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Joint Family System In India: Merits and Demerits of Joint Family.

Indian has a rich culture and values, in ancient India the all family members used to live under a single roof and this culture is very unique in terms of harmony in diversity. Here we are going to describe, what is joint family? Merits and Demerits of Joint Family in India along with the future of the joint family in respect to the economic development of family and nation. And why does India continue to exercise a joint family system in modern times?

Many countries do not believe in a Joint family system but why India, what factors play to live in the joint family system and what are the advantages and disadvantages? these are the basic questions that arise in our minds.

If we see the data from the recent year we can observe that the percentage of living in Joint families in India decreases in both Urban and rural areas. joint families, meanwhile, fell substantially from 19.1% (3.69 crores) to 16.1% (4 crores) across India. In rural areas, the dip was sharper – from 20.1% to 16.8% – than in urban India where it fell from 16.5% to 14.6%.

Origin of Joint Family System in India:-

It may not, however, be presumed that the joint family system originated in India. This institution is said to be the outcome of the settling down of the Aryans in different parts of the world. We have similar institutions practically all over the world. As we have learnt before in the ancient Roman society, the supreme authority vested in the eldest male member of the family who, in administering the family affairs, was entitled to take all steps.

When the pastoral stage was over and the people began to live a settled life by tilling the soil, constructing the house and maintaining the patrimony, a joint family system came into existence. Difficulties of communication and travel compelled all the members of the family to live together and carry on jointly the family occupation in agriculture or trade.

Over and above these causes the kinship idea and the religion emphasising ancestor worship further made joint family a complex organisation catering to the spiritual and economic needs of the large family groups which composed the society. In other parts of the world, while the joint family system has disappeared, in India, it still continues though suffering heavy strains brought about by industrialisation and urbanisation.

Some Definitions of Joint Family System:-

“A joint family is a group of people who generally live under one roof, who eat food cooked at one hearth: who hold property in common and who participate in common worship and are related to each other as some particular type of kindred.” by KARVE.

“We call that household a joint family which has greater generation depth than individual family and the members of which are related to one another by property, income and mutual rights and obligations.” By- L.P. Desai

“In a joint family not only parents and children, brothers and step-brothers live on the common property, but it may sometimes include ascendants and collaterals up to many generations.” By- Jolly

Characteristics of Joint Family System:-

On the basis of the above definitions, the chief characteristics of a joint family are the following:-

1. Large Size:- The first characteristic of the joint family is its large size. A single-family consists of only the husband, wife and their children. But a joint family consists of parents, children, grandchildren and other near relatives along with their women. It is a group of which several basic families live together at one and the same time.

2. Joint Property- In a joint family, the ownership, production and consumption of wealth take place on a joint basis. It is a cooperative institution, similar to a joint-stock company, in which there is joint property. The head of the family is like a trustee who manages the property of the family for the material and spiritual welfare of the family members. The total earnings of all the family members are pooled together.

3. Common Residence:- The members of the joint family usually live under the same roof. They may also live in separate houses in close proximity to one another. They eat the same food and wear the same type of clothes.

4. Cooperative Organisation:- The basis of the joint family system is cooperation. A joint family consists of a large number of members and if they do not cooperate with one another it is not possible to maintain the organisation and structure of the joint family.

5. Common Religion:- Generally, the members of a joint family believe in the same religion and worship similar deities. They perform jointly the religious rites and duties. They celebrate all the festivals and social functions jointly. They also hold themselves jointly accountable for participating in social ceremonies like marriage, death and other occasions of family sorrows and rejoicing. They all share the family burden together.

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6. Productive Unit:- This feature of joint family is found among agricultural families. All the members work in one and the same field. They do the sowing and harvesting of the crops together. Even in the case of artisan classes, all the members of a joint family do one and the same function.

7. Mutual Rights and Obligations:- The rights and obligations of the members of a joint family are the same. None except the head of the family has special privileges. Every member of the family has equal obligations. If one female member works in the kitchen, the other does the laundry work, and the third one looks after the children. There is the rotation of duties as well.

Merits of Joint Family System:-

The following is the main merits/advantages of the Joint Family System in India:-

1. Ensures economic progress:- It enables economic progress of the country since everyone in the family is guaranteed bare subsistence, the first condition of economic progress. Unless people are assured of food and shelter they would not devote themselves sincerely to the work of the country’s progress. It is an essential condition of national progress that the citizens must at least get two meals a day. The joint family provides this to its members and thus enables them to devote themselves to the nation’s progress.

2. Division of labour:– It secures the advantages of the division of labour. Every member in the family is given work according to his abilities without being taxed unduly. Every phase of the family’s life is managed by all members including women and children. Thus, during the harvest season, every member of the family helps in harvesting the crops. No outside labour is required.

3. Economy:- It secures the economy of expenditure. Since things are consumed in large quantities they are secured at economic prices. Within small means, a large family can be maintained if it lives jointly.

4. Opportunity for leisure:- It provides opportunities for leisure to the members. The female members divide the household work and finish it within a little time spending the rest of it in leisure.

5. Social insurance:- In the joint family, the orphans find a comfortable asylum instead of being thrown out Similarly, widows are assured of their proper living for whom remarriage in India is unthinkable. The joint family acts as a social insurance company for the old, sick and incapacitated.

6. Social virtues:- It fosters great virtues like sacrifice, affection, cooperation, spirit of selflessness, broadmindedness among its members and makes the family a cradle of social virtues. Under the care of elders, the undesirable and anti-social tendencies of the young are checked and they are prevented from going astray. They learn to exercise self-control. All members learn to obey family rules and respect their elders.

7. Avoids fragmentation of holdings:- It avoids fragmentation of holdings and the evils inherent therein. It prevents property from being divided.

8. Socialism:- According to Sir Henry Maine, the joint family is like a corporation where the trustee is the father. Everyone in the Joint family works according to his capabilities but obtains according to his needs. Thus, it realises the socialistic ideal-from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

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Demerits of Joint Family System:-

If the joint family system has received the highest praise for its many advantages, it has no less been vehemently denounced. The main defects of the system are said to be the following:

1. Home for idlers:- Joint family is the home for idlers and drones as the non-earning members do not want as to earn their livelihood. When a person can eat comfortably without exerting himself, he is unlikely to indulge in any strenuous activity. Mostly, in the joint family, it happens that some people have to exhaust themselves while the others lead a life of utter lethargy.

2. Hindrance in the development of personality:- In the joint family, there is very little opportunity for the fostering of individual autonomy or self-dependence. The whole environment of the family is not congenial for the growth of the individual because he is bound down by the minutest rules and regulations framed by the head of the family who looks upon men and women as children even when they attain adulthood.

3. Encourage litigation:- The joint family system encourages litigation, for at the time of partition of common property generally disputes crop up which are not settled without a recourse being taken to law, In case of agricultural families partition leads to fragmentation of holdings which is harmful from the viewpoint of agricultural progress.

4. Leads to quarrels:- It is the hotbed of quarrels and bickerings especially among the female members. Generally, there is hatred and jealousy between the wives of brothers. There is continuous strife and fighting over the doings of children. There is also the clash of ideas and temperaments on account of which there are constant quarrels between the elder and the young members of the family.

5. Privacy denied:- In a joint family, privacy is denied to the newlywed couple. The brides of the sons do not get an opportunity to develop their personalities. They serve the entire family like slaves. They hardly meet their husbands during the day. The invariable presence of other family members ashames the bride and she cannot freely talk to her husband. Any natural love between husband and wife is prevented from blossoming. There is also no limit to the injustice done by the mother-in-law. In some cases, this injustice becomes so inhuman and unbearable that women become fed up and commit suicide.

6. Unfavourable to accumulation of capital:- It is not favourable to a large accumulation of capital. When one has to share one’s income with a large family, it is not possible to save much.

Thus, the joint family system has got both its strong proponents as well as opponents. However, we are to remember that no institution is perfect and also that no institution full of defects can exist very long. The joint family system has been in existence since society changed from the agricultural stage of economic development. While the system is breaking down in cities, it still largely prevails in the villages, especially among agricultural families. Though there may be exceptions here and there, yet it cannot be said that the system has been completely abolished. It is no doubt that the system once considered the pillar of stability is finding it difficult to withstand the dizzying pace of social mobility and the transformation of values.

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