Nāyar, also spelled Nair, Hindu caste of the Indian state of Kerala. Before the British conquest in 1792, the region contained small, feudal kingdoms, in each of which the royal and noble lineages, the militia, and most land managers were drawn from the Nāyars and related castes. During British rule, Nāyars became prominent in politics, government service, medicine, education, and law.
Unlike most Hindus, Nāyars traditionally were matrilineal. Their family unit, the members of which owned property jointly, included brothers and sisters, the latter’s children, and their daughters’ children. The oldest man was legal head of the group. Rules of marriage and residence varied somewhat between kingdoms.
Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Nāyars in the central kingdoms of Calicut, Walluvanad, Palghat, and Cochin had highly unusual marriage customs that have been much studied. Before puberty a girl ritually married a Nāyar or a NambūdiriBrahman. The husband could visit her (but was not obliged to); in some cases ritual divorce immediately followed the ceremony. After puberty the girl or woman could receive a number of visiting husbands of her own or a higher caste. Nāyar men might visit as many women of appropriate rank as they chose. Women were maintained by their matrilineal groups, and fathers had no rights or obligations in regard to their children.
Early in the British period, Nāyar armies were disbanded. Perhaps partly as a result, plural marital unions gradually died out in the 19th century. Children began to be maintained by their father, to support him in his old age, and to perform the ceremonies at his death. Laws passed in the 1930s enforced monogamy, permitted division of the matrilineal estate among male and female members, and gave children full rights of maintenance and inheritance from the father. By the mid-20th century it was increasingly common, especially in towns, for nuclear families to form separate residential and economic units.
FAMILIES IN INDIA
The family is very important in India and families tend to be very close knit. The household member, or grihastha, is one of the stages of life through which every Hindu is expected to pass. “In Hinduism the family is more important than the individual and the individual is nothing unless he or she is part of a family. Marriage is not only necessary for the formation of a family but also for looking after dead family members in the other world.
In India, people learn the essential themes of cultural life within the bosom of a family. In most of the country, the basic units of society are the patrilineal family unit and wider kinship groupings. The most widely desired residential unit is the joint family, ideally consisting of three or four patrilineally related generations, all living under one roof, working, eating, worshiping, and cooperating together in mutually beneficial social and economic activities. Since independence joint families have become smaller. Both nuclear and joint families are common. [Source: Library of Congress *]
Parents have traditionally been very domineering, making choice about career and marriage for their children. Family obligations are strong. It is not unusual for a poor laborer to return to his home village at great expense for things like the first hair cut of his mother’s cousin’s son. Families provide economic and social support in a country that is too poor to provide welfare and unemployment insurance. Unmarried people in the 20s tend to live with their parents rather than on their own.
Along with economically supporting themselves, their elders, and their children, adults must maintain and add to the elaborate social networks upon which life depends. Offering gracious hospitality to guests is a key ingredient of proper adult behavior. Adults must also attend to religious matters, carrying out rites intended to protect their families and communities. In these efforts, men and women constantly work for the benefit of their kin groups, castes, and other social units. *
Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D. and Vishwarath R. Nayar wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “The joint or extended Hindu family, which dominated in the past, is gradually disintegrating. In the traditional Hindu extended family, the eldest male governed the entire family; the daily life of its members revolved round this huge family. The family head, in consultation with other elder males, arranged marriages in which the youngsters had little say. The females lived behind closed doors - “within the four walls” environs. Festive occasions were the only times when they had the opportunity to interact with others in the neighborhood or relatives. With the disintegration of this family unit into individual families, the problems of insecurity and social influences of the neighborhood have become common. This is indeed leading to the assertion of individual freedom in the choice of marital partners and lifestyles.” [Source: Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D., and Vishwarath R. Nayar, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, sexarchive.info \*/]
Men and Women and Relations Between Family Members
Rural men have traditionally done heavy work such as plowing, clearing trees, building homes, as well as planting and sowing, while women have done the harvesting and gathering. Men often use sometimes shoulder poles to carry things while women carry things on their head. Men also try to find work to bring in a modicum of income. In a family observed by Peter Menzel. On average the father works 56 hours a week (when he can find work) and the mother works 84 hours doing chores around the home.
Traditionally the bond between mother and son is very strong while that between husband and wife is often relatively weak, in some cases below that of siblings. Daughters and fathers have also traditionally had strong bonds. The relationships between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is often bad. The mother-in-law often orders her son’s wife around, in part because the same thing happened to her when she was a young wife.
Traditionally wives move in with their husband and his in-laws.. When a wife moves in with her husband’s family she is often expected to severe ties with her own family, which almost always lives in another village. In some cases the severance of relations is so strong that the wife’s father is expected to pay for a glass of water if he visits his daughter’s household.
The oldest son becomes the head of the family when the father dies. Mothers often work out the details of a marriage with the consent of the bride and groom. A man and his wife owe respect and obedience to his parents and other senior relatives. Ideally, all cooperate in the joint family enterprise. Gradually, as the years pass, members of the younger generation take the place of the older generation and become figures of authority and respect. As this transition occurs, it is generally assumed that younger family members will physically care for and support elders until their demise. [Source: Library of Congress *]
According to Hindu law a son may demand legal partition and take his share of ancestral property at any time. Among some castes this can not take place unless the father agrees to it.
See Children, Different Groups Under Minorities.
Family Status in India
In their adult years, men and women engage in a wide variety of tasks and occupations strongly linked to socioeconomic status, including caste membership, wealth, place of residence, and many other factors. In general, the higher the status of a family, the less likely its members are to engage in manual labor and the more likely its members are to be served by employees of lower status. Although educated women are increasingly working outside the home, even in urbane circles some negative stigma is still attached to women's employment. In addition, students from high-status families do not work at temporary menial jobs as they do in many Western countries. [Source: Library of Congress *]
People of low status work at the many menial tasks that high-status people disdain. Poor women cannot afford to abstain from paid labor, and they work alongside their menfolk in the fields and at construction projects. In low-status families, women are less likely than high-status women to unquestioningly accept the authority of men and even of elders because they are directly responsible for providing income for the family. Among Sweepers, very low-status latrine cleaners, women carry out more of the traditional tasks than do men and hold a relatively less subordinate position in their families than do women of traditional high-status families. Such women are, nonetheless, less powerful in the society at large than are women of economically prosperous high-status families, who control and influence the control of more assets than do poor women.*
One 18-year-old young man posted on Quora.com: “The Indian family system that a lot many wax about is the grave of the Roark-ian hero. The killing-ground of individuality and a cesspool of collectivism. If you live in a sandbox created by your family, build castles according to their whims and finally let them decide who your sand-castle princess should be, then who are YOU? Where is the YOU in all of this? I don't see you. I see THEM. Where are you? How is it your story if they're writing it? [Source: Quora.com September 20, 2013 />/]
Joint Families in India
Parents, children, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins often share the same house or live in the same neighborhood. In India it is not uncommon for four generations to live under one roof. Often times large extended families are so close that aunts and uncles and grandparents play just as much of part in raising children as the mother and father do. Each member is of the joint family is generally addressed by a kinship term rather their name. There are more kinship terms than in English. Grandparents are defined as belonging to either the wife’s family or the husband’s family and there are ten different terms for aunt and uncle.
Patrilineal joint families include men related through the male line, along with their wives and children. Most young women expect to live with their husband's relatives after marriage, but they retain important bonds with their natal families. Despite the continuous and growing impact of urbanization, secularization, and Westernization, the traditional joint household, both in ideal and in practice, remains the primary social force in the lives of most Indians. Loyalty to family is a deeply held ideal for almost everyone. [Source: Library of Congress *]
Large families tend to be flexible and well-suited to modern Indian life, especially for the 67 percent of Indians who are farmers or agricultural workers or work in related activities. As in most primarily agricultural societies, few individuals can hope to achieve economic security without being part of a cooperating group of kinsmen. The joint family is also common in cities, where kinship ties can be crucial to obtaining scarce jobs or financial assistance. Numerous prominent Indian families, such as the Tatas, Birlas, and Sarabhais, retain joint family arrangements even as they work together to control some of the country's largest financial empires.*
The joint family is an ancient Indian institution, but it has undergone some change in the late twentieth century. Although several generations living together is the ideal, actual living arrangements vary widely depending on region, social status, and economic circumstance. Many Indians live in joint families that deviate in various ways from the ideal, and many live in nuclear families--a couple with their unmarried children--as is the most common pattern in the West. However, even where the ideal joint family is seldom found (as, for example, in certain regions and among impoverished agricultural laborers and urban squatters), there are often strong networks of kinship ties through which economic assistance and other benefits are obtained. Not infrequently, clusters of relatives live very near each other, easily available to respond to the give and take of kinship obligations. Even when relatives cannot actually live in close proximity, they typically maintain strong bonds of kinship and attempt to provide each other with economic help, emotional support, and other benefits.*
As joint families grow ever larger, they inevitably divide into smaller units, passing through a predictable cycle over time. The breakup of a joint family into smaller units does not necessarily represent the rejection of the joint family ideal. Rather, it is usually a response to a variety of conditions, including the need for some members to move from village to city, or from one city to another to take advantage of employment opportunities. Splitting of the family is often blamed on quarrelling women--typically, the wives of coresident brothers. Although women's disputes may, in fact, lead to family division, men's disagreements do so as well. Despite cultural ideals of brotherly harmony, adult brothers frequently quarrel over land and other matters, leading them to decide to live under separate roofs and divide their property. Frequently, a large joint family divides after the demise of elderly parents, when there is no longer a single authority figure to hold the family factions together. After division, each new residential unit, in its turn, usually becomes joint when sons of the family marry and bring their wives to live in the family home.*
Though in traditional societies, a joint family system is more commonly observed, nuclear families have become more common in the recent decades due mainly to changes in the occupational structure and dispersal of family members in search of livelihood and their movements into urban areas.
Variations in Family Structure in India
Some family types bear special mention because of their unique qualities. In the sub-Himalayan region of Uttar Pradesh, polygyny is commonly practiced. There, among Hindus, a simple polygynous family is composed of a man, his two wives, and their unmarried children. Various other family types occur there, including the supplemented subpolygynous household--a woman whose husband lives elsewhere (perhaps with his other wife), her children, plus other adult relatives. Polygyny is also practiced in other parts of India by a tiny minority of the population, especially in families in which the first wife has not been able to bear children. [Source: Library of Congress *]
Among the Buddhist people of the mountainous Ladakh District of Jammu and Kashmir, who have cultural ties to Tibet, fraternal polyandry is practiced, and a household may include a set of brothers with their common wife or wives. This family type, in which brothers also share land, is almost certainly linked to the extreme scarcity of cultivable land in the Himalayan region, because it discourages fragmentation of holdings.*
The peoples of the northeastern hill areas are known for their matriliny, tracing descent and inheritance in the female line rather than the male line. One of the largest of these groups, the Khasis--an ethnic or tribal people in the state of Meghalaya--are divided into matrilineal clans; the youngest daughter receives almost all of the inheritance including the house. A Khasi husband goes to live in his wife's house. Khasis, many of whom have become Christian, have the highest literacy rate in India, and Khasi women maintain notable authority in the family and community.*
Perhaps the best known of India's unusual family types is the traditional Nayar taravad , or great house. The Nayars are a cluster of castes in Kerala. High-ranking and prosperous, the Nayars maintained matrilineal households in which sisters and brothers and their children were the permanent residents. After an official prepuberty marriage, each woman received a series of visiting husbands in her room in the taravad at night. Her children were all legitimate members of the taravad . Property, matrilineally inherited, was managed by the eldest brother of the senior woman. This system, the focus of much anthropological interest, has been disintegrating in the twentieth century, and in the 1990s probably fewer than 5 percent of the Nayars live in matrilineal taravads . Like the Khasis, Nayar women are known for being well-educated and powerful within the family.*
Malabar rite Christians (Syrian Christians), an ancient community in Kerala, adopted many practices of their powerful Nayar neighbors, including naming their sons for matrilineal forebears. Their kinship system, however, is patrilineal. Kerala Christians have a very high literacy rate, as do most Indian Christian groups.
Large Kinship Groups in India
In most of Hindu India, people belong not only to coresident family groups but to larger aggregates of kin as well. Subsuming the family is the patrilineage (known in northern and central India as the khandan , kutumb , or kul ), a locally based set of males who trace their ancestry to a common progenitor a few generations back, plus their wives and unmarried daughters. Larger than the patrilineage is the clan, commonly known as the gotra or got , a much larger group of patrilineally related males and their wives and daughters, who often trace common ancestry to a mythological figure. In some regions, particularly among the high-ranking Rajputs of western India, clans are hierarchically ordered. Some people also claim membership in larger, more amorphous groupings known as vansh and sakha . [Source: Library of Congress *]
Hindu lineages and clans are strictly exogamous--that is, a person may not marry or have a sexual alliance with a member of his own lineage or clan; such an arrangement would be considered incestuous. In North India, rules further prohibit marriage between a person and his mother's lineage members as well. Among some high-ranking castes of the north, exogamy is also extended to the mother's, father's mother's, and mother's mother's clans. In contrast, in South India, marriage to a member of the mother's kin group is often encouraged.*
Muslims also recognize kinship groupings larger than the family. These include the khandan , or patrilineage, and the azizdar , or kindred. The azizdar group differs slightly for each individual and includes all relatives linked to a person by blood or marriage. Muslims throughout India encourage marriage within the lineage and kindred, and marriages between the children of siblings are common.*
Relationships within Large Kinship Groups in India
Within a village or urban neighborhood, members of a lineage recognize their kinship in a variety of ways. Mutual assistance in daily work, in emergencies, and in factional struggles is expected. For Hindus, cooperation in specific annual rituals helps define the kin group. For example, in many areas, at the worship of the goddess deemed responsible for the welfare of the lineage, patrilineally related males and their wives join in the rites and consume specially consecrated fried breads or other foods. Unmarried daughters of the lineage are only spectators at the rites and do not share in the special foods. Upon marriage, a woman becomes a member of her husband's lineage and then participates regularly in the worship of her husband's lineage goddess. Lineage bonds are also evident at life-cycle observances, when kin join together in celebrating births, marriages, and religious initiations. Upon the death of a lineage member, other lineage members observe ritual death pollution rules for a prescribed number of days and carry out appropriate funeral rites and feasts. [Source: Library of Congress *]
For some castes, especially in the north, careful records of lineage ties are kept by a professional genealogist, a member of a caste whose traditional task is maintaining genealogical tomes. These itinerant bards make their rounds from village to village over the course of a year or more, recording births, deaths, and glorious accomplishments of the patrilineal descent group. These genealogical services have been especially crucial among Rajputs, Jats, and similar groups whose lineages own land and where power can depend on fine calculations of pedigree and inheritance rights.*
Some important kinship linkages are not traced through men but through women. These linkages involve those related to an individual by blood and marriage through a mother, married sisters, or married daughters, and for a man, through his wife. Anthropologist David Mandelbaum has termed these "feminal kin." Key relationships are those between a brother and sister, parents and daughters, and a person and his or her mother's brother. Through bonds with these close kin, a person has links with several households and lineages in many settlements. Throughout most of India, there are continuous visits--some of which may last for months and include the exchange of gifts at visits, life-cycle rites, and holidays, and many other key interactions between such relatives. These relationships are often characterized by deep affection and willingly offered support.*
These ties cut across the countryside, linking each person with kin in villages and towns near and far. Almost everywhere a villager goes--especially in the north, where marriage networks cover wide distances--he can find some kind of relative. Moral support, a place to stay, economic assistance, and political backing are all available through these kinship networks.*
The multitude of kinship ties is further extended through the device of fictive kinship. Residents of a single village usually use kinship terms for one another, and especially strong ties of fictive kinship can be ceremonially created with fellow religious initiates or fellow pilgrims of one's village or neighborhood. In the villages and cities of the north, on the festival of Raksha Bandhan (the Tying of the Protective Thread, during which sisters tie sacred threads on their brothers' wrists to symbolize the continuing bond between them), a female may tie a thread on the wrist of an otherwise unrelated male and "make him her brother." Fictive kinship bonds cut across caste and class lines and involve obligations of hospitality, gift-giving, and variable levels of cooperation and assistance.*
Neighbors and friends may also create fictive kinship ties by informal agreement. Actually, any strong friendship between otherwise unrelated people is typically imbued with kinship-like qualities. In such friendships, kinship terms are adopted for address, and the give and take of kinship may develop. Such bonds commonly evolve between neighbors in urban apartment buildings, between special friends at school, and between close associates at work. The use of kinship terms enhances affection in the relationship. In Gujarat, personal names usually include the word for "sister" and "brother," so that the use of someone's personal name automatically sounds affectionate and caring. *
Family Authority and Harmony
In the Indian household, lines of hierarchy and authority are clearly drawn, shaping structurally and psychologically complex family relationships. Ideals of conduct are aimed at creating and maintaining family harmony.*
All family members are socialized to accept the authority of those ranked above them in the hierarchy. In general, elders rank above juniors, and among people of similar age, males outrank females. Daughters of a family command the formal respect of their brothers' wives, and the mother of a household is in charge of her daughters-in-law. Among adults in a joint family, a newly arrived daughter-in-law has the least authority. Males learn to command others within the household but expect to accept the direction of senior males. Ideally, even a mature adult man living in his father's household acknowledges his father's authority on both minor and major matters. Women are especially strongly socialized to accept a position subservient to males, to control their sexual impulses, and to subordinate their personal preferences to the needs of the family and kin group. Reciprocally, those in authority accept responsibility for meeting the needs of others in the family group.*
There is tremendous emphasis on the unity of the family grouping, especially as differentiated from persons outside the kinship circle. Internally, efforts are made to deemphasize ties between spouses and between parents and their own children in order to enhance a wider sense of harmony within the entire household. Husbands and wives are discouraged from openly displaying affection for one another, and in strictly traditional households, they may not even properly speak to one another in the presence of anyone else, even their own children. Young parents are inhibited by "shame" from ostentatiously dandling their own young children but are encouraged to play with the children of siblings.*
Psychologically, family members feel an intense emotional interdependence with each other and the family as an almost organic unit. Ego boundaries are permeable to others in the family, and any notion of a separate self is often dominated by a sense of what psychoanalyst Alan Roland has termed a more inclusive "familial self." Interpersonal empathy, closeness, loyalty, and interdependency are all crucial to life within the family.*
Family resources, particularly land or businesses, have traditionally been controlled by family males, especially in high-status groups. Customarily, according to traditional schools of Hindu law, women did not inherit land or buildings and were thus beholden to their male kin who controlled these vital resources. Under Muslim customary law, women are entitled to inherit real estate and often do so, but their shares have typically been smaller than those of similarly situated males. Under modern law, all Indian women can inherit land. *
Gender Roles in India
Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D. and Vishwarath R. Nayar wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “While it is mostly the husbands who are breadwinners, the women generally take care of the household activities, besides bearing and rearing children. However, due to widespread educational programs and improvement of educational facilities for girls, women nowadays are accepting jobs outside the home, and thus contributing financially to the family budget. Also, because of constant efforts in making women aware of their rights and the importance of their involvement in day-to-day family matters, the status of women has increased significantly. Due to all these measures, women nowadays actively participate not only in their family affairs, but also in social and political activities in the communities. [Source: Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D., and Vishwarath R. Nayar, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, sexarchive.info \*/]
“The occupations that were earlier monopolized by men are gradually being shared by women. Similarly, various professional courses like engineering, architecture, and allied disciplines are also studied by women. In spite of these changes initiated for the benefit of women in India, the people’s attitude to equal status for women has not changed significantly in actual practice, and in this regard various educational programs for men are still in great need of changing their outlook. For instance, although the legal age of marriage for girls is set by the government at 18 years, people, especially in rural and tribal India, encourage early marriage for girls, mostly within a short time of their attaining puberty. Similarly, in the educational development, the dropout rate among females is very high. \*/
“Due to rapid social and technological changes, it is observed that in the recent period, traditional gender-role differentiation is breaking down, especially in the fields of education and work. The historical analysis of the status of women shows that in Vedic India, as revealed by its literature, women were treated with grace and consideration. However in the postvedic age, there was a slow but steady decline of their importance in the home and society. A decline, indeed a distinct degeneration in their status, is visible in medieval India. The purdah system of female seclusion, the sati tradition of immolating the widow on the husband pyre, dowry, and child marriages were obvious in the preindependence period. Following independence from England, however, there was a distinct, if uneven, and gradual liberal change in the attitude toward and status of women. \*/
“In India’s male-dominated tradition, and everywhere in Vedic, classical, medieval, and modern Hinduism, the paradigms in myths, rituals, doctrines, and symbols are masculine. But just as goddess traditions encroached successfully on the territory of masculine deities, so too has the impact of women’s religious activity, the ritual life in particular, been of increasing significance in the overall scale of Hindu tradition. To put this another way, in traditional life the unlettered folk have always shaped Hinduism, and half of them have been women. It is not feminine roles in Hinduism that have been lacking but rather the acknowledgment of such in literature, the arts, and institutions such as the priesthood and temple and monastic administrations. Only now, in a world rapidly changing because of education opportunities, are such institutions and media beginning to reflect accurately the total picture of Hindu class, caste, gender, and regional life. (Knipe 1991, 10-11) \*/
“The urban/suburban environment has given birth to a fascinating mix of traditional and new male/female roles and role models among the affluent middle class. Bombay films are much more influential in creating new role models than the Hollywood films were in their early days in the United States. While the United States had one example of a film star succeeding in presidential politics, India has seen many famous film stars, both male and female, achieve political prominence. In 1966, Indira Gandi became prime minister of India, at a time when few Western nations would have accepted a woman head of state. And yet India remains a very male-dominated society.” \*/
Battle Between the Sexes in India
Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D. and Vishwarath R. Nayar wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “Traditional Indian folklore and stories, as well as modern novels, provide an important theme - the perennial, cosmic-based conflict between man and woman - that flows through much of male-female relationships in Indian culture and domestic life. Margaret Egnor sums this theme up in her study of The Ideology of Love in a Tamil Family. [Source: Jayaji Krishna Nath, M.D., and Vishwarath R. Nayar, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, sexarchive.info \*/
Based on her research in Tamil Nadu, Egnor observed that: “Within the household, as well as in the domain of paid labor, there was a strong spirit of rivalry between many women and their husbands. Wives would not automatically accept submission. Neither would their husbands. Consequently, their relationship was often, from what I was able to observe, disputatious.... The eternal conflict between spouses is abundantly reflected in Indian mythology, especially Tamil which debates the issues of male vs female superiority back and forth endlessly on a cosmic level in the form of battles and contests between deities or demons and their real or would-be mates. (Egnor 1986).” \*/
In Indian folklore, Shiva and Parvati argue interminably about who is the better dancer, while Vishnu and Lakshmi are constantly debating which is the greater divinity. In most regions of the country, male folk wisdom traces the reasons for man’s perennial war with woman to the belief that the female sex lacks both sexual morality and intelligence. The Punjabis and Gujaratis agree that “The intelligence of a woman is in her heels.” Tamils maintain that “No matter how educated a woman is, her intelligence is always of the lowest order.” The Malayalis warn that “One who heeds the advice of a woman will be reduced to beggary.” \*/
Men in southern India seem more resigned and willing to acknowledge their helplessness in the face of “general female cussedness and constant provocation.” Kannada and Telugu men admit that “Wind can be held in a bag, but not the tongue of a shrew,” while Telugu males confess that “Neither the husband nor the brother-in-law can control a pugnacious woman.” By contrast, in the northern regions of India, folk sayings place “singularly greater emphasis on the employment of force and physical chastisement to correct perceived female shortcomings.” “The place of a horse and a woman is under the thighs.” Two proverbs from Gujarati echo this view: “Barley and millet improve by addition of salt; women through a beating by a pestle,” and “Better to keep the race of women under the heel of a shoe” (Kakar 1989, 6). Faced with this perennial conflict between husband and wife, the object of the wife’s affectional and sensual currents traditionally has been the husband’s younger brother in the joint or extended Indian family. \*/
Married Life in India
After the bride and groom are united in sacred rites attended by colorful ceremony, the new bride may be carried away to her in-laws' home. The poignancy of the bride's weeping departure for her new home is prominent in personal memory, folklore, literature, song, and drama throughout India. In their new status, a young married couple begin to accept adult responsibilities. These include work inside and outside of the home, childbearing and childrearing, developing and maintaining social relationships, fulfilling religious obligations, and enhancing family prosperity and prestige as much as possible. [Source: Library of Congress]
When a young man gets married it is normal for him bring his wife home to live with his parents. The young husband is thus surrounded by well-known relatives and neighbors. The young bride, however, is typically thrust into a strange household, where she is expected to follow ideal patterns of chaste and cheerfully obedient behavior. Often the atmosphere of a household depends on how well the bride and her mother-in-law get along.
One Indian man posted on Quora.com: “Two people don't have to be exactly compatible, but in any circumstances, any two normal persons can live a life together without loving each other, but as friends. It is like in college, when you don't choose your roommate, but end up adjusting to his whims. It is called survival. This, in any circumstance seems like a better option than opting for divorce.” [Source: Quora.com, October 12, 2013 |~|]
One newlywed American-Indian told the Washington Post, “How do you know if you love someone. Does a light come on over your head?...He’s my man, and he will be my man up until the day I die, or whatever. The way you feel about a person is constantly changing, y’know? Maybe there are day you don’t want to deal with him, maybe there’‘ll be a day when only want to miss a second with him. Do I look forward to spending time with him? Yes. Do I look forward to getting to know him? Yes. Do I like him for what he is? Do I have a deeper understanding of him? Yes.”
Describing the typical Indian man, Shoba Dé, India's best-selling English-language author, told Time: "For him the universe begins and ends in his belly button. He is self absorbed, narcissistic, feudal, hopelessly spoiled and completely infantile in his responses...In a society like ours, to be born male is enough. A man does not need any other attributes. It is also a society that pampers men beyond reason."
Indian society has traditionally been strongly patriarchal. In Hinduism, a man is both the leader of family and defined by a family. The Sanskrit term for husband means "owners." According to the ancient text the Laws of Manu: “He is a perfect man, who consists of three persons’ united: his wife, himself, and their offspring. Studies have shown that married Indian men are more likely to be faithful than men from many other cultures.
Men have traditionally had a reputation for ruling their homes like tyrants. As a householder, in the four Hindu stages of life, a man is expected to pursue the “Three Aims”: religious merit, wealth and pleasure. These aim mentioned often in Hindu law books, with particular emphasis placed on the first aim and the second having precedence over the third.
Married Women in India
A suhaag is the red mark on a woman's forehead wear the hair parts. It is a symbol of marriage and is made with red sindoor powder. A married woman is expected to treat her husband as if he were a god and bow to him and touch his feet as sign of respect and subservience.
When a girl leaves her village and moves to her husband's home, she belongs to her husband's village not her parent's. When she moves in with the family of her husband she is expected to do much of the housework. The first thing she has traditionally done when she enter the house of her husband's family is kiss the feet of her in-laws. Bahu is a word that describes the dutiful daughter in law. According to one survey, 90 percent of the men interviewed said they were happy with their marriage while 90 of the women said they weren't."
Professional urban women often live a double life. In New Delhi she is a modern career women dressed in smart clothes. On the weekends she visit her husband's family dressed in a veil, with bangles and rings on hands, wrists, ankles and feet.
Ideally, the Hindu wife should honor her husband as if he were her personal god. Through her marriage, a woman becomes an auspicious wife (suhagan ), adorned with bangles and amulets designed to protect her husband's life and imbued with ritual powers to influence prosperity and procreation. At her wedding, the Hindu bride is likened to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, in symbolic recognition of the fact that the groom's patrilineage can increase and prosper only through her fertility and labors. [Source: Library of Congress *]
In the difficult early days of a marriage, and later on throughout her life, a woman looks to her natal kin for moral and often economic support. Although she has become part of another household and lineage, she depends on her natal relatives--especially her brothers--to back her up in a variety of circumstances. A wide range of long visits home, ritual obligations, gifts, folklore, and songs reflect the significance of a woman's lifelong ties to her blood relatives.*
Married Woman’s Position in the Family
The young wife is pressed into service as the most subordinate member of her husband's family. New brides often must sit apart from the family in deference to her mother-in-law. If any misfortunes happen to befall her affinal family after her arrival, the new wife may be blamed as the bearer of bad luck. Not surprisingly, some young women find adjusting to these new circumstances extremely upsetting. A small percentage experience psychological distress so severe that they seem to be possessed by outspoken ghosts and spirits.*
By producing children, especially highly valued sons, and, ultimately, becoming a mother-in-law herself, a woman gradually improves her position within the conjugal household. In motherhood the married woman finds social approval, economic security, and emotional satisfaction.*
In a traditional Indian household women are expected to serve their husbands. All a man has to say is "get some water," seeming to speak to no one in particular and one of the veiled women in his household will get it. The water can not give it directly to the man—as this violates Hindu customs about pollution—it must laid down in a place where he can fetch it. Men can not ask other men about their wives or enter a courtyard unannounced out of fear of surprising an unveiled woman. [Source: Doranne Wilson Jacobson, National Geographic August 1977 ♢]
The worst years for a woman are when she is a new bride. As she gets older and her position in the household is improved she gains more freedom and privileges and can order the younger people in the household around. It is not surprising that young brides look forward to trips back home. Sometimes they stay away for three or four months. ♢
Classes for Dutiful Housewives
Some women in India take classes on how to be a dutiful housewife before they get married. Women are taught to think of the husbands as gods and given tips on performing household chores and getting along with their mother -in-laws by doing everything they say. Sex, they are told, should kept to a minimum. [Source: John Lancaster. Washington Post, November 11, 2004]
Women are told not to pursue careers or even view themselves as partners with their husbands (they should be subservient). One student told the Washington Post that she was taught one of the worst sins was sticking up for herself in an argument with her husband or members of his family. She said: “Even if they say something mean to us, our first instinct should be not to retort back , but to stay silent....I have learned that were are newcomers in that family and we have to adjust. We have to reduce the ego.”
The textbook used by students at the Manjju Institute of Values in Bhopal reads: “After marriage, the bride should not think she’s going to her in-law family to throw her weight around. Instead, she’s going there to serve the family and perform her duties, in order to turn that home into heaven...The mother-in-law and father-in-law are never wrong...The bride should do everything according to the wishes and orders of the mother-in-law and father-in-law.”
On getting along with her husband the textbook advises: “The wife should sleep after her husband and wake up before him....When he returns home welcome him with a smile, help him in taking off his shoes and socks, and ask him to sit down. Bring him water and biscuits, and with a smile, ask him about his day. A husband’s happiness alone is your life’s goal...Do not go out without your husband’s permission anywhere.”
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015