The joint family system of India

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The family is the most primary group in society. It is the most simplest and elementary form of society. A family usually consists of various combinations and permutations of two primary links of kinship- parenthood and siblings. The family as an institution is universal. It is the most permanent and the most pervasive of all social institutions. Family is the biological social unit composed of husband, wife and children.

The joint family is also known as ‘undivided family’ and sometimes as ‘extended family’. It normally consists of members who at least belong to three generations: husband and wife, their married and unmarried children; and their married as well as unmarried grandchildren.

Definitions of joint family:

  1. K. M. Kapadia defines joint family as a group formed not only of a couple and their children but also other relations either from father’s side or from mother’s side depending on whether the joint family is patrilineal or matrilineal.
  2. I. P. Desai holds, “We call that household joint family which has greater generation depth than the nuclear family and the members of which are related to one another by property, income and mutual rights and obligations.”
  3. According to Dr. Mamodia, “The fundamental principle of the Hindu joint family is the tie of sapinda without which it is impossible to form a joint family.”
  4. Dr. Chandrashekhar says that “joint family is simply the common ownership of the means of production and the common enjoyment of the fruits of labour.”

Characteristics of Joint family:

  1. Common Habitation: Members of the joint family normally reside together under the same household. This comprises of father, mother, son, son’s wife and children etc. Traditionally, a joint family comprised of some separate family units who had a common habitation.
  2. Joint kitchen: The food for all members of a joint family is cooked in common kitchen. The self of joint family begins with separation of the kitchen.
  3. Joint property: In a joint family the property is held in common in respect of the ownership, production and consumption of wealth. The head of the family acts like a trustee. He manages the joint property.
  4. Kindred relationship: The members of the joint family are bound together through kinship tie. Parents and grandchildren, who are all blood related persons, live together in one house. The joint family comprises of persons belonging to at least three generations. Many a time it may be supplements by other relatives.
  5. Common worship: The members of the joint family also cherish common faith, beliefs, and hence participate in common worship. The functions of the family were mostly religious even in the Vedic times.
  6. Ritual Bonds: The performance of ‘Shraddha’ ceremony and the offering of ‘Pinda’ are propriated by the senior male member of the joint family. He performs the function on behalf of all the members of the joint family.
  7. Mutual obligations: In the joint family the members are well aware of one another’s rights and duties. Each member of the family performs certain duties which benefits the other members as well as the family as a whole.
  8. Authority of the Head: The head of the family appears to have absolute authority and control over the family property and members. Since the Hindu family is a patrilocal, patrilineal and patriarchal type, the father exercises authority over all members and family property.

Merits of joint family:

  1. The common right on the joint property is productive from the point of view of agricultural productions.
  2. In the joint family system, all the earnings are pooled into a common fund.
  3. The joint family provides social security to all the members despite their inability to earn or to work to supplement the common fund.
  4. The offsprings undergo the process of socialization in a broader family setting.
  5. All the members of a joint family share joint responsibility.
  6. Work is divided among the members in a joint family.
  7. The joint family exercises an informal type of social control over the harmful tendencies of its young members in an effective manner.
  8. Family traditions and customs are maintained in the joint family system.

Demerits of joint family system:

  1. The joint family can be centred as a source of litigations, quarrels and conflicts due to many reasons.
  2. Since collective responsibility is bestowed on all the members of family the concept ‘everybody’s business, nobody business’ prevails. It makes some members lazy because they know it pretty well that their idleness will not debar them from consuming equal share.
  3. There is a absence of privacy for the married couples.
  4. Joint family hinders social mobility.
  5. The condition of women worsen I the joint family. The woman enjoys a lower status in the joint family.
  6. The incidence of child marriage is quite high in the joint family.

The traditional joint system of Hindi has undergone vast changes. These changes have not destroyed the system as such. They have definitely affected its structure and functions and also its stability. Some of the causative factors are: education, industrialization, urbanization, change in the institution of marriage, specially in the age of marriage and the legislative measures.