On the other hand, a family among the Hindus is constituted according to the traditions. For example, it has been a prolonged tradition among the Caste Hindu to live in a joint family. O’Malley reports that in the census of 1931 he found a large joint family in Bengal which had about 500 members.
In social anthropology, generally, when we talk about the family, we have to look at it in the context of primitive life. Among the Bhils and Gonds, there has been the tradition of polygyny.
There are also polyandrous families found among the Todas of the Nilgiris. On the other hand, there are matrilineal families found among the Khasis of Jayantia hills of Assam.
The point which we want to stress is that the elements of family are determined by a large number of environmental, occupational, social, cultural and historical forces. We will discuss some of the major elements found universally and particularly among different societies. A few of the major elements of the family are discussed as follows:
Marriage is an institution which gives conjugal rights to the couple in the family. It is this social legitimacy which permits sex relations between husband and wife. This results in the procreation of children.
The assumption is that conjugal relations should lead to the birth of children. If it is not done, the continuity of society would cease to exist.
Among the Hindus, there is a belief that if no child is born in a family the husband would not be allowed to enter the gates of heaven. It is for this reason that an unmarried person of marriageable age is married to any object a tree, a stone or a plant-before he is put to pyre.
The tribals also make sure that as soon as a boy or a girl attains puberty, he or she is married. Thus, procreation of children is an inbuilt structure of marriage. This is found universally all over the world.
However, the women’s movement which is getting momentum is the US and the European continent, discourages women from undergoing procreation. This trend, however, is not witnessed in India.
2. Sex Relations:
No society allows promiscuity. Sex is always regulated by a system of marriage. Incest is forbidden in all societies: brother and sister, mother and son, or father and daughter are not allowed to have any sexual relations. All societies have some system of acquiring a mate.
This system gives rise to different types of marriages-monogamy, polygyny, polyandry and group marriage. The type of marriage which is prevalent in a particular society enjoys legitimacy of its society or group.
3. Economic Bond:
If we trace the evolution of family, we learn that the family came into existence due to economic needs. There is division of labour which determines the role of family members.
There are societies where males work outside the home and the women keep themselves confined to house work. And, there are also families where both husband and wife work outside and mutually share the responsibility of domestic work.
The children are facilitated to develop their skills through education and training. Whatever may be the type of family, there is always some economic bond which holds the members together.
The primitives do not have a sharp division of family work. For instance, among the Bhils of western India, the woman cleans the cattleshed and the man may grind the corn and fetch water. Thus, the division of labour in the family is usually traditional.
4. Long-time Group:
We have all been members of a family; so have our great grandfathers. In fact, there is continuity in the existence of a family. In the matriarchal family, the daughter provides continuity by inheritance; in the patriarchal family, it is the son who keeps the family line alive. Civilizations rise and collapse, but the family lives forever. Family, therefore, is a long-time group.
In the animal world, there is lesser dependence of the new-borns on mothers. The dependence in all cases is short-lived. In human society, however, the offspring have to depend on their parents for longer period. In India, the dependence extends to the period when the sons and daughters are married and well settled.
The idiom of dependence on the family is equally applicable among the tribals and primitives. However, in some tribal groups, the period of dependence could be reduced. For instance, among the Tods or Santhals, a son could be separated from the family as soon as he is married.
Thus, it is the prime and essential element of a family to upbring, that is, provides education, employment and family tradition to the children. It is the family which provides socialization to its members through the process of upbringing.
6. Size of Family:
One of the crucial elements of modern family is its size. Size has always been a prominent feature of family. Among the Indian tribes, before the attainment of independence, a larger family was preferred. The head of the family had plenty of land which he cultivated through a large number of hands.
The practice of polygyny also resulted in large-sized families. In fact, in all the tribal groups’ larger family size was bestowed with greater prestige. The trend today in all the groups in the country is to go in for a small family. Even the tribals are obliged to conform to the small family norm.
7. Emotional Base:
In a family, there are two types of kin who live together. Brothers and sisters and also grandparents constitute the blood kin whereas wife or wives belong to marital kin. All these members have an emotional bond which is essentially based on kin relations. The family unity is manifest in such emotional bonds.
However, on some occasions, there are outbursts of anger and emotional discharges among the family members. But, these emotional outbursts are managed on the basis of kinship.
8. Sense of Responsibility:
It is the responsibility of all the family members to provide perfect protection and upbringing to the new generation. Both among tribals and other ethnic groups in India, it is the responsibility of the parents to arrange the marriage of physically mature members of the family.
The family head considers him relieved if all the youngsters are married and settled in some occupation. Such a head, in the past, used to plan for a pilgrimage. This reveals a sense of responsibility among the grown-up persons in the family. Even if there has been a division in the family, all the members would make it a point to attend marriages and funerals.
9. Social Control:
The family wields power. It provides facilities for the socialization of the family members. The daughters-in-law who come to the patrilocal place are also socialized in a way that after bearing children, they identify themselves with the family of the husband.
If there are deviants in the family, the elders do not spare the rod. Any blame on a member is considered to be blame on the entire family. It is because of social control that the unity of the family and its traditions are maintained by the members.
10. Tribal Family:
If we review the literature available on the tribals of India, we find that most of these studies focus on the unusual aspects among the people, or the village monographs mostly dwell on the ethnographic aspects of the primitives. The studies made recently have begun to discuss social change among the tribals.
On one hand, sociologists have raised the debate on the nuclear and joint family, and on the other, no serious attempt have ever been made to focus on the structure of family and relate it to the family found in caste groups and other non-tribal communities.
The pertinent questions are: Does the tribal family resemble the caste Hindu joint or nuclear family? Are the families among tribals changing over to nuclear family? What has happened to tribal polygynous and polyandrous families? These questions are uncomfortable.
It appears that not much has been done in the field of family by social anthropologists. Even authors of the status of D.N. Majumdar and T.N. Madan, in their well received book, Introduction ‘to Social Anthropology, have not discussed this topic much.
The only concern that these authors have shown is to describe the family found among Kharia of Chhotanagpur (Bihar) and the Ho of Bihar.
It must be observed that in the wake of directed social change, when the tribal groups have witnessed tremendous transformations, the family structure would also have changed. But, the bias for the study of Hindu joint family has left the tribal family study untouched.
Whatever stray empirical material we get in the tribal monographs clearly indicates that in all probability the tribal family was not a joint family.
There was not enough property among the tribals nor was there a well-built house. It could be said that whenever a tribal boy or girl attained maturity, he or she was married. Whether Gond or
Chaudhra, the married son today is allowed to erect his owfi hut but till the lifetime of the father there was no property-division. For one thing we are certain: there is no debate in social anthropology about the structure of tribal family as we find in sociology. There is, however, a fundamental change in the family structure of tribals.
Historically, the tribals have been polygynous and matriarchal. We have some evidence to support the view that in contemporary time’s polygyny is fast becoming extinct.
So also with polyandry the matriarchal system is also dying due to the entry of tribals into government and public sectors. Surely, something serious is happening with the tribal family which needs to be studied and analyzed.
11. Functions of Family:
When there is an institution in existence since the origin of mankind, naturally, the institution fulfils certain needs of society. This, however, is the functional approach to the study of family. One of the postulates of functional analysis is the indispensability of a system.
Thus, the family has certain indispensable functions for the society. But, at the same time, it should also be stressed that the institution of family generates certain conflicts too. There is no family which does not have any conflict. History is rich with family feuds among the royal families.
During the Mughal rule in India no succession to a throne was complete without the assassination of some of the competing brothers. Family land disputes are present everywhere. Despite this there are some functions or needs which a family fulfils. Some of these are illustrated below:
12. Upbringing of Children:
It is the family which takes care of the young. However, the period of upbringing varies from society to society. In western society the period of dependence of children is shorter compared to that in Indian society?
In our country, normally, the caste Hindus shows their concern for children till they are occupationally settled and married. Among the tribals, the period of dependence is lesser than caste Hindus.
As soon as the son is matured enough to plough the field, the dependence is over and the upbringing is complete. The girls become matured when they can fetch water, go to the forest and can handle the household work.