The kinship system, that is, the way in which relations between individuals and groups are organized, occupies a central place in all human societies. Marriage is a link between the family of orientation and the family of procreation. This fact of individual membership in two nuclear families gives rise to kinship system. Theodorson has defined Kinship as “a social relationship based upon family relatedness’. The relationship which may be consanguine based on blood relation or affinal, based on marriage, determines the rights and obligations of related persons. As such, kinship system is referred to as “a structured system of statuses and roles and of relationship in which the kin (primary, secondary, tertiary and distant) are bound to one-another by complex interlocking ties”.

After family, kinship group plays a very crucial role in daily life, rituals and social ceremonies of Hindus. People turn to their kin not only for help in exigencies of life but also on regular occasions. The important kinship groups, after the family, are Vansa (lineage) and gotra (clan). Vansa is a consanguineous unilateral descent group whose members trace themselves from a known and real common ancestor. It may be either patrilineal or matrimonial and is an exogamous unit. The members of a vansa are treated as brothers and sisters. Lineage ties remain up to few generations only. The main linkage among the families of a lineage is common participation in ritual functions like birth, death etc. The vansa passes into gotra which though is a unilateral kin group but is larger than the lineage. It is an exogamous group.

The kinship features in North and Central India differ from those in South India. The socio-cultural correlates of kinship system are language caste and (plain and hilly) region. In spite of the effect of these three factors in the kinship relations, it is possible to talk of kinship organization on some collective basis, e.g., on caste and zonal basis.

  1. Northern Zone : The northern zone consists of the Sindhi, Punjabi, Hindi (and Pahari), Bihari, Bengali, Assami and Nepali. Though kinship behaviour in the northern zone changes slightly from region to region and within each region from caste to caste, yet comparative study shows that it is possible to talk of an ‘ideal’ northern patterns referring to practices and attitudes generally found to be common among a majority of the castes. Iravati Karve has given some important features of the kinship organization of the northern zone:
    • In these areas caste endogamy, clan exogamy and incest taboos regarding sexual relations between primary kins are strictly observed Marriage among close kin is not permitted.
    • Kin junior to ego are addressed by their personal names and senior to ego by the kinship term.
    • All children in ascending and descending generations are equated with one’s own sibling group (brothers and sisters) and all children of one’s sibling group are again equated with one’s own children.
    • The principle of unity of generations is observed (for example, great-grandfather and grandfather are given same respect as father).
    • Within the same generation, the older and the younger kin are kept distinct
    • The duties and behaviour patterns of the members of three generations are strictly regulated
    • Some of the ancient kinship terms having Sanskrit origin have been replaced by new terms, for example, pitamaha is replaced by pita. Suffix ‘ji’ is added to kinship terms used for kin older than the speaker for example, chachaji, tauji, etc. In Bengal instead of ‘ji’ suffix ‘moshai’ is added
    • After marriage, a girl is not expected to be free with her parents-in-law, but when she becomes a mother, she achieves position of respect and power and restrictions on her are lessened
    • The family is so structured that children, parents and grand-parents either live together or social kinship obligations towards them are clearly met.
    • Apart from the joint family which represents a person’s intimate and nearest circle of relations, there is always a larger circle of kin who play a part in his life. These kindred represent the circle of his patri-kin or matri-kin that may stand by him and help him when the immediate family no longer suffices.
  2. Central Zone :The central zone comprises the linguistic regions of Rajsthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujrat and Kathiawar, Maharashtra and Orissa with their respective languages. All the languages of this region are of Sanskritic origin, and therefore, they have affinity with the northern zone. But there are pockets of Dravidian languages in this region. There is also impact of the eastern zone. Tribal people have there unique and somewhat different position compared to other people. The salient features of kinship organization of the Central India are not much different from those of the North India. The important features of kinship in Central India are:
    • Cross cousin marriages are prevalent which are not witnessed in the north zone.
    • Every region follows northern India practices of marriage, that is, consanguinity is the main consideration which rules marriage.
    • Many castes are divided into exogamous clans. Among some castes, the exogamous clans are arranged in hypergamous hierarchy.
    • The kinship terminology shows intimacy and closeness between various kin.The relations between kin are governed by the custom of ‘neota gifts’ according to which cash-gift is given equivalent to cash-gift received. The neota-registers are maintained and preserved for generation.
    • In Gujarat, mamera-type of cousin marriage with mother’s brother and levirate (marriage with husband’s brother) are practiced by some caste.
    • The custom of periodic marriages in Gujarat has led to child marriages as well as unequal marriages. Such marriages are practiced even today.
    • In Maharashtra, there is impact of both modern and southern zones in kinship relations. For example, the clan organization of the Marathas is similar to that of the Rajputs which is arranged in a ladder manner. Clans are grouped into divisions and each division is named according to the number of clans it comprises; for example panch-kuli, sat-kuli, etc. The clans are arranged in hypergamous order, the highest being the panchkuli, followed by the sat-kuli, etc. The panch-kuli can marry among themselves or can take a girl from the sat-kuli etc., but do not give their daughters outside the panch-kuli.
    • Some castes like Marathas and Kunbis in the central zone practice bride-price too, though dowry custom also exists among them.
    • Though the family system in Maharashtra is patrilineal and patrilocaL yet unlike in the north, where a wife permanently stays with her husband after gauna and rarely goes to her father’s house. In castes like Marathas, she moves to and from her father’s house very frequently. Once she goes to her father’s house, it is difficult to get her back to her husband’s house. This shows the impact of the south on relations with kin.
    • Though the kinship terms are mostly northern yet some terms are borrowed from the Dravidians in the south; for example, use of the term anna and nana for brother along with term dada. Similarly, use of term akka, tai and mai for sister.
    • The kinship system of the tribals in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh is somewhat different from that of the caste Hindus. The difference exists in terms of kinship terminology, marriage rules, inheritance system and clan obligations.
    • Thus, Karve states that, though the kinship organization in the northern and central zone is almost similar, yet it can be described as a region of transition from the north to the south. A state like Maharashtra is a region of cultural borrowings and cultural synthesis.
  3. Eastern Zone: The eastern zone is not compact and geographically not contiguous like other zones. In Eastern Zone, kinship organization is different Besides northern languages, Mundari and Monkhmer languages are also spoken. The area consists of a number of Astro-Asiatic tribes.There are more tribes than caste Hindus in eastern India. The more important tribes are: Khasi, Birhor, Ho, Mundas and raon. The kinship organization here has no one pattern.
    • People speaking Mundari languages have patrilineal patrilocal families. However, joint families are rare in this zone.
    • Khasis have joint family with common worship and common graveyard but the husband and wife live together in a small house of there own. People maintain patri-clan relations by common worship of ancestors and residence.They extend help to each other but live independent life.
    • Cross-cousin marriages are rarely practiced though bride-price is common.Service by the would-be husband in girl’s fathers house is also considered as bride price.
    • Kinship terminology is borrowed both from Sanskrit and Dravidian languages. Garo also have matrilineal joint family system like Nairs in the south. After marriage, a man rarely lives with his parents and establishes a separate house.
  4. Southern Zone: There are five regions in this zone – Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and the regions of mixed languages and people. The southern zone presents a complicated pattern of kinship system.Though patrilineal and patrilocal family is the dominant family type for the greater number of castes and communities, for example, Namboodris, there are important sections of population which are matrilineal and matrilocal for example, Nayars, Tiyans. There are quite a few castes whose systems possess features of both matrilineal and matrilineal organizations, for example, Todas. Similarly, there are some castes/tribes who practices only polygyny, for example, Asari, Nayarsand yet others, who practice both polygyny and polyandry, for example, Todas. Similarly, there are patrilineal joint families and also matrilineal joint families. All this shows varied patterns in kinship organizations in southern zone.

In the matrilineal family, the kinship relationship of women to one another is that of a daughter, mother, sister, mother’s mother, mother’s sister, and sister’s daughter. In the kinship relationship of women with men, males are related to women as brother, son, daughter’s son, and sister’s son. The kinship relationship of males to one another is that of brother, mother’s brother and sister’s son. All these kinship relations are based on blood There are no relations by marriage. This is because husband visits the family occasionally. We, therefore, find :

  1. Absence of companionship between husband and wife and absence of closeness between father and children; and
  2. There is complete independence of women as regards their livelihood; they do not partake of the earnings of their husband.
    • This is how some southern families differ from the northern families.

The Nayars, the Tiyans, some Moplas in Malabar region and the Bants in Kanara district have matrilineal
and matrilocal family, and it is called Tharawad The important characteristics of Tharawad are :

  1. The property of Tharawad is the property of all males and females belonging to it
  2. Unmarried sons belong to mother’s Tharawad but married sons belong to their wife’s Tharawad
  3. Manager of Tharawad’s property is oldest male member in the family; called Karnavan. Kamavan is an absolute ruler in the family. On his death, the next senior male member becomes Karnavan. He can invest money in his own name, can mortgage property, can give money on loan, can give land as gift, and is not accountable to any member in respect of income and expenditure.
  4. When Tharawad becomes too large and unwieldy, it is divided into Tavazhis. A Tavazhi in relation to a woman is a group of persons consisting of a female, her children, and all her descendants in the female line.
  5. In southern zone there is a system of caste endogamy and clan exogamy similar to northern system. A caste is dived into five exogamous clans. Few characteristics of clan organization are:
  6. Each clan, which is composed of a number of families, uses some symbols for there clan. The main symbols used for clans are of silver, gold axe, elephant, snake, jasmine, stone etc.
  7. A person from one clan can seek a spouse from any other clan except his own. However, this choice is theoretical because of the rule of exchange of daughters.
  8. In marriages, there is not only the rule of clan exogamy but also of family exchange of daughters.
  9. Because of the marriage rule of exchange of daughters, many kinship terms are common. For example, the term used for nanad (HuSi) is also used for bhabhi; the term used for sala (WiBr) is also used for bahnoi (SiHu); the term used for sasur (HuFa) is also used for bhabhi’s father (BrWiFa).
  10. Marriage between maternal parallel cousins, that is, between children of two sisters, is not permissible.
  11. Sororate marriage (that is, marriage with wife’s younger sister) is practiced Also, two sisters can marry two brothers in one family.
  12. There is a system of preferential mating in the south. In a large number of castes, the first preference is given to elder sister’s daughter, second preference to father’s sister’s daughter, and third preference to mother’s brother’s daughter. However, today cross-cousin marriage and especially the uncle-niece marriage is beginning to be considered as outmoded and a thing to be ashamed of among those groups which have come in contact with the northern Indians or with western culture.
  13. The taboos prescribed for marriage are: a man cannot marry his younger sister’s daughter, a widow cannot marry her husband’s elder or younger brother, that is, levitate is a taboo; and a man cannot marry his mother’s sister’s daughter.
  14. Marriage is dependent on the chronological age differences rather than the principle of generational divisions as in the north. One example is that the marriage of grandfather and granddaughter is possible in south.
  15. Yet, another feature of marriage and kinship in the south is that marriage is not arranged with a view to widening a kin group but each marriage strengthens already existing bonds and makes doubly near those people who were already very near kin.
  16. A girl has to marry a person who belong to the groups older than her, that is, tan-mum, and also to the group younger than her, that is, tam-mum, and also to the group younger than her parents, that is, she can marry any of her older cross-cousins. A boy must marry in a tan-pin group and to one who is a child of group of tam-mum.
  17. The dichotomy of status and sentiments expressed in such northern terms like kanya (unmarried girl), bahu (married girl), pihar (mother’s house) and sasural (husband’s house) are absent in south. This is because in south, a girl after marriage does not enter the house of strangers as in mother. One’s husband is one’s mother’s brother’s son and so on. Marriage in the south, thus, does not symbolize separation from father’s house for a girl A girl moves freely in her father-in-law’s house.

Comparison of Kinship System of North and South India :

  1. In a southern family, there is no clear-cut distinction between the family of birth, that is, family of orientation and family of marriage, that is, family of procreation as found in the northern family. In the north, no member from Ego’s family of orientation can become a member of his family of marriage; but this is possible in the south.
  2. In the north, an Ego (person under reference/study) has some kin who are his blood relatives only and others who are his affinal. In the south blood relatives are affinal kin at the same time.
  3. In the south, organization of kin is arranged according to age categories in the two groups, that is, older than Ego (tam-mun) and younger than Ego (lam-pin) (tain is ‘self’, mun is ‘before’ and pin is ‘after’).
  4. In the south, kinship organization is dependent on the chronological age differences while in the north, it is dependent on the principle of generational divisions.
  5. No special norms of behaviour are evolved for married girls in the south whereas in the north, many restrictions are imposed on them.
  6. Marriage does not symbolize woman’s separation from her father’s house in the south but in the north, a woman becomes a casual visitor to her parent’s family.
  7. In the north, marriage is to widen the kinship group while in the south it is to strengthen already existing bonds.

At the end, it can be concluded that both rigidity and flexibility exist side by side in regard to values and norms related to kinship systems. These are reflected in regard to divorce, widow remarriage, incest taboos, caste endogamy, rule of avoidance, family structure, systems of lineage and residence, authority system, succession and inheritance of property etc. The kinship organization in India is influenced by caste and language. In this age of sharp competition for status and livelihood a man and his family must have kin as allies. Caste and linguistic groups may help an individual from time to time but his most staunch, trustworthy and loyal supporters could only be his nearest kin. It is, therefore, necessary that a person must not only strengthen his bonds with kin but should also try to enlarge his circle of kin. Cousin marriages, preferential mating, exchange rules and the marriage norms which circumvent the field of mate selection are now so changing that kinship relations through marriage are being extended and a person is able to get their help in seeking power and the status lift that power can bring. Kinship continues to be a basic principle of social organization and mobilization on the one hand and division and dissension on the other. It is a complex phenomenon, and its role can be sensed even in modern society.

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Thanks alot