SOCIAL AGING IN A DELHI NEIGHBORHOOD by John van Willigen and Narender K. Chadha. Bergin and Garvey, Westport, Connecticut and London, 1999.
THERE is no dearth of popular and academic articles and books on social ageing. Most of them are based on impressionistic findings and a few unstructured interviews with haphazardly drawn respondents. Having tended their aged parents and grandparents or some other kin, thereby experiencing the traumas of ageing, many authors claim to have an understanding of the problems and crises of the ageing population.
No doubt, a keen observer can gather important insights from the study of even a single case, and anthropology has a tradition of writing and analysing life history accounts of typical individuals, thus advancing inductive statements. Even general impressions of a phenomenon can be hypothesis-generating but the basic canon of sociological research is to focus on a community, either naturally given or ‘constructed’ by the researcher, before formulating propositions about the phenomenon.
van Willigen and Chadha, the former an American anthropologist and the latter an Indian psychologist, have in their book which appeared in the International Year of the Aged Peoples, ‘constructed’ a sampled community of older people. They carried out an intensive study, relying both on qualitative observations and quantitative analysis. Extremely well written, this Indo-American venture is a valuable addition to the literature on social gerontology and anthropology of ageing. It is also a good contribution to urban sociology.
Both van Willigen and Chadha have independently worked on ageing. Earlier in 1995 Chadha completed an ICSSR sponsored project on the problems of older people in Delhi, while van Willigen authored a well-known work on the social organisation of older people in a rural American community in Kentucky, USA in 1989. They met accidentally at the venue of the Indian Science Congress in Poona in 1988, and have since collaborated at researching and understanding social ageing in a North Indian city, resulting in several oft-quoted articles, and the book under review.
The authors conceptualised their division of labour as ‘dialogic’ since theoretical and epistemological differences exist between anthropology and psychology. They have chosen to explore a ‘middle path between the tendencies of [the] two disciplines’ (p. ix). Being a psychologist, Chadha takes responsibility for handling the complex statistical measures. Being an Indian, Delhite, Punjabi and a native speaker of the languages spoken by the ‘community’, he conducted the interviews, though van Willigen too participated in about a third of them.
Anthropologists are committed to placing culture traits, social institutions, customs and practices in their relevant contexts, to gauge the ‘within’ meanings. This is what van Willigen does best. His Kentucky ‘community’ of older persons is often compared with the Indian counterparts. The authors offer a commentary on certain interesting similarities and differences between the two situations, conscious of the qualitatively different social worlds. For instance, the size of the primary groups of older people in both Kentucky and Delhi is similar.
Both authors agree that the theoretical underpinning of Indian gerontological research is poorly developed. Clearly, Indian scholars often make a wholesale application of a theory developed in the West without thought to its relevance and context in India. This ‘mimicry’, as the authors describe it (p. x), suppresses the specific (i.e. cultural) characteristics of the local situation, the specific strategies the people adopt to survive in a particular milieu. This leads us to think that despite cultural differences people respond similarly to the predicaments of life and society. Social researchers have time and again exploded the myth of human generality which is created at the expense of particularity. Theory is best grounded in empirical reality.
The authors’ theorising draws on their dialogue from the vantage points of their respective disciplines and cultural backgrounds. Their approach to theory is inductive; they move from the findings of empirical research in India to certain general propositions.
Social ageing refers to the changes in the content and meaning of peoples’ behaviour and expectations over time. People take adaptive decisions with the passage of time to ensure their optimum survival. The content of such decisions, as also the resultant sociological context, is determined by their culture. Social ageing should be distinguished from biological ageing – the former is a cultural construction of the inevitability of the latter process.
van Willigen and Chadha build their theory of social ageing around five interconnected themes. But in what way does a holistic theory of social ageing emerge from this inter-relatedness is not spelt out anywhere in the book. This matter is left to the individual readers’ analytical and theoretical abilities.
For understanding social ageing we need a developmentally-oriented view of life. While gerontologists concern themselves with the later periods (often 55 years and above) of individuals’ lives, the conceptualization of the ‘twilight’ of life is dependent upon understanding the preceding phases right from the time of birth. Second, culture conditions the choices individuals make in their lives. The meanings people ascribe to their actions derive from culture. So do their models of the world, the phases in the life of an individual, role expectations and values. Third, history shapes and is shaped by social ageing. Demographic shifts influence our conception of ageing. For instance, the political economy of a nation is affected by the proportion of people who happen to be living primarily as consuming members (this includes a significant proportion of the aged). This feedback relationship of history and ageing is perhaps under-researched.
Fourth, people’s social lives are expressions of individual agency and power. Though each individual makes personal choices about life in every community, this needs to be distinguished from individualism. Some individuals enjoy a wide choice set, others face highly restricted choices. In the same way, some persons exercise a great deal of power, others little, an important source of power being control over economic resources.
Finally, drawing on Claude Levi-Strauss’ structuralism, is the idea that the human mind provides the structure within which social life occurs. The nature of human cognition is relevant to social ageing. This raises interesting questions, such as, Which cognitive patterns are associated with senescence? Why is it that the primary group in widely separated situations happens to comprise 25 individuals (p. 142-3)? van Willigen and Chadha opine that just as research on the impact of history on ageing and vice versa, the underlying structure of the human mind and the phenomenon of ageing and dotage too remains under-researched.
The basis of social life is interdependence between its members which is facilitated through exchange, the process of institutionalised give and take. Exchange theory, built around the mechanism of exchange, suggests that the individual’s position in society is shaped by the content and nature of exchange (p. 8). Exchange is conditioned by the values of hierarchy, power differentials, wealth inequalities; it also reproduces the system. For example, people in the upper strata may offer gifts to those in the lower strata without receiving anything in return; these unreturnable gifts reinforce their position of superiority. The resultant inequality is reversed in the case of wife-givers and wife-takers in a patrilineal society wherein the former remains inferior to the latter although they not only transfer a woman (sister or daughter) but also a large number of prestations (dowry) without ever expecting reciprocity.
Imbalance in reciprocity surfaces when individuals start withdrawing from active interaction. Though many explanatory reasons are advanced, an important one is that as the power resource level of an individual declines and he realises his inability to maintain the norm of reciprocity (or redistribution), the best strategy for him is to withdraw. Withdrawal may help him maintain some esteem, while at the same time absolving him from the gruelling demands of interaction.
As a person’s economic resources and power declines, his social world, the ensemble of social networks, also starts shrinking. Individuals interact because without it social life cannot be conducted; also because it is rewarding, in material, social, and psychological terms. Exchange theory questions the functional premise that interaction is a result of normative expectations and it fulfils socially required needs. Rather, the argument is that transactions are rewarding (and human beings are ‘earthy’) and individuals know about the advantages that flow from them. Exchange theory is post-functional; it focuses on the individual’s motivation to participate and emphasises the inequality of rewards and inequality in social relations.
Exchange theory may yield profitable results in social gerontology. As individuals age, they experience a decrease in power resources to which they adapt through choice. This leads to a decrease in their social interaction. van Willigen and Chadha argue that exchange theory also explains why individuals decide to disengage themselves from the social world.
Another theory, important for a discussion of social ageing, is known as the disengagement theory. Advanced first in the 1960s, this theory submits that as people grow older, their frequency of social relations reduces, their interaction with the people around them becomes thinner and restricted, and they restructure the goals of their life. Not only do the aged want to disengage themselves but others (the so-called ‘engaged lot’) expect the older people to do just that. If they fail to disengage, they may even invite vituperations. The norms may be relaxed for the disengaged; so also the expectations from them. Certain cultures (like the Indian) place high premium on disengagement, describing old age as a return to infancy and old people as ‘children’ (burha baccha ek saman). Just as norms and sanctions are relaxed for children, so are they for the aged.
One consequence of disengagement is that the individual becomes less vertically integrated with people of other (younger) age groups. His integration with his own age grade, horizontal integration, could certainly be far greater. This explains the success of several senior citizens’ associations. Through disengagement the individual adapts to the two facts of life: the gradual decrement of strength and the expectation of death. Disengagement prepares a person to face his imminent departure. Disengagement theorists believe that theory is universally applicable, though mediated by culture. Equally, gender responses to disengagement are highly variable. In India, for instance, older women are less disengaged in comparison to their male counterparts.
Although severely criticised, disengagement theory stimulated substantial new research and analysis, as also the development of alternative theories relating to social welfare and geriatric practices. One of them, ‘activity theory’, which argues that successful ageing is contingent upon continued activity. If old people continue to work, remain preoccupied with activities, they will have greater life satisfaction, will not suffer from role loss, will have something to look forward to, and will remain integrated in society, both vertically and horizontally.
More than test disengagement theory, van Willigen and Chadha examine the lives of north Indian old people from the perspective of the various themes in an effort to constitute a theory of social ageing. They identify the cultural institutions that ‘influence and provide meaning to social ageing processes’ (p. 18) such as asrama (the vocations of life), varna (ritual ranking based on ascriptive categories), purdah (veiling, indicative of female seclusion), and the joint family pattern. It may be noted at the outset that the institution of varnasrama is essentially Hindu. Its utility, therefore, in understanding social ageing in other religious communities is doubtful, although they too value disengagement from worldly affairs.
Crucial to an understanding of social ageing in Hindu communities (and the authors worked chiefly with north Indian Hindus) are the institutions of purusartha (the ‘aims of life’) and asrama (the ‘stages of life’). The former is a theoretical delineation of what humans should do, the meaning of their existence, how they are different from animals (dharma), how they should reproduce their own kind and the society (kama and artha), and how they should ensure their permanent release from the incessant cycle of birth, death and rebirth (moksha). The theory of purusartha offers a fine coexistence of the ideas of materialism and spiritualism; in the hierarchy it aims, moksa occupies the highest place and kama (carnal satisfaction) the lowest.
Purusartha finds a concrete expression in the practice of asrama, the vocations of life. The final release (of soul and its merger with the supreme soul, the paramatman) is possible when one renounces the world (samnyasa) after having disengaged oneself from the social world (during the third stage of life called vanaprastha). van Willigen and Chadha explore the relevance of this cultural model of engagement (in the vocations of celibate-student and householder) and disengagement (in the vocations of forest-dweller and renouncer) to the people in contemporary urban India. However, it must be remembered that the purusarthaasrama vyavastha (organisation of aims and stages of life) is relevant essentially for males of the Brahmin caste. Historians of ancient India point out that for the Kshtriya males death in the battlefield represented salvation; in other words, purusartha for the Kshtriya and Vaishya was different from what it was for the Brahmins. Disengagement had a different cultural content in different communities: going to the battlefield (often dressed like a renouncer) was symbolic of disengagement from the social world.
van Willigen and Chadha carried out their study in an upper class neighbourhood of Delhi, Rana Pratap Bagh. We do not know how they determined the class position of their respondents: Was it subjective, that is, based on how people described themselves in class terms, or was it an objective assessment? The survey data was drawn from a systematic, random sample of people (53% men and 47% women), 55 years and older (the age-range of their sample was 55 years to 90 years, the mean age being 65.6 years), through open-ended interviewing, participant observation, and a review of documents. Ethnographic research was carried out in the community as a whole. However, they do not specify which activities of the community they participated in, since they used participant observation as one of the techniques of data collection.
The chapters ‘The Household and Social Ageing’ and ‘Networks: the World Beyond the Family’, provide a sophisticated analysis of the data collected. The former chapter analyses the social life of the aged people in the context of their households, the problems they face and their responses to them. It describes the nature of integration that older people have with their families and households. The chapter on networks focuses on the integration of the aged with the external world.
van Willigen and Chadha used ‘interaction frequency categories to produce the list of persons that made up the network’ (p. 120). Neighbours formed an important category of networks. In women’s networks, there were more neighbours than was the case with men. Friends were the other component of network – men had more friends than women, indicating that they participated more in extra-domestic realms than the women, whose social world was confined largely to the household. The older people, mostly men, also participated in several associations, such as trusts and charitable societies, religious study groups, card playing groups, informal conversational circles, kitty parties (mainly women), worship groups, devotional singing (kirtan) groups, political parties, and street organisations.
Unlike expectations based on exchange theory, persons with smaller networks did not come across as healthier than others. They had lower incomes and exercised lower control over their worlds. They were also less satisfied with their lives. The mean network size of those who were placed in the rung of ‘low satisfaction’, in the life scale was 21.6; those classified in the ‘high satisfaction’ rung had a mean network size of 30.7 individuals (p. 134). Successful ageing requires a network of at least 25 individuals. This in turn is dependent upon material wealth, power relations, and degree of control over life.
These networks perform several functions; in particular by providing a group with which the individual can share grievances and frustrations emerging from the household. For instance, a widower may come home after severely criticising (and thereafter feeling ‘light’) his daughter-in-law in his conversational circle, and thereby find an outlet for his frustrations! Successful ageing is a function of health, power, and social involvement. It also depends upon the community ecology: if the community is homogeneous, there are greater chances for the emergence of mutual support associations.
However, gender distinctions are crucial. van Willigen and Chadha argue that power structures associated with the patrilineal, patrilocal, and patriarchal joint families constrain the ability of females to achieve successful ageing (pp. 138-9). Also, the control women exercise over their environment and household varies with age. A newly-married woman is powerless in a patri-joint family; yet she may get her way by using negative strategies such as crying, expressing displeasure, getting angry, refusing to speak, denying sex to her husband, and so on. By comparison, an old woman (the mother of grown-up sons) can get her decisions implemented in a positive manner – by relying on respect for age, or by operating through the medium of her sons and grandsons.
Women enjoy invisible power in joint families; they differ in how they exercise it. Most observers hypothesize that women are more easily able to adapt themselves to the demands of the household, particularly through daughters-in-law and grandchildren, than men; this may explain why widows are more integrated within households than widowers. Studies focusing on gender differentials, ageing, and power might provide answers to these questions.
Vinay Kumar Srivastava
The first Five years: A Critical Perspective on Early Childhood Care and Education edited by Mina Swaminathan. Sage, Delhi, 1998.
THIS book is a must read for all those who consider themselves to be educators, particularly those who see education as a lever for societal change. For those of us who sit in urban isolation, far from the rural reality, it is as if ‘turning and turning in the widening gyre the falcon no longer knows the falconer’ (Yeats, The Second Coming). The commitment and dedication of those who have set up the various ECCE programmes gives a new tilt to the words that management gurus claim always go together, ‘leadership and management’. Since the success of the projects described in the book is directly related to the quality of community participation achieved, one wonders whether management has any role at all to play in evolving leadership models.
The first part of the book is a veritable cornucopia of indigenous, educational endeavours packaged in the various case studies and moulded to shape and suit diverse terrains, people and sensitive local issues. Each of the cases discussed are unique and inspirational like the Mobile CrŹches programme and the tale of Ambapali which introduces the NGO-government interface, or the Integrated Child Development Services programme run through Urmul. The story of how SEWA, through hard work and dedication, gave birth to Shaishav which in turn empowered the women of Kheda district is of great significance. Equally illuminating is the excellent community-based model of a pre-school programme developed by the Palmyrah Workers’ Development Society in the Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts of Tamil Nadu.
In an environment conditioned by media focus on lost causes and sensationalism, the warmth and positive flavour that pervades The First Five Years makes the book an inspirational heart warmer. This is especially relevant at a time when the Budget 2000 is out and the government has once again seen fit to increase allocation for Human Resource Development by a miserly .09% from 3.23% to 3.29% while increasing defence allotment to a whopping 19.51% of the plan outlay. The Probe report (OUP 1999) provides historical evidence of our government’s continuous makeshift treatment to education over the years. Clearly yet another age is to go by before we focus attention at the marginalised in our country, the women and children in particular. Despite the Budget 2000 continuing this skewed vision we have no cause to despair, particularly if we believe the message in this book: The meek will yet inherit the earth!
The book is divided into two parts. The first part offers a micro perspective through documenting eight innovations in early childhood care and education in India; the second provides the macro perspective through six state of the art essays on the current status of ECCE in the country. The first two essays of part two provide the main background against which most of the other material presented can be viewed, especially the first eight vignettes. Margaret Khalkdena’s essay, titled Early Childhood Care and Education in India, presents a historical perspective, tracing the development of ECCE in all its various colours and dimensions – from the early 17th century, through the colonial era and the introduction of the primary school system by the British, into the post colonial era, the framing of the Constitution in 1950 and in particular, Article 45, ‘The state must endeavour to provide free and compulsory education for all children until they complete 14 years of age’ (p. 168). Khalakdena traces the evolution of organized thinking on ECCE. She points out how the government has constantly shifted its stance on ECCE, never quite sure of where it wants to go. ‘The subject of child welfare seems to have been apportioned an irregular staccato rhythm which could perhaps be expressed in the words: start- halt- shift- restart’ (Luthra, 1979).
It was subsequent to the Fifth Plan that the government realized the importance of community participation and changed focus to supplementing the family rather than supplanting it (Myers, 1992). Khalakdena also highlights the stellar work by the voluntary sector and points to its spirit of dedication, commitment, teamwork, closeness to community and its continuous efforts at evolving new strategies based on the needs of the situation despite low remuneration in the sector. By comparison the private sector is characterized by a lack of vision and understanding about the needs and psychology of the pre-school child. What it offers can best be characterized as ‘care shops’ (p. 183) – places to prepare children for admission into the competitive primary schools.
Vinita Kaul points out how the growth of the ECCE movement showed that in the absence of appropriate and adequate training of teachers and workers, one could be left with a pre-school curriculum that is both ‘child unfriendly’ and ‘burdensome’. She analyses the existing training programmes, highlighting the problems faced by the trainees who pass out from the Nursery Training Institutes, particularly vis-a-vis language. She also juxtaposes the one/two year teacher training programmes with those specifically offered by the various ECCE experiments, such as the training module for the workers of the Mobile Creches programme. The Mobile Creches offers an integrated programme which includes a creche, a balwadi, non-formal education and adult education.
Francis Sinha focuses on ways to appraise the cost effectiveness of child-care programmes. She points to the differences between ‘effectiveness’ and ‘efficiency’, particularly in programmes which value the human quality both in terms of the teacher/worker as well as the learner/beneficiary. ‘A programme is efficient if goals and objectives are achieved at a reasonable cost’ (p. 211). To overcome this point, Sinha suggests methods of analyzing cost-effectiveness in quantified but non-financial terms by linking effectiveness to programme goals and objectives. An extremely interesting essay, especially for those who would like to use available resources in a disciplined manner to get maximum mileage.
All the case studies explore the interface between women’s empowerment and child care. Rajalakshmi Sriram’s article provides a perceptive and detailed analysis of this interface, complete with historical perspective. She correctly points out that in order for the empowerment process to take place among women it is necessary ‘that women find time and space of their own to re-examine their lives critically and collectively’ (p. 224). Child care facilities not only give women the much needed time and space for introspection but also permit them to work both without anxiety about the welfare of their child, and thus increases their incomes and self-esteem and standing in the family and community.
The subsequent overview essays lend further depth to the various case studies. Each essay is a standing testimony to the dedication of the voluntary sector in particular through the vision and leadership of individuals, who are largely women, in transforming the lives of women and children in the rural sector. The case studies that discuss the problems faced by projects involving government and voluntary sector cooperation shed further light on the issue of cost effectiveness. It is clear that wherever the human element is important part and the programme concentrates on the process rather than on the product, we cannot go by simple cost effectivity.
The First Five Years is as much a labour of love as a lucid and analytical study of an area that requires a more detailed look by the government, private and voluntary sector if we are to see any change in the scenario as it exists today.
India’s Elderly: Burden or Challenge? by S. Irudaya Rajan, U.S. Mishra and P. Sankara Sarma. Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1999.
THIS book explores the widespread feeling that the elderly are becoming a burden in Indian society. By defining India as an ageing nation, the authors caution us about the implications of an increasing growth rate of the elderly population, accompanied by a decline in the growth rate of the general population. They speculate that the decreasing rate of mortality may convert the country into a nation with a greater population of old, frail and dependent people presenting a burden on the socio-economic and health infrastructure if adequate measures are not taken for the well being of older persons. The transition from high to low fertility is expected to narrow the age structure at its base while broadening the same at the tip. For instance, by 2021 the growth rate of the elderly would be one and a half times higher than the growth rate of the general population.
The book under review studies the demographic transition and imbalances in the elderly population across the various states and union territories of India with special reference to Kerala. The authors indicate that the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Punjab are likely to experience a rapid increase in their old age population in the coming decades. The demographic transition coupled with various socio-economic changes, would drastically impact the lives of the elderly. The book draws attention to the emergence of nuclear families, smaller number of children per couple, greater longevity, physical separation of parents from adult children as a result of rapid urbanization and age-selective rural-urban migration, which alters the dynamics of relationships between old and young generations. The discussion takes note of low literacy levels, marital status, economic situation and living arrangements of older persons. In this context the authors assess the future size and composition of the elderly society as well as their needs and the difficulties they face with regard to health, social adjustment and dependence. The book highlights that these issues become particularly critical for older women. Quite clearly, gender issues are relevant in analysis of population ageing as the proportion of elderly females increases faster than males in the older age groups.
The authors review the concept of adequate social security for the elderly meticulously. Despite the various provisions and facilities available in the country, much more is needed to provide equal opportunity, employment, social security and welfare to all. Efforts for poverty alleviation and providing financial security among the old need to be sensitive to both the rural-urban divide as well as the organized and unorganized sector differentials. The chapter on Policies and Programmes through a detailed study of numerous provisions like the provident fund, gratuity, life insurance and pension schemes, exposes the need to improve operational efficiency for successful implementation.
The overview of the findings of the National Sample Survey seems somewhat amiss since a couple of earlier books have already provided a thorough analysis. The detailed analysis from the ageing survey carried out by the authors with the collaboration of various leading research institutes in India is, however, welcome. An understanding of the situation of residential institutions for the elderly in the major states in India conducted through a mail survey is illuminating, as are the findings of the survey conducted among the inhabitants of old age institutions in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The perceptions of the elderly gathered through group discussions throws fresh light on the meaning of old age, the advantages and disadvantages of being old, preferred living arrangements, community involvement and the specific needs of elderly persons. It is significant how pertinent questions of retirement, re-employment, inequalities in pension and difficulty in obtaining benefits from social assistance schemes are to the elderly. The brief case studies, presented in the form of life histories, reflect different experiences of ageing which are meaningful for understanding varia-tions among a cross-section of the elderly. The final chapter questions the conventional definition of the elderly (60 and above) and calls for a re-examination of the retirement age along with age dependency ratios.
The book would enlighten policy makers and researchers on the needs of the elderly, reorienting ones thinking to make the ‘burden’ as a ‘challenge’.
THE FAMILY IN INDIA: Critical Essays by A.M. Shah. Orient Longman, Delhi, 1998.
A.M Shah’s book brings together eight essays published earlier. In the first essay he discusses the terminologies – elementary family, joint family, household and extended family, and the ambiguities he perceives in their conceptualisation by various sociologists. He makes a distinction between joint household and joint family. He accepts the legal conceptualisation of joint family, understood as jointness in property ownership and ritual performance of shraddha citing for this purpose Hindu Law and the Mitaksara. The members of a joint family on the other hand can well be residing in separate households. For the elementary and joint households, he uses the terms ‘simple’ and ‘complex’.
The functional aspects of joint household and family are also discussed in this essay. In the former, Shah emphasises kinship composition, while in the latter, he stresses joint property ownership and ritual participation. He points to the sociological gap in the legal definition of joint family which overlooks the ‘household’ dimension and the pattern of residence, in this restricted sense that legally even an elementary family would be considered ‘joint’. According to Shah, joint households are formed with the addition of extra members in the elementary family, and they can be patrilineal, matrilineal, or fraternal extended, with common residence and hearth. The joint family, however, represents separate households linked by a range of social, economic, ritual, and ceremonial relationships, governed by kinship positions which cannot be reduced to mere property relations.
In the next chapter, the author explores the changes in the household dimension of Indian society. He refutes the widely held belief that the erstwhile rural Indian joint family was the norm which under the impact of urbanisation disintegrated into the nuclear family. He reiterates the necessity to distinguish between household and family to avoid indiscriminate use of the latter term, which entails members having separate residences either in terms of simple or smaller joint households, but bound by a multitude of relationships.
Further, Shah lays stress on collecting the detailed composition of households to help delineate their various types and their frequency. He discusses the ongoing process of development and factors that lead to change in size of the household, thereby enabling a coexistence of simple and complex households at any point of time. The separation of households does not, however, sever the multiple familial ties. Contrary to the widespread belief that modernisation and industrialisation have enforced a nuclear family norm, the size of the household has been steadily increasing owing to a stronger influence of Sanskritization and adherence to traditional norms, notwithstanding migration and a general process in which the dispersed simple households become complex.
Shah extends this analysis by examining popular assumptions and media projections that the joint household is being replaced by the simple, nuclear household. Through an analysis of census data from 1871 to 1951, he first demonstrates that the joint household was never the norm. Its incidence was greater among higher castes and the business class which constituted a minor proportion of the population. Further, it existed more as a textual norm of joint property ownership and ritual participation. Another barrier was the low life expectancy and semi-nomadic life of landless people.
The author then argues that while the emphasis on joint households has declined somewhat for the professional class, it has increased in the rural masses, the urban business class and lower middle class, as well as among lower castes as a tool for Sanskritization and status mobility. This caused an increase in the average size of households and a corresponding increase in the incidence of joint households. It is necessary here to realise the existence of nuclear households in the past in order to gauge the steadily increasing incidence of joint households. Shah further states that even in the urban, westernised, highly educated professional class, married children tend to stay with their parents and, if possible, take care of them, thereby still sustaining small yet joint households. Thus, socio-psychological, economic, demographic and status-oriented factors have contributed to a higher incidence of joint households.
In the next piece the author discusses the tensions and conflicts inherent in inter-personal relations, complex behaviour patterns of members of a traditional joint household, and how they lead to its dispersal. This dispersal is processual and if explicated step by step, places the household in varying contexts. The conflicting emotions and heartburn finally lead to the partition of the joint household. The author describes how the kinship composition of the household, education, an increase in age at marriage, and need to care for the aged dictate the nature of conflicts and the extent to which unity is preserved.
The next two essays titled ‘Inter-household Family Relations’ and ‘Lineage Structure and Change in a Gujarat Village’ explore the terms ‘household’ and ‘joint family’, distinguishing them from lineage. In the first, Shah conducts a systematic enquiry into the relationships between family members residing in separate households. The multi-functional joint family is distinguished from the lineage in its legal and scriptural sense, as a three to four generation group of males with their wives and children who enjoy rights in joint property and in the performance of ancestral shraddha rituals. The patrilineal kinship relations beyond this three or four generation family are understood as lineage relations.
In the next chapter we learn that the lineage span is much longer and requires the study of historical data and genealogical records in addition to the contemporary life of the people. The author highlights the increase in lineage groups within castes, enumerating as causal factors population growth per generation in patrilines, and the increased interest in genealogical records used as tools for social mobility and high status rank. Shah believes that the importance of lineage as a corporate group has declined among landowners and the privileged class with the removal of hereditary privileges in rural society and its declining role in politics. However, it has gained importance in groups who have acquired land and other assets and are literate enough to preserve their genealogical records. Further, marriage alliances are regulated according to the lineage affiliations and great significance is attached to the lineage groups in ritual occasions, lifecycle events, status differentiation, veneration of lineage deities, and folk culture. Even in modern India, the lineages as functional groups play an important role within the caste.
The author then moves to the studies on the prevalence of caste endogamy in Gujarat. Traditionally, since the principle of caste endogamy governs all marriages, the family becomes embedded in caste. The author describes a range of first to fourth order divisions within castes which are themselves endogamous groups; for these he uses the terms sub-caste and sub-sub caste. He states that each division/unit is significant for endogamy and the violation of the norm at each higher level alongwith the degree of social distance determines the severity of punishment. In modern, urban society, this situation is changing for with an increase in education and age of marriage, there is an urge to exercise freedom of choice in spouse selection.
In the final essay of the book, Professor Shah decries the lack of academic research on the family and the ‘restricted’ views of social workers, lawyers, and feminists which have affected family policy. He asserts the fundamental problem of having a uniform policy for India in the face of diverse ethnic, religious groups. The situations becomes more complex given a wide range of family units – simple, complex household, joint family, extended family, lineage.
Further, both popular and sociological discourse has promoted a wrong impression that the joint family is disintegrating. The author demonstrates that the trend is rather towards a spread of joint family relations. The author highlights the contradictions between policies concerning the different elements that constitute the family. On the one hand, responsibility for taking care of the aged is on the sons; on the other, couples are expected not to consider the birth of a son as mandatory in adherence to the two-child norm. The latter also ignores the patrilineal principle governing family and kinship and the equality of status between male and female children, a prerequisite for the norm to gain legitimacy. As the proportion of the aged increases, the traditional preference for son will persist. By making the family responsible, the state has further strengthened it.
Overall, A.M. Shah recognises the limited efficacy of state intervention and policy given its formal structure, disharmony between state and central legislatures, inadequate application of laws, the ‘traditional’ orientation of the bureaucracy, and so on. He ends by stressing the need for further rigorous research on the family, in particular the degree to which growing individualism is now influencing family matters.