Traditional Family System

Data-North Inida (Pg. 33-35)

The patrilineal family system traces relationships through the father's family.

Among Hindus, spouses (husbands and wives) must be unrelated-no cousins (or even more remotely related women and men) may marry. Among Muslims, cousins may marry.

For Hindus, the bride and groom must usually be from different places of birth or residence.

Local exogamy, where the bride marries out of the village, is the rule. The bride goes to live in her groom's village-often within his extended family.

Family males tend to cooperate in their work. Men frequently receive help from other men to whom they are related by blood-often their brothers.

Hindu women generally do not inherit land or houses for their own use or in their name.

Women generally do not act as the links through which property is given or willed to their sons.

Social Relations

"Wife-givers" (the bride's family) are considered socially inferior to the "wife-takers" (the groom's family). It is considered an honorable deed for a family to find an acceptable family for a daughter to marry into. The family of a son who receives the daughter as a bride has higher status and is treated with great respect by the bride's family.

Dowry payments are expected to be given by the bride's family to the groom's family. Dowry payments may increase with the age of the bride-the older the bride, the higher the dowry.

Marriages are usually arranged by the families. Often the bride and groom have not met before their marriage day.

In villages girls marry young. The average age at marriage, according to the 1981 census, is 15. Brides are expected to be virgins upon marriage. Early marriage helps to assure that the bride will be a virgin.

A bride is a stranger in the family she enters. Because a young bride's loyalty has been to her natal [birth] family, she will be closely watched and supervised until she becomes a part of her husband's family.

Senior family wives-particularly the mother-in-law-usually dominate young wives.

A bride's natal [birth] family loses much of her labor (and the labor of children born to her) upon her marriage. Her family can expect little help from her after she has moved to her new home. She probably will not be available to help parents in their old age. Her children will provide labor to her husband's family.

Adult women are frequently restricted in their activities by seclusion and veiling (purdah).

Preferred employment for women is in jobs in which women associate with other women, such as teaching in a girls' school or nursing in all-female wards.

Traditional Family System

Local endogamy, where marriages take place within the group or village, often occurs. Frequently a few clans form a marriage circle, giving and receiving brides from one another over many generations.

The ideal marriage is frequently seen as one between cross-cousins (marriages between the children of a brother and sister), or between uncle and niece (marriage between a man and his older sister's daughter).

Usually bride and groom are from the same village or area.

Males are as likely to cooperate in their work and receive help from other males that they are related to by marriage as they are to depend on those who are close blood relations (such as brothers). Since ties of marriage and blood kinship usually overlap in complex ways, distinctions between relatives by birth and those by marriage are not always clear.

Among a few groups in South India, descent is traced through women. In these matrilineal groups, property descends in the female line and is owned by men and women descendants of a particular woman. In most groups in South India land is controlled by males as it is in North India.

Social Relations

Since marriage in South India is a continuous exchange of daughters between a few families, social equality exists between the bride's and groom's families. Therefore, the "wife-givers" are equally as honored as the "wife-takers."

In some groups dowry payments are not necessarily important.

Marriages may be arranged by families, but it is likely the bride and groom know each other before marriage.

The average age at marriage, according to the 1981 census, is over 17.

Women interact with their natal families after marriage. There is little need to retrain females to be loyal to their new family and fit into their new home.

Nuclear rather than extended families are often established at the time of marriage.

Because they live nearby, daughters are as likely as sons to be on hand to help parents and to support them in their old age.

The physical movements of women are less restricted than in the north.

Employment for women is less restricted than in the north.


A. One Son is No Sons (Pg 45-46)

"Devi and her five children were sitting in their village home in North India watching 'Star Trek' on television. Caught up in the adventure, the children struggled to understand the English words. Their mother, meanwhile, was explaining [to a visiting researcher] why she was not interested in the government's program of birth control. Noting that her first four children had been girls. Devi said, 'I would have gotten sterilized if I had had sons instead of daughters in the beginning. My six-year-old son is very weak physically, which is why I want to have one more son. Girls get married and leave the village to live with their husbands; they are no longer your own. A son in the family is necessary."

"…The vast majority of Indians have no social security, private pension plans, or annuities; they rely instead on their sons. Few couples are satisfied with just one son, for the rate of infant mortality, while steadily declining, is still high enough to make parents with only one son very anxious. 'One eye is no eyes, and one son is no sons,' runs a popular saying. People try to have two or three sons, hoping that one of them will survive to care for them in their old age." (Stanley A. and Ruth S. Freed, "One Son in No Sons," Natural History, January 1985, p.10.)


B. Review of Some Statistics

Illiteracy rates for India: Female-81 percent; Male-52 percent.

Infant mortality rate for India: 101 per thousand live births.


C. Family Planning Program

"One small village in the Delhi area was subjected to an intensive family planning campaign for six month, yet no one in the village adopted contraception as a result. There, as elsewhere [in much of India], pregnant young women are given special care and attention, and some consider pregnancy an inherently desirable state. Twenty women were shown two pictures-silhouettes of a pregnant woman and an unpregnant woman. All saw the pregnant woman as happier, healthier, better fed, more secure, more influential, and more respected."

(John Marshall, "What Does Family Planning Mean to an Indian Village?" quoted in Doranne Jacobson, "The Women of North and Central India: Goddesses and Wives" in, Carolyn Matthiasson, ed., Many Sisters, NY: The Free Press, 1974, p.148.)

D. World Bank Report

"In all countries, women who have completed primary school have fewer children than women with no education, and everywhere the number of children declines regularly (and usually substantially) as the education of mothers increases above the primary-school level. The differences can be large…and they persist regardless of family income, occupation, religion, and other factors."

"Studies also show that educating woman makes a greater difference to reducing family size than educating men…Education delays marriage for women, either because marriage is put off during schooling or because educated women are more likely to work or to take time to find methods of birth control…" (The International Monetary Fund and The World Bank, Finance and Development, September 1984, p.19)

E. School Enrollment of Girls and Boys

"There has been an improvement overall in girls' enrollment [in school] relative to boys,' but the gap in numbers is getting larger as enrollment [for both sexes] expands. In 1950 there were 27 million more boys than girls enrolled in first and second levels of education [worldwide]. Currently, boys outnumber girls by 80 million. In South Asia alone, where the male educational advantage is most pronounced, there would have to be 38 million more school places just to bring girls' enrollment up to boys' at the present time." (Ruth Leger Sivard, Women…A World Survey, Washington, D.C.: World Priorities, 1985, p.19)

Dr. Nafis Sadik, Executive Director, United Nations For Population Activities

Dr. Sadik, a Pakistani medical doctor, is one of only three women to hold the rank of Undersecretary-General in the United Nations. She is a family planning expert who directs worldwide family planning efforts for the United Nations. Recently she set up a task force to review the lessons of twenty years of United Nations family planning programs.

One of the major questions that she will investigate is why family planning programs in South Asian countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and northern India) are not working, even though they have had family planning information available for 25 to 30 Taiwan), which began population planning much later, show a continuing decline in birth rates. (Ted Morello, "UN's Family-planning Chief Will Focus on 'Programs that Work" Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 1988.)

Points to Consider ( pgs 47-48)

  1. According to the reports and statistics that deal with India, what factors appear to influence family size in India?

  2. Considering your answers to the above question, and to the "Points to Consider" for HANDOUT TWO, in what areas of India would you expect higher birth rates (more children born)? What areas lower? Why?

  3. In groups, read over the New York Times article below and then complete the exercise that follows. Source: Gross, Susan Hill & Rojas, Mary Hill.Contemporary issues for women in South Asia.... St. Louis Park, MN, Glenhurst, 1989.