Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

India and the Muslim Punjab: A Unified Approach to South Asian kinship./L'Inde et le Pendjab Musulman: Une Approche Unifiee De la Parente En Asie Du Sud

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

India and the Muslim Punjab: A Unified Approach to South Asian kinship./L'Inde et le Pendjab Musulman: Une Approche Unifiee De la Parente En Asie Du Sud

Article excerpt

  The Desire for the Other (Autrui), which we live in the most ordinary
  social experience, is the fundamental movement, a pure transport, an
  absolute orientation, sense.
  Levinas 1996: 52

In the debate about South Asian kinship, the subcontinent's Muslim populations have been largely neglected. By the same token, works on kinship in the Islamic Middle East only marginally take account of Muslim South Asia (e.g. Holy 1989: 9-10, 34, Tapper 1991: 18). This article demonstrates that although Muslim Punjabi kinship, most notably the injunction of cousin marriage, has parallels with Middle Eastern patterns, an access to its cultural principles is only possible within the South Asian context. Furthermore, kinship categories of the Muslim Punjab, primarily expressed in gift exchange, may crucially enhance our understanding of South Asian kinship in general: they constitute a variant of a basic pattern common to the subcontinent. By pointing out this pattern the article argues against a basic division between North and South India as postulated by Trautmann (1981). Here, the relation between brother and sister in South Asia provides a key: it contains the concepts of both consanguinity and affinity, while the South Asian concept of gender is qualified as dependent on marriage.

Pertinent to the argument presented here is the idea that meaning is located in practice, as outlined by Bourdieu (1977), but whereas Bourdieu's effort to locate the principles of practice lead him to a dispersed focus on pragmatic individual strategies, I argue that certain fundamental meanings order an inexhaustible variation of individual acts, and are thus intrinsic to them: there is no separate sphere of meaning apart from individual acts. This view is endorsed by Wagner when he notes that each individual act expresses the 'moral collectivity' in its own way (1972: 607-9). Similarly, Strathern regards distinctions as expressing an implicit Western separation of 'social' from 'personal' regimes (1992: 78-81). Such separations--for example, Holy's distinction between 'expressive' and 'instrumental acts' (1989: 114), or Needham's separation between categories and social action (1973)--need to be rethought. Meaning can instead be found in varying, partly homologous contexts: terminology, myth, ritual, prestations, emotions, and daily interaction.

Kinship in this view regards procreation as a medium that constitutes the fundamental inseparability of self from other, a basic moral condition of human existence, as emphasized by Levinas (1996). Similarly, Merleau-Ponty maintains that the self exists only in its relation to the other, which he calls the social (1958 [1945]: 403-25). Charles Taylor (1993), too, comparing Bourdieu and Wittgenstein, shows how the other is essential for the social existence of the self. Self and other are thus two ontological categories of human existence, and yield meaning vis-a-vis each other. Wagner's work on Daribi kinship implies the necessity of these two differentiating categories which also retain a 'basic similarity' (1977: 640). My intention is to demonstrate their relevance in South Asia. To this end, Dumont's thesis of Indian kinship, which will be shown to be compatible with this framework, is re-examined: for Dumont, values are inseparable from empirical facts and are constitutive of ideology. A key notion of holistic ideologies is encompassment, by which he means that unity (or fundamental value) at one level is differentiated into two opposed values at a lower level. Similarly Wagner's primal unity encompasses affines and consanguines in Melanesia. This concept is central for the present analysis.

The following discussion will try to expose the pivotal themes in South Indian, North Indian, and Pakistani Punjabi kinship in order to relate them to my fieldwork in the latter area.

South India

Arguably, modern research on South Indian kinship starts with Dumont (1983), who recognized the diachronic quality of affinity, existing independently of and with equal status to consanguinity. …

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