ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Chamar Family in a North Indian Village

A Structural Contingent

Bernard Cohn (1928-2003) was an anthropologist working on British colonial India, affiliated to the University of Chicago.

Bernard Cohn's work on the historical and anthropological making of the British colonial state in India was published in EPW in 1961. In this article he argues that the distribution of family types in India were due to a combination of factors - cultural traditions, structural necessities and economic factors. 

Abstract of the article: Most field workers who talk about family structure in India freeze processes which take place over time. To analyze family types, we. have to look at the individual families we are studying at a moment in time. The view taken here differs from this in trying to view the type of family not as a fixed entity but rather as a structural contingent.

In a north Indian villager the distribution of family types found is a result of the interaction of cultural traditions, structural necessities, and economic factors.
 
The types of family which can be seen in the village are nuclear and extended. Extended families may be thought of as two sub-types, unstable and stable; the stable ones are those which are often called joint.
 
To illustrate the importance of the underlying conditions of family types and the actualization of the structural contingents, I will describe the situation found among the Chamars, a landless agricultural caste, found in village Senapur in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
 
My hypothesis is that it is not only land or property which tends to bring about joint family households among Chamars; rather a combination of factors may be Involved, Land is important, but not sufficient; some of the wealthiest Chamar families do not have joint-family households, The combination of factors should include urban employment and literacy. Literacy leads to a drive for Sanskritization, which in turn is an incentive for joint families.

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