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Traditional Indian Familial Structure

Highly valued in India, family is an important aspect of Indian culture. Family obligations are strong; “In Hinduism the family is more important than the individual and the individual is nothing unless he or she is part of a family”.  With this in mind, parents, children, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins often share the same house or live in the same neighborhood. If living in the same house as a joint family, it is not uncommon for four generations to live under one roof.  The joint family is an ancient Indian institution, but has undergone change since the late twentieth century. Living arrangements for joint families vary depending on region, social status, and economic circumstance; however, as the family grows larger, it inevitably divides into smaller units over time.

Within families, lines of hierarchy and authority are clearly drawn. Structurally and psychologically, these lines shape complex family relationships. In general, elders rank above younger generations, and among people of similar age, males outrank females. Family resources, including land or businesses, are traditionally controlled by males. Under traditional Hindu law, women did not inherit land, but under customary Muslim law, women are entitled to inherit real estate. Under modern law, all Indian women can inherit land. Psychologically, there is an intense emotional bond that forms organically between family members. “Interpersonal empathy, closeness, loyalty, and interdependency are all crucial to life within the family.”