Abstract: The conventional large patriarchal family is now a statistical minority. The number of fissioned families is on rise and the size of traditional joint or extended families has become gradually smaller. Kin marriages are becoming less and less common. There is a general trend towards the free choice of a spouse in cities. New emerging demographic scenario provides the most impressive and crucial confirmation of change. Changes that have surfaced are the outcome of interplay of various factors and forces at work such as the rising pressure of population, westernisation, spread of urban-industrial ethos, secularisation of occupations and modernisation. The paper examines the position of the woman within the Indian family which is in a state of transition from a consanguinity orientation to a conjugal orientation.
Keywords: joint family, nuclear family, marriage/re-marriage, ST/SC category, consanguineous marriage, divorce, family system/structure, endogamy/exogamy, patrirachy
It is indeed hard to offer a generalised view of the Indian woman or her position within the family, as the subject is quite complicated for the reason that the Indian society is very vast and is characterised by bewildering complexity. The subject has got numerous facets and drawing of universal generalisations is a quite intricate and hazardous task because of the existence of substantial variations between regions, between rural and urban areas, between classes, and finally, between different religious, ethnic and caste groups.
Considering the fact that India is a vast country with enormous diversities in terms of cultural heritage and ethnicity, the position of women or the nature of Indian family may not show uniformity in its character at the national level as in many other smaller countries. Therefore, it, as stated above, is very hazardous to present a generalised view about the woman or the family system in general. Yet another problem with this subject is national or state level census or survey on family which can be used as definitive evidence to draw national level generalisations has never been conducted. Though the paper is heavily based on the census and the National Family and Health Surveys 1 and 2, it has also sought to piece together widely scattered ethnological studies as supplementary evidence on households/family to corroborate the arguments, regardless of the fact that there is inherent difficulty in drawing generalisations from such heterogeneous sources. In view of these facts it is important to qualify at the outset that observations made in the subsequent discussion are true in broad terms only. The paper is primarily confined to the discussion of how individuation has increasingly affected the position of women within the family, nature of Indian family in general and the processes of family formation and dissolution.
Nuclearisation of Family
It is commonly believed that patriarchal joint family has been the characteristic feature of Indian society. But the contention has been contested by many family scholars. There is no need to address the whole range of debates on the level of existence of joint family in India, as the full discussion on the subject is available elsewhere (Singh 2003: 53-70). The available evidence simply suggests that it has not been the most dominant type of family system in India. It has been observed that the joint family was never really prevalent in India on a large scale, as in China, it obtained only among a limited number of people—landed peasantry and certain trading castes and community (Levy 1949: 55-58). It was hardly ever present among landless people, service castes, dalits and tribal population, which together have constituted the largest chunk of India’s population so far. (Mandelbaum 1972: 50) Mandelbaum has noted that the incidence of joint family is associated with the nature of occupation of the people. The kind of family, which characterised the landed castes for long, could not and need not go indefinitely under the changed circumstances. There are both physical and social limitations to its continuance. Different brothers or their sons are not under the same social obligation to stay together as true kindred. The fission of the larger family is an unavoidable social event. One of, the earliest explorations into the size and composition of rural families based on a survey of 12,030 families selected from 74 villages from India’s western zone conducted by the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (Pune) during 1947-51 demonstrated that merely 32 per cent of all families consisted of two or more couples (Dandekar and Pethe 1960: 189-199). This obviously implies preponderance of nuclear family even half a century ago in rural India. Studies of joint families in a historical perspective by ethnographers have distinctly shown that the life span of joint family has become increasingly shorter with the lapse of time in the face of new economic order and demographic regime (Singh 1984: 86-95; 2001: 229-248).
The recent census data have revealed that it is the nuclear family, not the joint one, which predominantly characterises the Indian family system. According to the 1981 census, of all the households nuclear family constituted 68 per cent and the single member or lone parent household (or eroded families) comprised about 11 per cent. The stem and joint family together could claim merely 20 per cent of all households at the 1981 census. After a lapse of two decades, that is, at the 2001 census, the share of single member or lone parent household remained more or less the same, but the share of household comprising only one married couple increased to 70.4 per cent and the claim of the stem and joint family together further came down to 18.5 percent. It is very surprising that such a glaring piece of evidence from censuses about the preponderance of nuclear family has been glossed over or was played down by the advocates of the idea of persistence of joint family in India. The 2001 census of India has definitely provided evidence of further decline in the importance of the joint family system, as households comprising three or more married couples account for merely 5 per cent of the total households. One may really wonder on what basis Madan (1962; 1999) and Shah (1998) stressed their view so strongly and persisted with the views for a long period when the available data from one census after another, in addition to data from various surveys, have explicitly been in contravention with their arguments. A discussion on the subject at a greater length can be seen elsewhere in one of the recent publications of the author (Singh 2003: 53-70).
Although there is no need to put in any supplementary evidence to corroborate the above argument regarding the disappearance of joint family, the size and composition of households are also briefly highlighted to further substantiate the views relating to disintegration of joint family. The available data on the household size and composition from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-1) provide clinching confirmation of nuclearisation of stem or joint family, no matter how liberally one prefers to define joint family. The data suggest that joint family does not make up more than five to six per cent of all families or households. A large stem or extended family, which includes a couple with married sons or daughters and their spouse as well as household head without spouse but with at least two married sons, daughters and their spouse, constitute about one fifth of the total households in India.
The NFHS-1 data have revealed some remarkable facts about the family structures cross-classified by education, religion, ethnicity, occupation, ownership of land, geographical location, etc. The data have borne out the fact that there exists a positive association between the level of education and the incidence of nuclear family. At the same time it is also true that the incidence of nuclear family is much greater among scheduled tribes and scheduled castes although their level of literacy is quite low. They have recorded a much lower incidence of joint family than other categories of people. Similarly, the landless people tend to record a greater proportion of nuclear families than the land-owning people (Niranjan 1998: 287-300).
The states and union territories, which have a relatively higher proportion of tribal people in their population or have attained a higher level of urbanisation, tend to record a greater proportion of single member household and nuclear family than others. About the scheduled tribes Singh (1997b: 9) has categorically reported that the dominant form of the tribal family is nuclear (91.4 per cent). Joint or extended type of family, except for certain cultivating groups, has never been popular among them, as it appears from various other ethnographic studies. Kolenda, who did extensive research on the family in India since 1949, had tried to ascertain whether joint families were more characteristic of higher castes or lower castes. On the basis of her empirical investigations she has concluded, ‘Joint families are least characteristic of untouchables and more characteristics of Sanskritised caste’ (Kolenda 1968: 390). But as a matter of fact, the incidence of joint family has hardly anything to do with the ranking of individual castes in social hierarchy. It is the ownership of land rather than the caste status which determines family types. Since the higher castes have often tended to possess higher ownership of land, there is an apparent positive association between caste ranking and joint family (Dasgupta 1999: 561-577).
In certain parts of South India Brahmins may be an exception to the generalisation relating to the strong relationships between land ownership and the incidence of joint family, as at some level of land ownership Brahmins are more likely to live in joint families. In addition to land, caste also seems to have some bearing on the nature of family type. All the predominantly forest-clad and hill states and union territories such as Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Daman and Diu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep have recorded over one-tenth to one-fourth of single member households of the total households in urban areas. It is much higher than the national average of eight per cent (Chakravorty and Singh 1991). Geographical condition sometimes also seems to determine the size of household or family.
Rural to urban migration is mostly dominated by young adults and the migrants are more likely to move alone rather than with other members of the family, giving rise to a significant proportion of single member household in urban India (Singh 1985: 69-87; 1988: 87-99). Joint families are breaking more prematurely than was the case in the past. Based on a meticulous study of 9 villages in Karnataka Caldwell et al. (1984: 222) have reported that 41 per cent of all households were partitioned when fathers were still alive. The percentage has to be higher in the case of north Indian villages where there is no system of marriage (or vivah) between close kinsmen. This is visibly evident from the rising incidence of bride burning, divorce and violence against women in north India generally. Notwithstanding individual differences among the members, the joint family was much a more serene organisation in olden days for the head of the family was quite a commanding person to iron out any intra- or inter-familial differences. Education among the young or their increasing ability to secure work elsewhere has posed a continued threat of partition. This has meant reduction in the pyramidal control structure of the traditional joint or stem family. Studies of West Bengal villages on ethnographic line have also pointed out preponderance of nuclear households (Dasgupta et al. 1993: 356).
The emergence of financially independent, career-oriented men and the women, who are confident of taking their own decisions and crave to have a is sense of individual achievement, has greatly contributed to the disintegration of joint family. Female discords, particularly between mother-in-law and be daughter-in-law or among daughters-in-law themselves, are considered to be the prime factor behind the partitioning of family or household. There is a proverb in Kannada which says that thousand moustaches can live together, but not four breasts. With the rise in female education and individual autonomy discord between brothers is on gradual increase. In the course of his study as Caldwell (1984: 223-224) noticed that disputes were common more between brothers rather than between sons and fathers. Sometimes disputes also originated in suspicions of unequal parental treatment and favours. Daughters-in-law are considered major disputants because they are the essential aliens in the household. Females are socialised in one set-up and live with others in another. Therefore, dissension among women is considered the principal reason for the disintegration of joint or extended family in India. On the other hand, it has often been noticed in north Indian villages that the women who in their younger ages urge their husbands to separate from the joint family are commonly the same persons who later as mothers and mothers-in-laws or grand-mothers are most unwilling to see their joint family split in their life time.
On the death of the patriarch, the disintegration of stem or joint family becomes imminent if there persist problems of constant tensions within the family. This fact is true more of northern than of southern zone and more of Hindus than of Muslims because of the system of cross-cousin marriages among south Indian Hindus and parallel cousin marriages among Muslims. When a girl marries her maternal uncle, she enters a household that her mother lived in before marriage and her mother-in-law is actually her grandmother. When a Hindu girl in south India marries her father’s sister’s son or her mother’s brother’s son, she joins a household in which her mother lived before marriage which she has subsequently visited with her mother, and her father-in-law is her uncle and mother-in-law her aunt. When a Muslim girl marries her father’s brother’s son, she does not even change residence if it is a joint family. However, marriages between relatives are on a continuing decline for various reasons (Caldwell et al 1984).
Rise in the partition of households does not always mean rise in tension or bitterness within the family. It is a sign of greater willingness young couples to argue such difficulties and to press for further partition households_ Conditions that were tolerated in pre-partition days only generation ago are much less likely to be tolerated now. This is a consequence more of rise in the process of individuation than of anything else. But people tend to remain in joint families longer when economic factors help such families.
The poorest and the lowest tend to have fewer joint families (Singh 1984: 86 95; 2001: 229-248). Nuclearisation of joint family has given rise to a massive increase in the number of independent households, fragmentation landholdings, business complexes and number of court cases relating to the division of property and decrease in the size of homesteads. A new type of family based on close emotional bonds, enjoying a high degree of domestic privacy preoccupied with rearing of children, is surfacing as a dominant form of family.
Rules of Family Formation
Since time immemorial the system of Indian cultural values regard in sex has been such that the pre-marital relationship of any kind, or even frequent social interactions, between young boys and girls has been highly discourage Even now the young boy or the girl seldom exercise their rights in matters mate selection, more particularly in the vast rural community. The practice o child marriage (pre-puberty marriages) which has been in vogue right from the ancient times has probably deterred the practice of the system of pairing up, as commonly found elsewhere. The pairing up system has been in vogue on a very limited scale only among certain aborigines or scheduled tribes. In fact, generally the people do not expect even the young married couples to interact or mix freely with each other outside their home in the presence of others or in the presence of their own parents at home.
There are three striking features of mate selection in India. First, the rules of endogamy which indicate the groups into which a person is expected to find a spouse. Secondly, rules of exogamy which prohibit a person form marrying into certain groups. Both the rules of endogamy and exogamy are linked mainly to the caste or kinship structure. Thirdly, marriages in India are mostly arranged by the parents or in their absence by elderly close kins. Let us discuss these features of marriage briefly.
The Indian society has been highly endogamous. The rules of endogamy f require an individual to marry within a specified or defined group of which he or she is a member. The group may be a sub-caste, caste (or jati), clan, ethnic or religious group. Religious and caste endogamy are two of the most pervasive forms of endogamy in India. In India there are innumerable castes which are divided into numerous sub-castes and they are further divided into subsections and each one of them is endogamous.
The endogamous unit, for many Hindu sub-castes, consists of a series of kin clusters living in a fairly limited geographical area. The operation of the rules of endogamy shows discernible f variations by region and religion. The endogamous character of Hindu marriages is steadily changing. Civil marriages are on the gradual rise. Though legally permitted, inter-religious marriages are not commonly arranged or so popular. While marriages across sub-castes or caste have become a common event in Indian cities, the role of parents in arranged marriages is on the gradual decline. The age-old requirement that marriage has to occur within the same sub-caste is no longer a cherished value of Hindus. The parents are fully prepared to recognise the nuptial bonds of their sons and daughters across the sub-castes, Evidently such a process of secularisation of marriage has to ascend steadily with the rise in urbanisation and spread of modern education.
Polygamy, more particularly polygyny, has been one of the salient features of the Indian family. It has been more popular among Muslims than Hindus. The polygamous males often derived support from age-old scriptures and mythological stories. But mainly those who had no issue from the first wife practised such marriages. The preference for son has been strong because in a patrilineal society only son can continue the line of the family. Sons are needed also because they provide succour to their parents in their old age.
This fact has been well explained in some demographic explorations (Mutharayappa et al. 1997). But the practice of polygamy, more particularly among Hindus, is on virtual extinction with some exceptions of scheduled castes. Singh (1997b: 7) has reported, ‘Two hundred and sixty-five of the scheduled castes (35.2 per cent) allow polygyny’. However, it does not mean that all of them essentially practice it. The enactment of Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act, 1955 and its amendment in 1976 has played an important part in this process. Bigamy has been made a penal offence among Hindus. With the rise in education the incidence of polygyny has declined even among the Muslims despite the fact that such marriages have got full cultural and legal sanction. The scheduled tribes are somewhat different from others with respect to marriage. While monogamy is the predominant form of marriage, there are a large number of tribes practicing sororal polygyny and non-sororal polygyny (Singh 1997b: 8).
Related to endogamy is the practice of consanguineous marriage. It has been one of the notable features of a large segment of the Indian society. Through the ages the system of cross-cousin and cross-uncle niece marriages has been the most favoured kind of marriage in the south. The most desirable mate for a man has been his own sister’s daughter or mother’s brother’s daughter (Driver and Driver 1988; Nair 1978: 121, 131). However, such marriages have remained tabooed among a large majority of Hindus in north India (Rao 1983). The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 prohibits marriage among close relatives— called sapinda marriage. The sapinda relationship extends as far as the third generation in the line of mother and the fifth in the line of father.’ In north India only Muslims, certain scheduled castes and scheduled tribes tend to observe consanguineous marriages.
Singh (1997b: 8-9) has reported that most of the tribal groups follow consanguinity of both types such as marriage with the father’s sister’s daughter, the mother’s brother’s daughter and the elder sister’s daughter. As many as 359 scheduled tribes (56.4 per cent) allow marriage with the mother’s brother’s daughter and 259 with the father’s sister’s daughter (here the number of SCs far exceeds 350 because certain tribes are found in more than one state and are enumerated in each state and union territory separately). Of these, 84 tribes also permit an uncle-niece alliance. Such consanguineous marriages are reported from all tribal areas in south, central and northeast India. The incidence of such marriages is much less in the northwest. Marriage with parallel cousins is practised among 23 tribes. Contrary to the general belief, as circulated by Karve (1965), Singh (1997b: 8-9) has observed that the incidence of cross-cousin marriages is far more widespread than was earlier believed. In addition to sororate and levirate marriages of both types— senior and junior— tribes are also unique in their institution of polyandry of the fraternal type. The National Family Health Surveys have evidently shown that there has been appreciable decline in consanguineous marriage, more particularly in Dravidian India. At the national level nearly 15 per cent of the ever-married women have married blood relatives. In Tamil Nadu and in some parts of Karnataka and coastal Andhra Pradesh only 25-50 per cent of the marriages are of the consanguineous type, and on the west coast consanguineous marriages were less frequent and accounted for only 10 to 20 per cent of all marriages. In the rest of India, consanguineous marriages are extremely rare, generally as low as two per cent (Bhat and Zavier 1999: 3021-3024). A study conducted by Richard and Rao (1994: 17) in Tamil Nadu has obviously borne out that consanguineous marriages have declined and the rate of decline is much greater in urban than rural areas. Conversely, the data also imply that non-consanguineous marriages have increased quite markedly and the amount of increase is still much greater in urban areas.
Rules of exogamy are complementary to those of endogamy. Hypergamy is a kind of exogamous marriage wherein rules prohibit marriage between members of certain groups. The prohibition may be so narrow as to include those members within the elementary family (i.e., marriage between a brother and sister or parent and child) or so wide to include all those with whom genealogical kinship can be traced. The definitions of these groups, however, show variations by caste, region and religion. Under the rules of hypergamy girls marry boys of higher status. Those who follow this rule always seek men having higher social status than their own for the marriage of their daughters. It is also a rule whereby marriage takes place or is generally arranged within the same caste but between a girl of a lower sub-caste and a boy of a higher sub-caste. This is possible because each caste is divided into several sub-castes which are again divided into hierarchically ordered groups. It is quite clear that the rules of hypergamy operate within the confines of each endogamous group.
The system of exogamy has shown a spatial or regional characteristic. For instance, among the Rajputs of Uttar Pradesh, traditionally girls were given in marriage from east to the west direction within the same sub-caste. This has been so because the Rajput clans were associated with a geographic region and the prestige of Rajputs of the western region is considered progressively superior to that of the eastern side. But by and large the hypergamous marriages, whether across caste or sub-caste, are not favoured by the parents or guardians of boys or girls. Rules of exogamy are also found to operate at the village level_ In north India, a girl born within a village is considered the daughter of the village and hence she cannot marry a boy from the same village. This is known as village exogamy. Village endogamy is discouraged also because of commonality of lineage. But the practice of village exogamy does not, however, lead to severing of the relationships between a woman and her family of origin because of the continuing bonds of kinship relationships. A husband is always treated as the most esteemed or respected guest not only in the family of his wife but also among all the close kinsmen of her parents throughout his life. In south India, the exogamous unit in one’s own generation is defined by one’s own sisters/ brothers and real and classificatory parallel cousins. The Moplah Muslims of North Malabar in Kerala live in matrilineal units and among them matrilineage is the exogamous unit. Lineage exogamy also exists among the Muslim Gujjars of Jammu and Kashmir (Srinivas 1980: 56). Among the Nayars, who are a matrilineal group, a girl can never marry her mother’s brother.
Majority of the marriages in India are still fixed or arranged by parents or elders on behalf of and/ or with or without the consent of the boy or the girl involved in marriage. When a marriage is fixed by parents or elders it is called an arranged marriage. This is in contrast to marriage by personal choice. In some cases elements of both these types of selection of spouse can be found together. There has never been any room for romantic or civil marriage in the Indian society on the line of western societies. The choice of spouse cannot be left to the decision of the young if rules of marriage alliance are to be effectively carried out. The restrictions placed on free interaction between a boy and a girl in India is yet another factor which does not allow marriage by self choice.
Though the measure of participation in choosing one’s life partner has shown variations between different groups, by and large, marriage arranged by parents/elders is the most prevalent form of selection of spouse in contemporary India. For majority of the high caste Hindus, matching of horoscope (charts relating to one’s birth under certain astrological calculations constitutes an important element in the final choice of the marriage partner.
Today apart from astrologers matching the horoscopes of a boy and a girl, computers are also used to match horoscopes. Among the Muslims, the parents, elders or wali (guardian or custodian) arrange a marriage.
Though most marriages continue to be arranged by parents, elders or wali, the pattern of choosing one’s spouse has undergone some modifications today. Very often, the boy is consulted and his consent is sought. Parents or elders do not think it essential to ask the girl whether she approves the match. But in cities educated people do seek the consent of their sons and daughters about the choice of preferred spouse and the time of ceremonisation of marriages. Marriages are even arranged through newspaper advertisement for both the boy and the girl. As mentioned before, now boys and girls, contrary to the old practice, are beginning to assert their wishes in mate selections. Parental decisions are not supreme in all cases. Changes concerning erosion of authority of old guards, particularly in matters of mate selection, are on gradual decline among the educated rural people as well (Singh 2002: 39-55).
Arranged marriages commonly last longer than the romantic marriages, as the couple’s families constantly stay behind with each other. Both the families invite each other on all social and religious occasions and also tend to exchange gifts. If any need arises, they also help each other in case of crisis or calamity. If the relationship between the couples is about to go haywire leading to desertion or dissolution of marriage by any chance, parents of both the couples make concerted efforts to resolve the crisis, considering it as the personal problem of their life, while such is not usually the case with romantic marriages. Hence, such marriages are likely to be more fragile. They tend to get dissolved on flimsy matters where parents on the both sides do not make any intervention, as they had not played any role in the formation of such a marriage alliance. Nevertheless, the females willingly or unwillingly ultimately fall back on their parents as their life long responsibility. However, remarriage of such women, if not impossible, are still quite problematic.
Divorce and Family Dissolution
Divorce is not tolerated by the Brahminical law books and does not have the sanction of priests. The Hindu law codified by the English with help of the Brahmin savants also withheld recognition of divorce. Barring most scheduled tribes, the dissolution of marriage has been quite uncommon and infrequent in India for a fairly long time. But now divorce is permissible under law. Despite legal sanctions Indian marriages are relatively much more stable than those in the industrial West. Hindu marriage, except among scheduled tribes, is taken as a life-long union for the couple, as it is a sacrament rather than a contract between the couples to live in a social union so long as it is cordially feasible. Even in the event of frequent mental and physical torture, most Indian women tend to persist in marriage, since remarriage of divorced or separated women have been quite difficult. Morality relating to sex is so highly valued that every male wants to marry a virgin girl only. In the past Hindus demanded pre-nuptial chastity on the part of both, but now it is by and large limited to females only. In fact, both boys and girls try to know secretly about each other’s pre-marital sex life. Virginity is regarded as the girls’ greatest virtue and a symbol of respectability. In addition there are several other reasons for relatively greater stability in Indian marriages.
The census data have revealed that the divorced and separated women had never constituted even one per cent of the total women at any age between 15 and 49 during the 1961-1991 census. The NFHS-2 (2000) conducted during 1998-99 has also recorded that the divorced and separated women constituted merely one per cent of the total married women. The given statistics, however, may not hold so strongly in the case of metropolitan cities about which there is a consistent reporting of rise in the incidence of divorce.
There has been a significant change in the views and attitudes towards marriage in the recent past. Marriage is no longer held to be a ‘divine match’ or a ‘sacred union’ in an urban milieu. Now it is more like a transfer of a female from one family to another, or from one kinship group to another. The marriage is no longer sanctified as it was believed in the past, and is viewed only as a bonding and nurturing life-long relationship and friendship.
Some believe that in India there has been so much emphasis on gender equality without adequate supporting changes that the relationship between wife and husband has become tenser now than before, despite the fact that the level of education, family income and rationality has improved. The incidence of divorce rate even in a country like India, with different norms of sustenance and forbearance, is reported to have increased in metropolises. A Chennai based legal practitioner has once reported that till 1988 only one civil court was earmarked for divorcees under the Hindu Marriage Act. Today, three Family Courts work overtime to deal with petitions from all religious groups (Radhakrishanan 1999: 37). So one can readily imagine how much the divorce rate has gone up. While divorce has already been in practice both among scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, the incidence of divorce in recent years is reported to be on the decline among the scheduled castes (Singh 1997a). With respect to the incidence of divorce the tribal communities have been more liberal than others. Divorce is permitted in 93 per cent of the tribal communities as also the remarriage of widow. Either party can seek divorce (Singh 1997b: 8).
Marriage counsellors, formerly pooh-poohed at, have today assumed a lot of importance in guiding couples through stormy seas and averting the imminent pain of divorce. Today in cities there is disenchantment with the system of arranged marriages in a large number of cases. The women, however, tend to be more concerned about their marriage than men and in case of problem they are expected to go for counselling. They are expected to take lead to resolve conflicts and when they give up the effort, the marriage is generally over. The men feel that the expectations of the women are immense, and they cannot please them however hard they may try, despite a sizeable contribution to the family. They are under pressure to improve financial contribution, share in raising the children and provide emotional support to the wives.
Many people often believe that the remarriage of widows is a serious problem in India which may be largely true in the case of caste Hindus. But it was perhaps not so serious problem in the case of low castes. The incidence of widow remarriage is estimated to be much higher than the Indian sociologists and social anthropologists have tended to believe. Bhat and Kanbargi (1984: 9) have estimated that about one-third of ever-widowed women are currently remarried. This proportion is bound to be still higher in urban areas. This may be a very startling demographic fact for the conventional Indian sociologists working on micro qualitative data. Since long they have been arguing that the Indian society is so tradition-bound that widow remarriage has been a rare event, ignoring the fact that remarriage of young widows has never been uncommon among low castes and tribal population. The statistics provide clinching evidence that the Indian value system with respect to widow remarriage has experienced tremendous changes with the rise in education and level of development. All parents, particularly urban ones, strive to remarry their daughters if they become widow below the age 30 or 35, despite the fact that remarriage of such women are not so easy.
In today’s shifting values and changing times, there is less reliance on marriage as a definer of sex and living arrangements throughout life. There are a greater incidence of extra-marital relationships, including open gay and lesbian relationships, a delay in the age at marriage, higher rates of marital disruption and a more egalitarian gender-role attitudes among men and women where norms and values have been totally restructured. It is reported that in big metropolises a new system of ‘live in arrangement’ between the pairs, particularly in upper stratum of society, is steadily emerging as a new kind of family life. Anyway, high divorce rates, inter alia, connote that marriage is an institution on the rocks or is considered so important that people are no longer able to put up with the kinds of dissatisfaction and empty-shell marriages the previous generation tolerated. High rates of remarriage explicitly mean that people are sacrificing their marriages because of unsatisfactory relationships. Nevertheless, on the whole, Indian marriages are still largely resilient and lasting, whereas in many industrialised societies they seem to break up for seemingly trivial reasons.
Dislocation of the conventional joint family has really fractured the old familial ties, resulting from the spatial distance and diverse sources of living and personalised form of savings. The emergence of financially independent, career-oriented men and women, who are confident of taking their own decisions and crave to have a sense of individual achievement, has greatly contributed to the disintegration of joint family. This is more a symptom of rise in the spirit of individualism than of anything else.
Nuclearisation of joint family has given rise to a massive increase in the number of independent households, fragmentation of landholdings, business complexes and number of court cases relating to the division of property and decrease in the size of homesteads. The recent census data have revealed that it is the nuclear family, not the joint one, which predominantly characterises the Indian family system. Anew type of family based on close emotional bonds, enjoying a high degree of domestic privacy preoccupied with rearing of children, is surfacing as a dominant form of family.
So far as there is a question of age-old practice of endogamy is concerned, the Indian society continues to be predominantly endogamous. But the endogamous character of Hindu marriages is steadily changing, particularly in cities. Civil marriages are on the gradual rise. Marriages across sub-castes or caste have become a common event in Indian cities. The role of parents in on arranged marriages is on the gradual decline. Related to endogamy is the practice of consanguineous marriage. It has been one of the notable features of a large segment of the Indian society. Through the ages the system of cross-cousin and cross-uncle niece marriages has been the most favoured kind of CD marriage in South. Consanguineous marriages have declined and the scale and in pace of decline are much greater in urban than rural areas for obvious reasons.
There has been a significant change in the views and attitudes towards marriage in the recent past. Though on the whole Indian marriages are still largely resilient and lasting, divorce and separation are mounting. The incidence of widow remarriage is also rising. It is estimated to be much higher than the Indian sociologists have tended to believe. The census statistics provide it clinching evidence that the Indian value system with respect to widow remarriage has experienced substantial changes with the rise in education and level of development. With the rise in development the Indian society is generally set to move from a conventional large type of household/family to a nuclear type, endogamy to exogamy, consanguineous system or marriages to non-consanguineous type and relatively lower incidence of divorce to greater incidence of divorce and remarriage of both widowed and divorced. These trends may reflect that with the rise in the level of development India would slowly move from socio-cultural heterogeneity to socio-cultural homogeneity and from collective orientation to individual orientation largely on the line of developed societies. The future of familialism is definitely at stake.
1. The term sapinda means (i) those who share the particles of the same body and (ii) people who are united by offering ‘pinda’ or balls of cooked rice to the same dead ancestor. Hindu law-givers have not given a uniform definition of the kinship groups within which marriage cannot take place. Some prohibit marriage of members within seven generations on the father’s side and five generation of members from the mother’s side. Some others have restricted the prohibited generations to five on the father’s and three on the mother’s side. Several others have permitted the marriage of cross-cousins (marriage of a person with his father’s sister’s children or mother’s brother’s children).
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J.P. SINGH. Additional Director, Population Research Centre, Patna University, Patna. Has a doctoral degree in Population Studies from the Australian national University, Canberrra. Awarded the UNDP Fellowship at the Institute of Social Studies, Hague (Netherlands) and Professional Associateship at the Institute of Population Studies, East-West Center, Hawaii (USA). Has published over 50 research papers in books and leading professional journals from India and abroad.