Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

A Critical Evaluation of Attitudes towards Nuclear, Joint and Extended Family Structures among People of Indian Origin in Durban, South Africa*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

A Critical Evaluation of Attitudes towards Nuclear, Joint and Extended Family Structures among People of Indian Origin in Durban, South Africa*

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

This paper is about attitudes towards nuclear, joint and extended family living arrangements among middle-class people of Indian origin in Durban, South Africa. It takes the view that joint and extended family arrangements within this segment are still as popular as the growing western notion of nuclear families, despite contrary conclusions drawn from several research exercises of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Jithoo (1970; 1975), Butler-Adam and Venter (1984, 1987); Schoombee and Mantzaris (1984; 1986; 1987) and in the late 1980s by Freund (1991). "Attitudes," for the purposes of this paper, is defined as an expression of preference for a particular type of living arrangement that could be one of three types, viz. nuclear, joint or extended family. Nuclear families are seen in this paper as constituting two-generation households that are made up of parents and their biological children. Joint and extended family structures are viewed as being two distinct types of structures, but made up of individuals who are linked together by marriage and by their biological offspring. While joint and extended family structures among Indians are generally patrilineal and patrilocal, an extended family differs from a joint family in that it is usually a three generation structure made up of genealogically related kin comprising of grandparents, parents and grandchildren, and sometimes a fourth generation, when it is does exist. A joint family, on the other hand, is usually made up of two married brothers and their families living in one property, without a tiiird generation (Keesing, 1981, p. 266; Kottak, 2006, p. 398). Despite such distinctions being available prior to Keesing's publication in 1981, South Africans writing on Indian family patterns continued to use the terms "joint" and "extended" interchangeably without attempting to define or distinguish between the two (see for instance Butler-Adam and Venter 1987;Freund, 1991; Jithoo, 1970, 1975; Schoombee and Mantzaris 1984, 1987).

People of Indian origin in South Africa are linguistically, socially and religiously diverse. Recognising this, Hilda Kuper rightfully pointed out that ". . .in most situations it is misleading to generalize about 'the Indians' ." However, in the next paragraph she added, without dispute, that: "Despite the diversity, there is one institution-the family-which has certain characteristics common to all sections of the Indian people so that one can speak, albeit with reservations, of the 'Indian family'" (Kuper, 1956, p. 15). Ever since the arrival of indentured Indians, mostly Hindus, in South Africa in November 1860, the durability and flexibility of "the Indian family," has continually provided challenges to the British colonists and subsequently to apartheid strategists, as well as to other liberally minded policy makers and social scientists. Against the background of historically skewed gender imbalances, how "the Indian family" reconstituted itself and concomitantly re-established semblances of regionally based customary norms and practices that are prevalent in India, will remain an ongoing challenge to historians and social scientists.

When indentured labour from India was being envisaged for South Africa in the late 1850s, the highest premium was placed on male labor, predicated on the assumption then that they would return to India after their contracts expired. However, according to Chetty, "Rather reluctantly, only after the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission brought pressure to bear on the British government urging the latter to make the scheme resemble an emigration scheme and give it quasi-community appearance, it was stipulated that there should be a minimum of 25% females in each labor consignment" (Chetty, 1980, p. 30). While this was a minimum, it actually remained as an unwritten maximum quota in each shipload for the first few years because the colonists and the sugar estate owners considered it too burdensome and costly to provide women and children with rations. …

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