Family comprises of a group of kith and kin related to each other by blood or by matrimonial tie. A family may be nuclear, consisting of parents and their children, or extended, when a large group of relatives live together or in close contact with each other. A third type of family, the augmented household, begins to operate when non-relatives are added with or without other relatives or children.
Majority of the households in Bangladesh consists of husband and wife and their children. Either of the marital partners functions as the mover of the routine household activities. From the point of view of the household head, the lineal membership includes father';s father and his spouse, father, mother, wife, son, daughter, son';s wife, grandson, grandson';s wife, and granddaughter. Similarly, the collateral membership includes father';s brother and his spouse, father';s brother';s son and daughter, brother and his spouse, brother';s son and daughter and so on. In the lineal and collateral categories of membership, all the traceable ascending and descending individuals related to the household head in respect to both the lines may receive consideration for membership in the household, depending on continuous previous membership and mutual feelings of closeness.
The household constitutes a single unit, frequently with one or more married pairs having offspring or no offspring. It has a social and an economic base. Kin and social relations and institutions develop around this base and act together to reproduce it. In the development of a household the lineally traceable connections usually get priority over the collateral ones. Such connections constitute the economic and social subsystems of the society.
In the communities of Bangladesh, lineage members are defined and recognised as descended through father to son, that is to say, male descent lines. The patrilineal principle is combined with the norm of patrilocal residence according to which newly wed couples take up residence at the home of the male and his family. These sub-systems are reflected in a number of segments like badi (or bari, one or more households sharing a common courtyard), pada (neighbourhood consisting of several surrounding baris), and samaj (small community, in which members share common social, economic and religious interests). Possibly, samaj members can be traced genetically to a few common ancestors.
The segmentary organisation of Bangladesh communities required the adoption of a unilineal principle. Families of Bangladesh are practitioners of patrilineal institutions. In a wider sense, they form an open group and not a closed totality. Unity of married partners extends to other segments of kin groups. Both spouses share the obligations of a marital partner to kinsmen.
In Bangladesh, members of a household are recognised as associates of the same khana or chula (hearth unit/cooking pot). Married man and woman constitute a social unit. Their solidarity, joint interests, and responsibilities take precedence over obligations and interests any of them may have in any other relationship. Family members are dependent on each other and through sharing of assets, labour and emotions they operate the social, economic and political aspects of life.
In a specific generation, a female usually gets married to a male from a different lineage. Following marriage, she leaves her father';s house and joins the family of her father-in-law';s house and begets offsprings. The children share genes of both paternal and maternal sides. As a result of this sharing, an offspring born to the parents maintains close links by visiting the house of mother';s brother or father. The mother joins her husband';s lineage as a member of his household and becomes an affinal member of the new family.
A daughter belongs to her father';s family until her death. A married daughter';s identity of family reflected in her right to her father';s property and visitation to her father';s house mostly on the occasion of the birth of her first child, harvesting of paddy, marriage of siblings, and major routine festivals.
By the institution of the family, one';s domestic life is organised in respect to the rules of appropriate behaviour for household, wife and children, and other dependants, the responsibility of each, the inheritance of property, and so on.
The dyadic roles and relationships within a family, and cooperation and conflicts prevalent in it between kin types belonging to both Muslims and Hindus reflect attitudes that kinsmen have to one another. However, the ties of kinship and locality no longer firmly hold a family in Bangladesh in a specific geographic and social space. Families split in separate nuclear families on various social and economic grounds. In case a nuclear family departs to urban areas, it usually caters to the needs of its accompanying primary members, rather than those of the heads of the original family or its collateral members left behind. When the married male moves for employment in an urban centre leaving behind his wife and children, the responsibility of overseeing them are sometimes shouldered by the parents, brothers, or other household members of the migrant. In such a context, remittances provide benefit to them. The individual who intends to return to the natal home makes a constant effort to invest in movable and immovable properties to ensure financial security in old age. When a migrant moves out for earning parents, siblings and other relatives usually provide a temporary support to him. The migrant feels obligated to repay his debts through remittances.
The family as an institution plays a practical role in socialisation, and a potential one in reducing crime and violence. Within the structure of the family, the father is respected and obeyed by the children and from the mother, they expect tenderness and indulgence. The children belong to the family of the father. Marriage is patrilocal (ie, wife shifts to the local group of the husband), inheritance of property is mainly in the male line, and the family is patripotestal (i.e., the authority over the members of the family is with the father). Therefore, in Bangladesh, for most purposes, kinship through the father is more important than that through the mother is. Among Muslims and Hindus, parents and children are united by religious guidelines and among them females have limited freedom. However, with the availability of family planning devices and increase in nuclear families, the total fertility rate of women declined from 5.5 in 1978 to 3.6 in 1998.
In Bangladesh, the family is the basic economic unit. Almost invariably, male heads of households and other adult male members raise crops and get involved in outdoor economic activities away from home. Usually, female members of a household do cooking, housekeeping, child rearing, home gardening, preservation of seeds and grains, and participate in tending cattle and goats. Clothing and house-building and household materials are procured from market places. Unskilled labourers in the household remain engaged mostly in farming while skilled labourers get engaged in manufacturing centres. Under such circumstances, the earning members in the household are specially recognised for their inputs in facilitating the maintenance of the expected level of standard of living. In recent decades, over two million adolescent and adult females have taken up employment in garment industries and have left their household units for places of employment in towns. This has relieved many households from being burdened with many members and being economically weak. Large households with multiple units of spouses and minor children are getting reduced to simple nuclear family units consisting of only one couple and its children.
Many taboos and laws govern the behaviour among kin members of the household. Marriage among Muslims is prohibited between partners on the grounds of consanguinity, affinity, and fosterage. Degrees of prohibited relationship in marriage among Hindus include relationship by full blood, half blood and uterine blood, as well as relationship by adoption. Although Bangladesh mainly follows the tradition of arranged marriage, in many cases the couples themselves, and not the parents give the final decision. Most marriages in the country are monogamous and the emphasis is on the nuclear family. This emphasis tends to increase the number of households and decrease the number of members in them. It contributes to an increase in the autonomy of household management. It has now become expensive to set up a separate domestic unit or household. This factor contributed to the rise of age at marriage.
The ties of kinship and territorial affiliation hold the Bangladesh family in a specific geographical area and community somewhat firmly. The split of newly married couple to a separate domestic unit frequently resulted from exclusive preoccupation of marital partners for the attainment of personal satisfaction. Couples try hard to keep the marital bond intact until death. The elementary interactions between husband and wife are primarily attributed to the attainment of reaching the goal of reproduction and self-preservation.
Most spouses in the country typically desire at least one male and one female child with option for one additional male child. The principal reason for male offspring preference is the emphasis on patriarchal principles of the social system. The family name descends through the male line. Usually, every lineage has a title or name of a prominent living or dead member of the lineage. Among Hindus, the caste system recognises a large number of groups of different ranks. It is a hierarchy of endogamous groups that individuals enter only by birth. For a Hindu, occupation depends mostly upon the level of the group into which he was born. The families of a caste often have a common name.
Bangladesh experienced some changes in the role and importance of wives in families. Increased participation of women in productive activities enhances their respectful position in society. Status of women is also raised due to their increased access to education and implementation of gender-balanced legislation. [KMA Aziz] [Aziz, KMA Consultant, ICDDR,B, Dhaka]