(Last Updated on : 15/02/2011)
Indian family structure is believed to be the unit that teaches the values and worth of an honest living that have been carried down across generations. Since the Puranic ages, Indian family structure was that of a joint family, indicating every person of the same clan living together. However, this idea of elaborate living disintegrated in smaller family units.
In India, people learn the essential themes of cultural life within the bondings of a family. In ancient days, the basic units of society had been the patrilineal family unit with wider kinship groupings. The most widely preferred residential unit is the joint family, ideally consisting of three or four patrilineally related generations, all living under one roof, working, worshiping, eating, and cooperating together in communally beneficial social and economic activities. Patrilineal joint families include men related through the male line, along with their wives and children. The young married women live with their husband`s relatives after marriage, but they retain important bonds with their natal families as well.
Despite the continuous and growing impact of urbanization, secularization, and Westernization, the conventional joint household of Indian family structure, both in ideal and in practice, remains the chief social force in the lives of Indians. Loyalty to family is a deeply imbibed in every member of the family. Large families eventually faced difficulties to suit with modern Indian life. The modern style of livinf, modern occupations and beliefs are eventually confronting problems to get adjusted. The joint family is now quite unfamiliar in cities. However, the relative ties are maintained within the kinships, since these very ties can prove to be crucial while any kind of emergency. Numerous prominent Indian families, such as the Tatas, Birlas, and Sarabhais, retain joint family arrangements even today and they work together to control some of the country`s largest financial empires.
The Indian joint family structure is an ancient phenomenon, but it has undergone some change in the late twentieth century. Living arrangements vary widely depending on region, social status, and economic circumstance. With the passing time, nuclear families have evolved that is a couple living with their unmarried children. There are often strong networks of kinship ties through which economic assistance and other benefits are obtained. Often clusters of relatives live near each other, who are easily available and respond to the give and take of kinship obligations. Even when relatives cannot actually live in close proximity, they typically maintain strong bonds of kinship and attempt to provide each other with economic help, emotional support, and other required benefits.
The Indian joint families grew even larger and finally they divide into smaller units, passing through a expected cycle over time. The breakup of a joint family into smaller units does not necessarily symbolize the rejection of the joint family ideal. Rather, it is usually a reaction to a variety of conditions, including the requirement for some members to move from village to city, or from one city to another to obtain the advantage of employment opportunities.
Splitting of the family is often blamed on quarrelling women, the wives of co-resident brothers and so on. Although women`s disputes may, in fact, lead to family division, men`s disagreements are responsible as well. Despite cultural ideals of brotherly harmony, adult brothers often quarrel over land and other matters, leading them to decide to live under separate roofs and split their property. Frequently, a large joint family divides after the death of elderly parents, when there is no longer a solitary authority figure to hold the family factions together. After division, each new housing unit, in its turn, usually comes together when sons of the family marry and bring their wives to live in the family home.
Some Indian family structure bears special mention because of their unique qualities. In the sub-Himalayan region of Uttar Pradesh, polygyny is generally practiced. A polygynous family comprises a man, his two wives, and their unmarried children. Various other Indian family structures occur there, including the supplemented subpolygynous household, where a woman whose husband lives elsewhere, stays with her children and other adult relatives. Among the Buddhist people of the mountainous Ladakh District of Jammu and Kashmir, fraternal polyandry is practiced; a household may include a set of brothers with their common wife or wives. This family type, in which brothers also share land, is almost certainly linked to the extreme scarcity of cultivable land in the Himalayan region, because it discourages disintegration of holdings.
The inhabitants of the northeastern hill areas are known for their matriliny order that distinguish the decent and inheritance of a family in the female line rather than the male line. One of the largest of these groups, the Khasis of Meghalaya is divided into matrilineal clans. Here, the youngest daughter receives almost all of the inheritance including the house. A Khasi husband lives in his wife`s house.
Perhaps the strangest Indian family structure form is the traditional Nayar taravad, or great house. The Nayars are a cluster of castes in Kerala who are high-ranking and prosperous. The Nayars maintained matrilineal households in which sisters and brothers and their children remain as the permanent residents. After an official childhood marriage, each woman received a series of visiting husbands in the taravad. Her children were all considered as the legitimate members of the taravad. The eldest brother of the senior woman managed property, matrilineally inherited. This kind of Indian family structure has been eleminated in the twentieth century, and in the 1990s probably fewer than 5 percent of the Nayars still live in matrilineal taravads. Like the Khasis, Nayar women are well educated and powerful within the family.
Malabar rite Christians, an ancient community in Kerala, adopted many Indian family structure practices alike their powerful Nayar neighbors, including naming their sons for matrilineal descent. Their relationship system, however, is patrilineal.
Thus, Indian family structure has been varied in varied periods of time and in different regions of the nation. The society structure and regulations have the highest influence on such formations of Indian family structures.