Sunday, 1 January 2012

Understanding Family: Continuity and Change

Dr. Rekha
Reader,  Deptt. Of Sociology,
 MGKVP, Varanasi. U. P.

The family in India is been changing its appearance from ‘joint family’ due to various factors that exist in the society due fast industrialization and globalization. Nowadays, nuclear family is appearing faster in cities and villages, moreover, the norms of joint family disappearing in the same manner due to modernity. ‘Family’, now losing its value and recently changed ‘joint family’ has taken different direction, which is debatable issue that whether the changed family condition is better or was it previously, when ones discuss about ‘family sanctity’.
                 In India the joint family has endured for as long as many records exist.  Even about 1000 BC, in the time of the Mahabharata, the joint family existed more or less as it exists today. A joint family is a group of people who generally live under one roof, who eat food cooked in one kitchen, who hold property in common, participate in common family worship and are related to one another as some particular type of kindred.
                A joint family has always an ancestral seat or locality. However humble an Indian might be, he will always refer to his ancestral village as his home. As all services were paid for in land in ancient days, every Indian had a small family holding in some village- may be just a strip of land or for an artisan, just a small house. This connection of a family with a locality lingers even after the family has finally migrated out of its village. Such families keep on worshipping the gods of their former locality or come back time and again to keep certain vows made to these gods. The kin group making up a joint family is of two types.  In the northern type those men who trace descent from a common male ancestor form the core of the family; with them are associated women who are brought as brides and the young unmarried daughters of the family. Thus there are three or four generations of males related to the male ego as grandfather and his brothers, father and his brothers, own brothers and cousins, sons and nephews and wives of all these male relatives, plus the ego’s unmarried sisters and daughters. The northern type of family is thus patrilineal and patrilocal and the married women in such a family live in the house of their father-in-law.
                The beauty about the Indian culture lies in its age-long prevailing tradition of the joint family system. It’s a system under which even extended members of a family like one’s parents, children, the children’s spouses and their offspring, etc. live together. The elder-most, usually the male member is the head in the joint Indian family system, which makes all important decisions and rules, whereas other family members abide by it dutifully with full respect.
Importance Given to Protocol in Joint Family System in India
                A major factor that keeps all members, big and small, united in love and peace in a joint family system in India is the importance attached to protocol. This feature is very unique to Indian families and very special. Manners like respecting elders, touching their feet as a sign of respect, speaking in a dignified manner, taking elders’ advice prior taking important decisions, etc. is something that Indian parents take care to inculcate in their kids from very beginning. The head of the family responds by caring and treating each member of the family the same.  
Discipline in Indian Joint Family System
                The intention behind the formation of any social unit will fail to serve its purpose if discipline is lacking and the same applies to the joint family system as well. Due to this reason, discipline is another factor given utmost importance in the joint family system in India. As a rule, it’s the family head that prevails upon others. In case of any disagreement, the matter is diligently sorted out by taking suggestions from other adult members. One usually also has to follow fixed timings for returning home, eating, etc.
                As joint families grow ever larger, they inevitably divide into smaller units, passing through a predictable cycle over time. The breakup of a joint family into smaller units does not necessarily represent the rejection of the joint family ideal. Rather, it is usually a response to a variety of conditions, including the need for some members to move from village to city, or from one city to another to take advantage of employment opportunities. Splitting of the family is often blamed on quarrelling women-typically, the wives of co-resident brothers. Although women’s disputes may, in fact, lead to family division, men's disagreements do so as well.
                Despite cultural ideals of brotherly harmony, adult brothers frequently quarrel over land and other matters, leading them to decide to live under separate roofs and divide their property. Frequently, a large joint family divides after the demise of elderly parents, when there is no longer a single authority figure to hold the family factions together. After division, each new residential unit, in its turn, usually becomes joint when sons of the family marry and bring their wives to live in the family home.
                The peoples of the northeastern hill areas are known for their matriliny, tracing descent and inheritance in the female line rather than the male line. One of the largest of these groups, the Khasis--an ethnic or tribal people in the state of Meghalaya-are divided into matrilineal clans; the youngest daughter receives almost all of the inheritance including the house. A Khasi husband goes to live in his wife’s house. Khasis, many of whom have become Christian, have the highest literacy rate in India, and Khasi women maintain notable authority in the family and community.
Perhaps the best known of India’s unusual family types is the traditional Nayar taravad, or great house. The Nayars are a cluster of castes in Kerala. High-ranking and prosperous, the Nayars maintained matrilineal households in which sisters and brothers and their children were the permanent residents. After an official pre-puberty marriage, each woman received a series of visiting husbands in her room in the taravad at night. Her children were all legitimate members of the taravad. Property, matrilineally inherited, was managed by the eldest brother of the senior woman. This system, the focus of much anthropological interest, has been disintegrating in the twentieth century and in the 1990s probably fewer than 5 percent of the Nayars live in matrilineal taravads. Like the Khasis, Nayar women are known for being well-educated and powerful within the family.
Malabar rite Christians, an ancient community in Kerala, adopted many practices of their powerful Nayar neighbors, including naming their sons for matrilineal forebears. Their kinship system, however, is patrilineal. Kerala Christians have a very high literacy rate, as do most Indian Christian groups.
                The joint family is no longer has kept its norms, the modernity and change due to global culture is paving the way ‘nuclear family’. In India, the nuclear family is common is cities and villages. The tradition and pattern of the society has changed its shape drastically in the late 20th and in the 21st century. Recently, in November 2009, in Pune, most household women preferred nuclear family in comparison to joint. This outcome shows the changing family values in the contemporary Indian society. The trend that has been began in the urban and rural areas of India would not stop. Family norms would no longer remain same as it was in the ancient Hindu tradition. The impact of modernity and globalization is linked to changes in the social values of the ‘family’. In India, the future of ‘nuclear family’ is pre-eminent in comparison to ‘joint family’.