Harish Jharia

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24 January 2012

How the ‘Indian Joint Family’ System Emerged and Eventually Broke Down: A Different Perspective


 Pindari Horseman: Courtesy Wikipedia Website

© Harish Jharia

Somewhere between 17th and 18th century the joint family system predominantly became a part of the Indian family life. It flourished even in the 19th century and continued for decades even after independence of India from the British rule. 

I think the institution of joint family might have established for the first time, out of compulsion of security and safety of the frequently migrating families from one kingdom to the other. Such frequent migrations were taking place during the continued wars between native rajas, Muslim invaders, and the British forces after the downfall of Mughals.

Huge crowds of people had to migrate from the invaded areas to the nearest safe places. Or else, continued staying back depending on their militant capabilities, strength and wealth to defend them and safeguarding the chastity of their women folk.  These states of uncertainty and insecurity in public life forced the members of the affected families to keep themselves integrated together. Bigger families with a dozen plus members were considered much safer than the smaller families of 2 or 3 members. 

The crowds of migrating families were attacked by dacoits and other professional looters like Pindaries. Pindaries were believed to have been engaged by native kings for supplying food, other requirements and logistics to their armies; whereas, their main profession was looting travelers, their homes and even whole villages that were not protected by any kingdom.  They were believed to have indirect protection from the native rulers and were suspected of sharing booties of loots with some small rulers, Malguzars and Jagirdars. 

There was almost no social security, in those days, because of unchecked plundering and looting of families and homes. Resultantly, people used to construct big houses enclosed from all the sides with a courtyard in the center and rooms around it. Each couple of parents had 5 to 12 children and members of three to four generations used to live together in a house. Most of the houses used to have members as many as 20 to 40. The adult males were well trained in martial arts and fighting with all sorts of weapons including firearms in order to combat with looters, dacoits and other invaders.   

The fear of insecurity was at its climax until the permanent establishment of the British Raj. The law and order situation improved when the British government imposed strict laws and enforced them forcefully. Around the end of 1816, Lord Hastings was assigned the task by the British Empire to exterminate and eliminate the professional looters Pindaris. As per the details available on Wikipedia Website, a huge army of more than 120,000 men and 300 artillery cannons was deputed under his command. 

Hastings fought the Pindari war for a year from January 1818 until the beginning of 1819. It is reported that at the end of the Pindari War, the Pindari chiefs surrendered to the British forces and their activities of theft, looting and plundering were completely stopped.  

The system of joint family continued to survive even after Indian independence until around Nineteen Fifties to Nineteen Seventies. The main reason behind the continuance was inadequate social securities in the rural areas where the law enforcement regime of the Indian government was ineffective. The Malguzars, Jagirdars, small kings like Rao Sahebs and Ex Maharajas were running their proxy governments and the Indian police forces had no direct control over these royal and semi-royal families. 

Nevertheless, the joint family system started breaking down in the urban areas where there was no control of these ex royals and the social security was much better. We wrongly thought that the mentality and attitude of the new generation had changed and the love, affection and compassion in the youngsters had vanished. Nevertheless the reason was different. It was the requirement of the day for the youngsters to venture out for earning their livelihood. At the same time there was no compulsion of being together all the time to fight with any intruder. 

In olden days, we followed the system of joint families because of the requirement at that time. Today, we have developed the new system of satellite families and a nucleus family with the parents keeping themselves equally attached to their youngsters. Nevertheless, we will have to be extremely careful against any chances of our parents landing in Old Age Homes. 

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Disclaimer: This article is written based on my personal observations and on the information collected from the media. My intention for publishing the same is to provide healthy reading and intellectual entertainment and not for educating the visitors. No literature or authentic books have been referred for writing the contents of this article. The visitors are advised not to refer the contents of this article for any research or testimony on athletic or legal purposes. The visitors are further advised to consult relevant experts before adapting any information from this article. The author or the website are not responsible for any errors, mistakes, or omissions there in. 
- Harish Jharia
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