Caste structure and kinship system amongst the Hindus are closely interlinked. Kinship in India is primarily an analysis of the internal structure of sub-caste. Sub-caste is the effective functioning group within which social interaction, marriage etc. takes place. There are further sub-divisions of these segments and thus have a regional connotation. e.g. those Brahmins who lived beyond the river Saryu are called the Saryupari Brahmins of North India. Due to the practice of endogamy and restrictions in social intercourse one marries within the sub-caste group or the caste group in India. This generally extends beyond the village to a larger region.
Kinship features in North and Central India differ from those in South India. North India, being a large region, have innumerable kinship systems. Village exogamy is the prevailing rule of marriage in this region. Hypergamy, where the man from a higher clan marries the woman from a clan, which is lower in status, is generally practiced. Due to these practices several villages are linked through affinal and matrilineal links. The clans, lineages and kutumbs are part of the internal structure of the caste. At the same time these are also a part of the kinship organization.
The family in the Northern region are patriarchal, patrilocal and patrilineal. Generally the ‘four-clan’ rile’ of marriage is followed where marriage cannot take place in the clan of father, mother, father’s mother and mother’s mother. Marriage among kins does not take place which is ideally five generations on mother’s side and seven generations on the father’s side.
In the central region caste endogamy is followed: Village exogamy and hypergamy prevails. Among some caste communities especially in Gujarat and Maharashtra, cross-cousin marriage is practiced. While marriage with father’s sister’s daughter is prohibited, marriage with mother’s brother’s daughter is allowed. Thus, there is a preference for single type of cross-cousin marriage.
The Southern presents a complicated pattern of kinship system. Though patrilineal and patrilocal family is the dominant family type for the greater number of castes and communities e.g. Namboodiris, there are important sections of population which are matrilineal and matrilocal e g Nayars also there are quite a few castes whose systems possess features of both patrilineal and matrilineal organization e.g. Todas. In the South, gotra is not identified with one village or territory. Several inter-marrying clans may live one village territory and practice inter-marriage for generations.
Matrilineal joint family, called Tarwad, is found amongst the Nairs of Malabar in Travancore and a few other groups. Their household comprises of the woman, her sisters and brothers, her daughters and sons and daughter’s children. Property passes from mother to the daughter. However, authority lies with her brother who takes care of the property. Husbands only visit their wives and do not stay with them.