What is the Kinship System in India?

Introduction to Kinship System

Kinship generally refers to the family relationship through blood, adoption or marriage.

Kinship System in India indicates the specific mode of behavior to determine each and every possible form of relationship between the individuals in a society and it establishes definite functions for every relationship not only by blood but by marriage as well.

Conjugal Family

The conjugal family is always embedded within a series of larger kinship grouping. It involves a unilateral kinship group, identified through either patrilineal system (reckoning relation through the male line only) or matrilineal system (tracing relationship through the female line only).

Bilateral Kinship System

Bilateral kinship, a characteristic of Western society, relates through both the sexes. In other words, an individual traces descent through both parents simultaneously and recognizes multiple ancestors. Theoretically, one is affiliated equally with all the relatives on both the mother’s and father’s side of the family.

Special Cases

The special type of relationship, as customary among the Nayars of South India that exists between the nephew and the maternal uncle, is described by ethnologists as avunculate. In the Toda society of South India, she bestows a name on a new born girl. This system may be termed as amitate.

All societies are internally segmented. The universal distinctions for the formation of such groups are sex, age., marriage, and kinship.

Types of Relatives

As a society develops its culture and expands in members, territorial distinctions give rise to local groups within the society. In terms of sheer numbers, we may consider how many Primary, secondary, tertiary, and distant relatives a person may possibly have.

Primary relatives are those who belong to a person’s primary and secondary conjugal families: father, mother, brothers and sisters with their wives and husbands and their children. The relationship among primary relatives are cordial in India.

Secondary relatives consist of the primary relatives of a person’s primary relatives, such as grand-parents, uncles and aunts, ‘half-brothers’, sisters, step-parents, brother and sister-in-law, grand children and the like. There may be thirty-three possible relatives to be included in secondary level.

The tertiary relatives are considered as the primary relatives of a person’s secondary relatives who are not at the same time his own primary relatives. In this level, great grand-parents, great grand-children, first cousin’s wife, etc are generally included.


In every society, the behavior towards relatives is not the same as behavior towards non-relatives. A person always owes certain obligation to his kinsmen. The pattern of kinship behavior is to some extent biologically determined. Moreover, role and status of the individuals in a society are customarily influenced by kinship.


The first important principle in the study of kinship is that no system provides a separate and distinct term for every possible kind or position of genealogical relationship. All systems equate, lump or merge some relatives of different genealogical positions into one single category, which is identified by a specific term.

If all the persons or relatives merged or equated under the same identifying term of relationship, then that system of kinship may be called Classgicatory type.

A kinship term which applies to a particular genealogical status and no other may be said to be of Descriptive or Particularizing type. For instance, we tend to apply the terms ‘father’ and ‘mother’ only to our actual progenitors when referring to relatives.

However, no system is wholly classificatory or descriptive.

Social Status

Since kinship terms designate social statuses, what we must call a person ideally determines how we must behave towards him. Further, all persons who are called by the same kinship term should receive the same sort of treatment, since they enjoy ideologically identical statuses in the system of social organization.

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