vested in the patriarch and he was virtually all powerful who decided everything about education, occupation, marriage and the career of children in the patriarch and he was virtually all powerful who decided everything about education, occupation, marriage and the career of children in the family, in contemporary family – not only in nuclear but also in joint family – the grandfather has lost his authority.
The authority has shifted from patriarch to parents who consult their children on all important issues before taking any decisions about them. It also means that grand-parents are no longer as influential as they were earlier and it is now parents who take decisions about schooling, occupation and marriage of their children. They even oppose their parents.
It was also found that children today enjoy more freedom. Some legislative measures have also given powers to children to demand their rights. Perhaps, it is because of all this that parents do not úse old methods of punishing their children.
They use economic and psychological methods (denying money, scolding, restricting freedom, reasoning) more than the physical methods (beating). In spite of these changes in relations between parents and children, the children do not think only of their rights and privileges but also of the ‘welfare of parents’.
Relations between daughter-in-law and parents-in-law have also undergone change. However, this change is not so significant in daughter-in-law relations. The educated daughter-in-law does not observe purdah from her father-in-law and discusses not only the family problems but also the social and even the political issues.
Taking all three types of relations i.e. husband-wife, parents-children and daughter-in-law and father in law – together, it may be concluded that:
Younger generation now claims more individuality.
Consanguineous relationship does not have primacy over conjugal relationships.
Along with ‘culture’ and ‘ideological’ factor, the ‘resource’ factor also affects relations.
Relevance of institution of family structure:
This question is concerned with the future of family as an institution, in general and the future of joint family, in particular. As the survival of family as an institution is concerned, it may be discussed in terms of four factors affecting the family:
Technological Advancement: access to such conveniences as electricity, piped water in homes, intricate home appliances like gas and fridge, telephone, buses and other vehicles have all changed common man’s living and raised his standard of life. Effects of the industrial-technological changes on family are quite evident, like those of productive function, abandonment of self-sufficiency in family economy, occupational and population mobility, weakening of kinship ties and so forth;
Population Explosion: shift from agriculture to manufacturing and service, migration from rural to urban areas, decrease in birth and death rates, increase in average expectation of life and availability of elderly persons in family, replacement of early marriages by post-puberty and late marriages, etc., have created problems and readjustments, changes in power structure, desire for smaller families and so on;
Democratic Society: Ideals of democracy have filtered down to the level of family living. Demand of rights by women, emancipation of children from patriarch’s authority, willingness to approach decision-making through democratic process and change from familial to individualism may be described as important trends in family;
Secular Outlook: there is a shift away from religious values to rational values. Changes in wife’s attitude towards husband, demand for divorce on maladjustment, children’s reluctance to support parents in old age, elimination of family worship, are all the result of rational thinking and deviation from moral and religious norms.
Following social scientists’ studies, we can expect following possible changes in Indian family in the first quarter of the twenty-first century:
The family will continue to exist. It will not be replaced by State-controlled systems of reproduction and child bearing. Family has many functional aspects, both cultural and instrumental in Indian society.
Its stability will depend more on interpersonal bonds than on social pressures from outside or upon kinship loyalty.
It will depend more upon community support and services. Family structure will integrate with community services for food, water etc. especially in poor areas.
With medical advances, the family will have greater control over its biological process (of separating sexual from reproductive function, controlling sickness and death and determining sex of the offspring).
Remarriage and divorce rates will be high. As an example in urban areas like Delhi thousands of divorce cases are filed in a month.
Parents and grandparents will continue to support their children and grandchildren even after their retirement.
Woman’s position of power within the family will further improve with increase in gainful employment.
Viewed generally, the family will not be equalitarian but will remain husband dominant family.