Is the Joint family system in India disintegrating? – Essay

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Indian joint family is in a transitional phase whereby through it is assuming a nuclear form, yet it continues to show certain aspects related to traditional families. For instance, although the members get independent financially and separate their household, they live in the some house or close to each other.

There is also an argument that nuclear family does not exist all by itself:

It is a part of the continuous extended family pattern and remains an important unit in the wider kinship relations. These families are largely in the middle stage of development cycle and are better referred to as extended families.

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Families which migrate to the cities do not severe their ties and bonds with their joint family in the villages, rather actively maintain them (K.M. Kapadia, 1966).

Often many rural families have an interest in sending a member, usually a qualified professional with a job, to urban centre to get remittances for reinvestment in village property and to enhance the family’s status (Stern, 1993). The urban unclear family also keeps receiving his share from the joint produce from the village.

Among educated urban middle class young men and women, there are positive feelings towards parents, close relatives and distant relatives, which reflect a persisting feeling of ‘psychological oneness’.

Though the younger generation likes autonomy and independence and dislikes interference by parents in their family matters, yet many continue to stay with their parents. The nuclear family in urban setting welcomes their parents/pa rents-in law, when the children are small and they need someone at home to attend to children while they are away on their daily job/work.

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Even if, out of love or duty, the parents live with their nuclear family progeny, and are looked after by them, they are treated as ‘respected guests’ and not as Heads/Elders of Joint Family. This does not make it a joint family.

The old parents are only guests staying with them to look after grandchildren, when needed. Thus, we see that the collectivist orientation is much stronger than an individual’s need for autonomy.

Individuals prefer to stay nuclear, and at the same time, want to benefit from an extended family. It may now be said that the defining features of a joint family are no more co- residence or common property, but collective sentiments and emotional bonding.

Disputing the idea of nuclearisation, A.M. Shah (1987) says that the statement of ‘joint family is disintegrating’ is applicable to the upper castes, middle and professional classes in urban areas and metropolitan cities who prefer western type unclear family. On the large scale, however, joint family has still not disappeared.

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As we have already discussed, nuclear families may only be joint families-in-making. When the grandfather dies, his sons divide the property and set up their independent households. However, when their own sons grow up and marry, they again become joint families.

Mandelbaum writes that even a man who has broken away from his parental joint family to start an independent household will typically expect to maintain a joint family when his sons marry. This process of nuclearisation and jointness can be considered as ongoing process in India’s family system.

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