Kinship provides the framework for a social relationship. Kinship means the relationship of the individual with the other members due to either a bond of marriage or through blood. Kinship bonds are very strong. Kinship begins with nuclear family. The kins found in this group are husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister. Kinship is that part of the culture which deals with notions of, or ideas about ‘relatedness’ or relationship through birth and through marriage. A kinship system is not a group like family nor is it a set of institutionalized rules like marriage.
According to Murdock, “It is a structured system of relationship in which individuals are bound to one another by complex interlocking and ramifying ties”. Radcliffe-Brown says that Kinship system is a part of the social structure and insists upon the study of kinship as a field of rights and obligations.
This wide definition finds resonance in a hierarchical society based on exploitative gender relations. It often becomes a tool to socialize family members according to prescribed norms of behavior within an overall perspective of male dominance and control. The family and its operational unit (The Household) are the sites where oppression and deprivation of individual psyches and physical selves are a part of the structures of acquiescence. Physical violence, as well as less explicit forms of aggression, is used as methods to ensure obedience. At every stage in the life cycle, the female body is both objects of desire and of control. As the focus is on the household, the term ‘Domestic Violence‘ is preferred to that of family violence, the former help to focus on the physical unit of the homes rather than the more amorphous contact of the family, even though the underlying worldview may be that of the larger familial and kin group.
While the household forms the grid for a major part of women’s activities and interpersonal relations, various facets of kinship provide necessary cultural and socio-structural ground, so to speak, for a working out of family ideologies around specific roles and expectations. These are, as Veena Das has commented in the context of Punjabi Kinship, certain moral rules which influence the trajectory of individual lives (Das 1976). It can be argued that these moral rules operate to maintain a certain gender biased order internal to families and kinship systems. Andre Beteille (1991: 440) argues that family more than the caste system is responsible for reproducing inequalities within society. For him, the entire families work towards transmitting its cultural and social capital to its younger members, despite psychological failures of many kinds.
The system of Punjabi kinship explains that in the mask of social ordering lies the pre-social domain of biology. The human behavior is derived from both, the social and biological substratum.
Kinship as biology:
As the Punjabis say, the two fundamental facts that the theory of kinship has to abide by is the theory of procreation and copulation. The theory explains that the women provide field and the man provides seed for the process of procreation. The quality of the offspring is determined by the field it gets. This process of procreation is termed as garbhadana, it is said to be a gift by the man to the women. The women has to carry the seed for a time period of nine months during which has follow strict diet and has to abide by a number of rules of the society. As the Hindu custom says that, this is an act of sacrifice. For the first few months or years, the mother suckles the baby. During this time the mother has to undergo various strict taboos which are associated with food. Hot foods generally arouse passion and are associated with virility and power. They are also conducive to producing different kinds of flows from the body. Certain cold foods are associated with purity and asceticism and help one to control the demands and passions of the senses. The biological process of carrying the baby in the womb and shaping it is said to create a mutual love between the child and his mother. As they say wife is replaceable but a mother is not. The relation between the father and the child is considered less intimate than the relation between the mother and the child. This is not to say about the hostility between siblings though they have been fed by the same person. We often hear about the fight between brothers in the name of property. The love between the mother and the child is always greater than from the side of the child to his mother. Once after marriage, the act of sexuality overpowers the act of procreation. People often say that a mother cannot be a bad mother (kumata) though a son may be a bad son (kuputra).
The strength of the bond is stronger from the side of the mother than that from the side of the child. This is better explained by the second biological fact that is the common bond between two people which is termed as the act of coitus.
This theory explains the sexual desires of both men and women. The only justification given for sex is procreation. There are many analogies which are used for sexual fulfillment. The sexuality of women or girl has to be preserved better than the sexuality of the men. Thus, hot foods like betel nuts and mutton are not given to young girls, nor are they allowed to wear bright colors like red, or use flowers, which are the prerogatives of married women. it is always kept backstage. Once the marriage is known to have been consummated, considerable anxiety is relieved. The sexual relationship between the husband and the wife is not given overt recognition. Nevertheless, it is realized that sexuality creates strong bonds between a man and a woman. On the other hand, sexual virility as a value of the backstage is highly prized among Punjabis. In cases of childlessness, these insinuations are not rare, for while the childless woman may be accused of sterility by her immediate conjugal family, her own natal family or other members of the biradari may blame her husband, by saying that he was always a weakling. Whereas both copulation and procreation create physical bonds between people, there still remains one important difference. A man cannot alter the fact that he was born of one particular woman, was formed in her womb and was nourished by her milk. The demands of sexuality, on the other hand, can be satisfied by any woman, or so it is believed. A wife is replaceable in a way that a mother is not.
Kinship as socially constructed nomos:
Social kinship is governed by the laws constructed and is specific to particular communities. In the Punjabi community they find it difficult to recognize communities in which mothers are allowed a greater expression of their love than in others, or that in some, women marry only once whereas in others they marry several times. They often defy the need for sexuality in men and women.
Let us now discuss kinship theory from the concept of family and the context of biradari and show how individual conduct is derived from the dialectic between natural kinship and social kinship. A person is expected to begin his married life in a collateral household. In the custom, the intimate relationship between the husband and the wife is always kept hidden. According to studies only one couple out of 49 started their marriage in a nuclear family. As is well-known, the rules of kinship morality demand a complete suppression of every expression of the relation of sexuality between the husband and the wife. The wife cannot retire to bed whenever she is tired. She has to either wait till everyone has gone to bed or until she is told by a senior member, usually her mother-in-law that she may retire. Love-making is required to be discreet and that too privately. If a couple is seen making love in the crowd then they are shammed with idioms of shame. Their affection towards each other is always kept backstage. For instance, on arriving home in the evening, the husband may exchange greetings with everybody except his wife. In a conflict between wife and her in-laws, it is prominently seen the husband taking a side of his family, which clearly shows that the husband doesn’t want the family members to think about their relationship in that way. Also, when a husband takes the side of his wife people say the wife to have done jaadu tona.
It would be clear from the discussion so far that kinship operates at two levels-the biological and the social. The Punjabis believe that like the social order, individual personality is also purified and lifted from a ’lower’ to a ’higher’ self by means of sacrifice. Therefore, honorable conduct is at the expense of natural human values since it requires a sacrifice of normal sentiments and emotions. The sacrifices required in everyday life are small leading to small victories and small defeats.
Social kinship in the context of biradari:
The concept of social kinship in the context of biradari explains the effect society has on kinship behavior. In the context of the biradari, the concepts governing behavior are all seen as socially constructed concepts. This is expressed by the phrase duniyadaari. For example, when we visit relatives we give them gifts not out of love but because of social norms or when a girl is pre-marital pregnant the father is forced to take strict actions against her due to the people in biradari or samaaj. The basic principle regarding the transcendence of natural kinship retains its force within the biradari and expresses itself primarily in the usage of kinship terms and in gift giving.
The concept of biradari can be well explained through the case of the premarital pregnancy where the father of the daughter is forced to take action due to the pressure of samaj. The solution which came out were, in one case the fetus was aborted and in the other case, the boy responsible for impregnating the girl was forced to marry her.
To take an example, the term beti (daughter) in Punjabi may be used to refer to one’s own daughter. However, in gift-giving contexts, a man whose father is not alive may use the same term to include his daughter, his sister, and his father’s sister. The point is that the daughter, the sister, and the father’s sister do not form a single category of which the daughter is a member. In gift-giving contexts all these women are betis, in the sense of gift receivers, but in a different context, ego can explicitly deny that his sister is not his beti but his bahen (sister).
The use of these terms is not dependant on the sex of the speaker. The men of a male ego’s generation may be referred to in the more familiar Hindi rendering of Punjabi words by the following terms : bhai (brother), jeeja (sister’s husband), sala (wife’s brother), sadu (wife’s sister’s husband), and kudam (child’s spouse’s father). The women in a male ego’s own generation are classified as bahen (sister), bhabhi (brother’s wife), voti (wife), sali (wife’s sister), salhej (wife’s brother’s wife), and kudamni (child’s spouse’s mother).
‘Kinship and marriage are about the basic facts of life’. They are about “birth, and conception, and death”, the eternal round that seemed to depress the poet but which excites, among others, the anthropologist. Kinship is a system of social relationships that are expressed in a biological idiom.
It is best visualized as a mass of networks of relatedness, not two of which are identical, that radiate from each individual, as another scholar wrote, Kinship also appears as a huge field of social and mental realities stretching between two poles. One is highly abstract: it concerns kinship terminologies and the marriage principles or rules they implicitly contain or that are associated with them. The other is highly concrete: it concerns individuals and their bodies, bodies marked by the position of the individual in kinship relations’.
Das, V., 1994, ‘Masks and Faces: An Essay on Punjabi Kinship’, in Patricia Uberoi (eds), Family, Kinship and Marriage in India, Delhi: Oxford University Press Pp.198-222
By Nikita Sharma