Practice Question: What, according to Irawati Karve, are the Major difference between North Indian and South Indian Kinship system? (10 Marks) (UPSC Socio 2019)

Approach: Introduction, Mention Karve’s study on Kinship, Briefly list the findings, bring the major differences between North and South Indian Kinship system; Conclusion



Kinship is the most universal and basic of all human relationships and is based on ties of blood, marriage, or adoption.

There are two basic kinds of kinship ties:

  • Those based on blood that trace descent
  • Those based on marriage, adoption, or other connections



‘Kinship encompasses the norms, roles, institutions and cognitive processes refer­ring to all the social relationships that people are born into, or create later in life, and that are expressed through, but not limited to a biological idiom.’ – Laurent Dousset

‘Kinship is the recognition of relationships between persons based on descent or marriage. If the relationship between one person and another is considered by them to involve descent, the two are consanguine (“blood”) relatives. If the relationship has been established through marriage, it is affinal.’ – L. Stone



Iravati Karve (1953) undertakes a comparative analysis of four cultural zones with a view to trace out something like a regional pattern of social behaviour. A region may show various local patterns. There are variations between castes because of hierarchy and caste-based isolation and separation. Karve analyses the process of acculturation and accommodation in the context of kinship. 


Karve’s comparative study takes the following points into consideration:

1. Lists of kinship terms in Indian languages.

2. Their linguistic contexts and corresponding behaviour and attitudes.


3. Rules of descent and inheritance.

4. Patterns of marriage and family.

5. Difference between the Sanskritic north and the Dravidian south.


Despite variations based on these factors, there are two common points:

(1) Marriage is always within a caste or tribe, and

(2) Marriage between parents and children and between siblings is forbidden.



The northern zone consists the areas of the Sindhi, Punjabi, Hindi (and Pahari), Bihari, Bengali, Asami and Nepali. In these areas, caste endogamy, clan exogamy and incest taboos regarding sexual relations between primary kins are strictly observed. The rule of sasan is key to all marriage alliances, that is, a person must not marry in his patri-family and must avoid marriage with sapindra kin. Four-gotra (sasan) rule, that is, avoidance of the gotras of father, mother, grandmother and maternal grandmother is generally practised among Brahmanas and other upper castes in north India. 



The central zone comprises the linguistic regions of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh (now Chhattisgarh also), Gujarat and Kathiawad, Maharashtra and Orissa with their respective languages, namely, Rajasthani, Hindi, Gujarati and Kathiawadi, Marathi and Oriya. 

In regard to the central zone the following points may be noted:

1. Cross-cousin marriages are prevalent which are not witnessed in the north zone. Cross-cousins are children of siblings of opposite sex, parallel cousins are children of the siblings of the same sex.

2. Many castes are divided into exogamous clans like the north zone.

3. In some castes exogamous clans are arranged in a hypergamous hierarchy.



There are five regions in the southern zone consisting of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the regions of mixed languages and people. The southern zone presents a very compli­cated pattern of kinship system and family organisation. Here, patrilineal and patrilocal systems dominate. However, some sections have matrilineal and matrilocal systems, and they possess features of both types of kinship organisation. The Nayars, the Tiyans, some Moplas in Malabar region and the Bants in Kanara district have matrihneal and matrilocal family, and it is called tharawad.

Preferential marriages with elder sister’s daughter, father’s sister’s daughter, and with mother’s brother’s daughter are particularly prevalent in the southern zone. The main thrust of such a system of preferential marriages lies in maintaining unity and solidarity of the ‘clan’ and upholding of the principle of return (exchange) of daughters in the same generation.



The eastern zone is not compact and geographically it is not contiguous like other zones. Besides northern languages, Mundari and Monkhmer languages are also spoken. The main communities are Korku, Annamese, Saka, Semang and Khasi. The other languages are Mon, Khmer and Chain. The area consists of a number of Austro-Asiatic tribes.

All the people speaking Mundari languages have patrilineal and patrilocal families. The Ho and Santhal have the practice of cross-cousin marriage. The Ho and Munda have separate dormitories for bachelors and maidens and they indulge in pre-marital sexual relationships.

The Khasi of Assam speaks Monkhmer language, and they are a matrilineal people like Nayars, but are quite different from them. The Nayars have a matrilineal joint family and husbands are only occasional visitors. The Khasis have joint family with common worship and common graveyard, but the husband and wife live together in a small house of their own. After death the property goes to mother or youngest daughter.



Kinship continues to be a basic principle of social organi­sation and mobilisation on the one hand and division and dissension on the other. It is a complex phenomenon, and its role can be sensed even in modern organisations. Migration, mobility and education have weakened the kinship systems and rules of clan organisation because members of a caste/sub-caste or of a clan do not live at the same place. Matriliny in Kerala has almost withered away. In north-east also it has become weak.




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