The family is an important institution that plays a central role in the lives of most Indians. As a society, Indians often emphasise loyalty and . The interests of the family usually take priority over those of the individual, and decisions affecting one’s personal life – such as marriage and career paths – are generally made in consultation with one’s family. People tend to act in the best interest of their family’s reputation, as the act of an individual may impact the perception of the entire family by their community.
Although most family members are within geographical proximity or part of the same occupational groups, the growth of urbanisation and migration has seen younger generations challenging these perceptions of family. Today, many people have extensive family networks that are spread across many different regions and hold different occupations. The links an Indian person maintains with their extended family overseas are often much closer than those of most people in English-speaking Western societies. Indians living abroad also maintain close connections to their family remaining in India through regular phone calls, sending or visiting if circumstances allow.
The concept of family extends beyond the typical nuclear unit to encompass the wider family circle. These large multigenerational families can also be essential to providing economic security to an individual. They often provide a source of work in a family agricultural business or lead to opportunities in cities where ties and third-party introductions are crucial for employment.
People may be encouraged to have relationships with their aunts and uncles that are just as strong as parental relationships. In many parts of India, it is common to find three or four generations living together. The father (or eldest son, if the father is not present) is usually the while his wife may supervise any daughters or daughters-in-law that have moved into the household. Extended families tend to defer to the elderly and observe a clear among family members. In more urban areas, people will usually live in smaller nuclear families yet maintain strong ties to their extended family.
The inequality between the status of men and women is quite pronounced in India. There are varying customs surrounding a practice known as ‘pardah’ that calls for the seclusion of women in certain situations. It is practised mostly in northern India and among conservative Hindu or Muslim families. In accordance with pardah, females are generally expected to leave the domestic realm only when veiled and accompanied by a man. Nuances in the custom vary between , religions and social backgrounds. For example, married Hindu women in particular parts of northern India may wear a ‘ghoonghat’ (a specific kind of veil or headscarf) in the presence of older male relatives on their husband's side.
The degree to which gender inequalities persist is undergoing continuous change. For example, a brother and sister in India are now likely to receive equal schooling and treatment in the educational system. Although still bound by many constraining societal expectations, educated women in society are becoming more empowered through employment opportunities and political representation. There are also affirmative action programs for women to help address structural inequalities.
Relationships and Marriage
Arranged marriages are common throughout India, though expectations and practices of marital arrangements vary depending on the region and religion. Marriages are typically arranged through a matchmaker, the couple’s parents or some other trusted third party. Unlike in the past where individuals would not be informed about their future partner, it is now more common for the family to consult the couple for consent before the wedding.
Arranged marriages are nearly always influenced by caste considerations. Therefore, marriages remain a common practice (limited to members of the same caste or, in some cases, religion). This is in part because arranging marriages is a family activity that is carried out through pre-existing networks of a broader community. Although people will marry within the same caste, families avoid marriage within the same subcaste. The institutions of arranged marriage and caste enable parents to influence the futures of their children as well as sustain the local and social structure. Intercaste marriages are almost never arranged. Such marriages are known as ‘love marriages’ and are becoming more common. Regardless of how one finds a spouse, the family is nearly always consulted in the marriage process.
Usually, weddings are conducted in the villages of the families, regardless of whether the family resides in their village or in a major city. Indeed, it is common for families to keep their village home for the purpose of weddings or other major family events. Weddings may span over a number of days and specific practices vary depending on the region and the religion of the families.