Thursday, June 30, 2011



Significance of Kinship Kinship is a set of persons which are close relatives by virtue of blood relations technically known as consanguinity or by marriages which is referred as affinity.

Basic Concepts of Kinship

The Principles of Descent Descent is the principle whereby a child is socially affiliated with the group of his or her parents. In some societies the child is regarded as a descendant equally of both the

father and the mother, except that titles and surnames are usually passed down along the male line. Such a system is termed Bilateral or Cognatic.

Types of Descent

Descent is reckoned UNILINEALLY, that is, in one line only. The child is affiliated either with the group of the father, that is, PATRILINEAL DESCENT, or with the group of the mother, that is, MATRILINEAL DESCENT.

Functions of Descent Groups

Unilineal descent groups tend to be 'corporate' in several other senses. Their members may often come together for ritual and ceremonial functions, for instance, for collective worship of lineage gods, totems or ancestors. The descent group will have a built-in authority structure, with power normally exercised

by senior males, and it may well own corporate property. An individual's economic rights and responsibilities will be defined by his or her position in the descent group.

the principle of COMPLEMENTARY FILIATION which explains the significant ritual and social

roles of the mother's brother(s) in the lives of their sister's children.

Inheritance Rules

In India certain types of property pass from father to son, and other types form mother to daughter. In

most parts of India, in the past, immovable property such as land and housing, was inherited only by sons. In the absence of sons, except under rare circumstances, by the nearest male relatives on the father's side. One the other hand, movable property in the form of cash and jewellery was given to the daughter at the time of her marriage, with a certain amouqt of jewellery also passing from the mother-in-law to the daughter-in-law.

Rules of Residence

If husband and wife set up their own independent home after marriage, as is usually the case in modern western society, residence is said to be NEOLOCAL. Where the wife goes to live with the husband in his parents' home, residence is described as VIRILOCAL, PATRILOCAL, or PATRIVIRILOCAL, and where the husband moves to live with the wife, it is termed MATRILOCAL.

Patriarchy and Matriarchy

A society is said to have a patriarchal structure when a number of factors coincide, i.e. when descent is reckoned patrilineally, when inheritance of major property is from father to sol;, when residence is patrilocal, and when authority is concentrated in the hands of senior males. There is, however, no society on earth, nor any society actually known to have existed, whose features are the exact reverse of these. For even in matrilineal, matrilocal systems, which are fairly rare, major property is usually controlled by males. And authority is normally exercised by males, though women may well have a higher status in the family and greater powers of decision-making than in the patriarchal set up.

For this reason, the term 'matriarchy', though often found in the literature, is probably a misnomer, best avoided.

Descent Systems - Further Details

The patrilineal descent systems of India have many of the features noted in similar groups elsewhere. A boy at birth becomes a member of his descent group, and a coparcener (partner) in a joint estate. A girl, by contrast, is only a residual member of her natal group: at merriage she is incorporated into her husband's descent group and ultimately (i.e. after her death) offered worship by their male descendants. Residence, as we have already noted, is usually partilocal.

Patrilineal Descent

In 'patriarchal' model of society. This has patrilineal descent, patrilocal residence, inheritance from father to son, and authority in the hands of seniors as against juniors, and males as against females. A number of social practices testify to the fact that a woman's only legitimate roles are those ofwife and mother. Spinsterhood and widowhood are inauspicious and unenviable conditions. A girl is regarded as merely a guest in her natal home and, initially at least, as a rather threatening outsider in her marital home.

The patrilineal systems of the south are not so markedly patriarchal as those of the north. Also a wplnan after marriage continues to have materially and psychologically important relations with members of her natal group. This is more so with her parents and her brothers, and the residual right to maintenance in their estate in adverse circumstances. And in many other partilineal systems, the mother's brothers have significant ritual and social roles in the lives oftheir sister's children, and an especially tender and affectionate relationship with them.

Matrilineal Descent

Matrilineal descent systems, of which there are several well-known examples in southwestern and north-eastern India, have their own distinctive characteristics. Empirically you never find matrilineal systems that are an exact inverse of the patrilineal-patriarchal model which we liave already described and which is fairly well approximated by the patrilineal descent systems of north and south (but especially north) India. The reason is quite simple: whatever tlie descent system, that is, matrilineal, patrilineal or indeed bilateral, authority is usually exercised by males, only in extremely simple societies

one comes across a fair degree of mutual inter-dependence between males and females. Also, though rights, in property might be determined by the principles of matrilineal descent (for instance, passing from mother to daughter or from mother's brother to sister's son rather than from father to son as in patrilineal societies), major property is usually controlled (if not actually owned) by males.

For obvious reasons, residence arrangements are problematic in matrilineal societies.

A man may not have authority over his own children, who belong to his wife's descent group and who may also reside after maturity with their mother's brother. Conversely, in cases wliere the husband customarily resides with his wife and children, he may have difficulty managing the property in which lie has an interest by virtue of descent, and in exercising authority over his sister's children. In other words, there seems to be some sort of contradiction in matrilineal kinship systems, brought out in the dilemma

over residence, between a man's role as father and his role as mother's brother. His natural love for his own children might easily come into conflict with his special jural responsibilities towards his sister's children.

Nayars of Kerala: An Illustration

Among the matrilineal Nayars of Kerala, formerly, men resided in large and matrilineally recruited joint families, called taravad, along witli their sisters, sister's children and sister's daughter's children. They visited their wives in other taravads at night (this is why the system has been popularly called tlie 'visiting husband' system). Their own children resided with their mother in their mother's taravad. In this system the bond between brother and sister was strongly emphasised, and the bond between husband

and wife correspondingly de-emphasised, this is more so because Nayar women could legitimately have a number of visiting husbands (polyandry), provided they were of the correct status (i.e. higher status Nayars or Namboodiri Brahmans). Also, Nayar men could liave a number of wives (polygyny). In fact, the marital bond was so minimised among the Nayars that anthropologists have debated endlessly whether Nayar society liad the institution of marriage at all! Anthropologists have also cited that the Nayar system disproves the proposition that the elementary or nuclear family is a "universal" human institution. The details of these debates need not detain us here. Indeed, the unique institutions and customs described by the anthropologists no longer exist and have not existed for generations, but tlie Nayar case is a useful one for illustrating the types of tensions that seem to be coming into matrilineal systems. They laid rather unique way of coping with what anthropologists have called 'the matrilineal

puzzle'. Effectively they ensured the unity of the matrilineal at the expense of the

solidarity of the marital bond between husband and wife.

Other Matrilineal Communities

There are many other matrilineal communities in India whose kinship organisation is rather different to that of the Nayars. For instance, the Khasis of Assam are matrilineal in descent, inheritance and succession, and practise matrilocal residence. The youngest daughter is the heiress, and lives in her mother's house alone with their husband and their children. The older daughter however may move out of the matrilineal household on marriage and make new nuclear families; their husbands have greater independent. authority than does the husband of the youngest daughter still residing martrilocally.

The Garo, also of Assam, have yet another arrangement. Marriage is matrilocal for the husband of the daughter who becomes the head of the household and its manager. A rule of preferential cross-cousin marriage ensures that a man is succeeded in this position by his sister's son in an ongoing alliance relationship between the two linked lineages.

Kinship in India

Iravati Karve, the famous sociologist, had described. In the Southern Zone, you usually find a preference for marriage with certain categories of close kin, in particular with one or the other or both of the cross-cousins (but never parallel cousins), or even with the elder sister's daughter. On the whole, the intermarrying groups are of comparable status. Though the actual marriage relationship might give rise to a temporary inferiority of wife-givers in relations to wife-takers. The marriage will probably involve groups which are geographically quite proximate even from the same village-and the bride will already be familiar with her in-laws. You don't really expect a young bride to be badly treated by her mother-in-laws if that woman is also her aunt or her maternal grandmother!

In north India, by contrast, marriages are never between persons who are already closely related. A rule of village exogamy also ensures that brides are given to and taken from other villages or towns, often at a considerable distance. The bride therefore comes to her husband's family as a 'stranger'. She will always be suspected of trying to alienate her husband's affections, and will usually be blamed for the break up of the joint family, should a partition subsequently take place. The distinction between

'daughters' and 'brides' is very sharply emphasised in this system (think of the practice of veiling), and the new bride's position is relatively vulnerable, unless and until she becomes the mother of a son. In this region it is also often the case that marriages unite groups whose social status is already unequal, the wife-givers being of inferior status to the wife-takers (hypergamy), while the marriage transaction commonly (though again not invariably) takes the form of a 'dowry' payment. However legally taking

dowry or giving it, both have become illegal offences punishable by the state. But, in reality it continues to affect a large category of people in India. Even other religions, such as, Muslims, Christians and SCISTs are getting influenced by it. All in all, we have in this combination of features the social-structural locale of also such practices as levirate marriage, sati, female infanticide and, lately, 'bride-burning' or dowry deaths.

Other differences between the northern and southern systems noted by Iravate Karve (and others) relate to the rules of descent, inheritance and marriage. In brief, the northern zone is universally patrilineal, though patrilineal systems are also found among different communities in the southern or dravidian zone, along with a variety of residence * patterns. We should add here that there are a number of important matrilineal groups (for instance the Khasis and the Garos) in north-eastern India (eastern zone) as well. as. Of course, the division of the kinship may develop into major culture areas zones can give only a very crude idea of the salient variations in kinship practices throughout the

subcontinent. A more precise picture emerges when one considers the sub-regional varieties corresponding to the different regional languages and dialects. In analysing these regional kinship systems, scholars pay attention not only to kinship terminologies and to the way the people concerned speak about kinship relations and about the moral obligations that stem from them, but also to the data of ritual practices, gift exchanges folklore and other forms of cultural communication.

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