Social Institutions

Social Institutions: Family, Marriage, Kinship, Religion and Social stratification in India

Society is the combination of individuals. These individuals have their various needs which they want to be satisfied. For this purpose people behave in a customary way which is controlled by norms. This participation of people for the attainment of their various needs develop social institutions. It is formed by the group activities controlled by an interrelated set of norms while the group activities have inherent purpose of action that is to satisfy human needs. The examples are schools and madrassas, offices, majids, churches, family, economy and politics  When we talk of societal processes we take society in action, while we discuss norms individuals are not taken into consideration but their shared expectations are given priority. When such norms are interrelated and crystallized pertaining to relatively limited activities of mankind at one time and a given space it becomes a social institution.

Theoretically these institutions are simple but are quite complex in practice. The functions of social institutions with slight variations are universal. The structure of an institution can be understood by understanding the force of human relationships. It is this forces which keeps the functioning and the body itself normal, stabilized and maintains equilibrium. The structure helps the individuals in shaping their behavior reliable and predictable. The structure is both means and an end in itself. It can be defined as the mechanism to perform particular functions in time and space.


It is the lowest unit of social organisation. Every human society has adopted the family system.   

A family can be defined as a small group characterised by face to face relations and the members, are inter-related by kinship or marriage. Family exists within the society. It can be considered as a social system which exerts influence over the society. A society can’t survive without family.

The family system is found in all societies. Family bonds and type of family differs from one society to another. E.g.: In India, the family bonds are very strong.

It is a common practice for families to have a “nomenclature”. Every family is identified with a particular name.

It is difficult to trace the origin of family as such. But it is in existence since time immemorial. Even the Indus Valley Civilization, one of the oldest civilizations, speaks about family system.

Family is a small group characterised by face to face relations. The members of a family closely identify themselves with the family.

Nature of the family depends on the head of the family. There may be patriarchal or matriarchal family. In case of patriarchal family, father is the head of the family. In case of matriarchal family, mother is the head of the family.

Joint family is unique feature of Indian society. It is a system in which several generations of kinsmen live together in common residence and share property.  According to K.M. Kapadia Joint family is a group which consists of a couple, their children and other relations from father’s side or mother’s side (in case of matriarchal families).  Joint family is common among the Hindus.  In Kerala two systems of Joint families are found via: ‘Illom’ and “Tarwad”.  “Illom” is a family system which is prevalent among the “Nambudaris” Community. In this system only the eldest son marries from within the same community other sons may marry Hair women. The eldest son enjoys absolute power of control over family property.


Arranged marriages were normal in Indian society from the historical Vedic era and it is still viewed in maximum Indian families. Parents take an important role for their marriage ready son or daughter. They choose prospective bride or groom for their son or daughter to marry.  Some peoples are against of this marriage system. According to them marriage is a system of completions of a girl’s and boy’s mind fillings to each other. They provide value of love marriage and offer freedom of their child to choose their life partner.

The tradition of arranged marriage is still continuing today in India but some changes are noticed in this marriage process. Today, parents are anxious about the life of their child and take the consent of their kid, before deciding the marriage. Over the time, people have understood that marriages can only be successful when the parents or family do not force their children to marry someone he or she doesn’t want to marry. Excellent arranged marriage happen when the parents help their children to find their life partners according to their own choice.  Parents organize for marriage-ready sons and daughters to meet with multiple potential spouses with an accepted right of refusal. When older family members begin a discussion on the matter of their son or daughter approaches and express the desire to be married. This relative effectively acts as a sponsor, taking responsibility to get the boy or girl married to a good partner.

After independence India become more economically strong, as a result some social changes and female liberation are found today in India. Some Modern Indian people are favor of love marriage where the first contact with prospective spouses does not involve the parents or family members.  We all knew the story- boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl gets married. But, it is important to realize that while India is much modernized in some aspects they still keep to the tradition of arranged marriages. So, the couple (boy and girl) has to inform to their parents about their own choice to fulfillment of their love through the process of an arranged marriage. These marriages are often referred to as love-cum-arranged marriages.  Some time, in case of love marriage, parent or other family members create an obstruction. They enforced to their child from away of love marriage. It is very pathetic for the lover couple. So, they choose a way of escape and they get married in a temple without their parent or family. After the marriage they fall into serious situation nobody support them. Their parent or family does not accept this marriage and collar out them from their family.  As the law of Indian government the legal age of marriage at 21 years for men and 18 years for women and after those age they touch the maturity age. So, both the girl’s family and the boy’s family can not take any lawful step to them if the marriage couple is matured and their family has to accept their child’s choice after a long clash.


Kinship system is essentially a ‘cultural system.’ There is no universal kinship pattern in the world. It varies according to varying cultural systems. By way of illustration, we may refer to differences in kinship patterns obtaining in European and Indian societies.

In the former a very clear-cut distinction is drawn between consanguineous kin and affinal kin—the two are poles apart. Kinship terminologies used in these societies bring out the distinction very boldly. A married man and a married woman refer to the relatives of their spouses as in-laws. Usage determines the relationships with in-laws.

The very use of the term “in-law” sets them apart from blood kins. Again, in Western society a married woman has the status of an affinal kin in her husband’s family. In Indian society, on the other hand, the distinction between blood kins and affinal kins is not so sharply drawn.

Sometimes the distinction is so blurred that it is difficult to tell one from the other. After marriage, the wife enjoys the status of a blood kin in her husband’s family, enjoying all the rights and discharging all the obligations of her husband’s blood kins.

In Indian society, apart from blood kins and affinal kins, even the Active kins are looked upon as. one’s own people. That is, among one’s own people are included persons related by blood, by marriage, by living together in the same house, neighbourhood and village, by being members of the same class in school, by working together in the same office, by being initiated by the same Guru, and so forth.

The difference in kinship patterns obtaining in Western society and Indian society owes its origin to a deep and basic difference in the underlying principles of social organisation in these two types of societies. Our society extends beyond family only to the limits of a village, and no farther.

The defining characteristics of such a narrow society, including rights and obligations of all groups of people in such a society, are shaped by the demands of the collective life of the family and the village.

Naturally, a very close-knit relationship among members of a village develops. On the other hand, a Western society extends far beyond family and village. As a result, formal ties replace informal ties of relationship, and a sharp distinction between blood kins and affinal kins is the natural off­-shoot.

We cannot also speak of a uniform kinship pattern for the whole of India so long as different social conditions continue to persist in different parts of the country and influence norms and institutions in those regions. But we may broadly delineate a picture of kinship pattern which prevails all over India with minor variations from region to region.


India is a land of diversities. This diversity is also visible in the spheres of religion. The major religions of India are Hinduism (majority religion), Islam (largest minority religion), Sikhism, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and the Bahá’í Faith. India is a land where people of different religions and cultures live in harmony. This harmony is seen in the celebration of festivals. The message of love and brotherhood is expressed by all the religions and cultures of India.   Whether it’s the gathering of the faithful, bowing in prayer in the courtyard of a mosque, or the gathering of lamps that light up houses at Diwali, the good cheer of Christmas or the brotherhood of Baisakhi, the religions of India are celebrations of shared emotion that bring people together. People from the different religions and cultures of India, unite in a common chord of brotherhood and amity in this fascinating and diverse land.

Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world. Hinduism is world’s third largest religion after Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is the dominant religion in India, where Hindus form about 84 per cent of the total population. Hinduism is also known as “Sanatan Dharma” or the everlasting religion.

One of the prominent religions of India, Islam forms about 14 per cent of India’s population. Though India’s contact with Islam had begun much earlier, the real push came in the 8th century when the province of Sindh was conquered. Though the Muslims form only 14 per cent of the total population of India but the influence of Islam on Indian society is much stronger.

At present Buddhism is one of the major world religions. The philosophy of Buddhism is based on the teachings of Lord Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (563 and 483 BC), a royal prince of Kapilvastu, India. After originating in India, Buddhism spread throughout the Central Asia, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Southeast Asia, as well as the East Asian countries of China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

Christianity is one of the prominent religions in India. At present there are about 25 million Christians in India. It is interesting to note that the Christian population in India is more than the entire population of Australia and New Zealand or total population of a number of countries in Europe.

Sikhs form about 2 per cent of Indian population. In comparison to other religions, Sikhism is a younger religion. The word ‘Sikh’ means a disciple and thus Sikhism is essentially the path of discipleship. The true Sikh remains unattached to worldly things.

Though the total number of Zoroastrians in Indian population is very less yet they continue to be one of the important religious communities of India. According to the 2001 census, there were around 70,000 members of the Zoroastrian faith in India. Most of the Parsis (Zoroastrians) live in Maharashtra (mainly in Mumbai) and the rest in Gujarat.

Jains form less than one percent of the Indian population. For centuries, Jains are famous as community of traders and merchants. The states of Gujarat and Rajasthan have the highest concentration of Jain population in India. The Jain religion is traced to Vardhamana Mahavira (The Great Hero 599-527 B.C.).



Social stratification

Social stratification is a particular form of social inequality. All societies arrange their members in terms of superiority, inferiority and equality. Stratification is a process of interaction or differentiation whereby some people come to rank higher than others.  In one word, when individuals and groups are ranked, according to some commonly accepted basis of valuation in a hierarchy of status levels based upon the inequality of social positions, social stratification occurs. Social stratification means division of society into different strata or layers. It involves a hierarchy of social groups. Members of a particular layer have a common identity. They have a similar life style.

The Indian Caste system provides an example of stratification system. The society in which divisions of social classes exist is known as a stratified society. Modern stratification fundamentally differs from stratification of primitive societies. Social stratification involves two phenomenon

  1. differentiation of individuals or groups on the basis of possession of certain characteristics whereby some individuals or groups come to rank higher than others,
  2. (ii) the ranking of individuals according to some basis of evaluation.

Social stratification has two important consequences one is “life chances” and the other one is “life style”. A class system not only affects the “life- chances” of the individuals but also their “life style”.  The members of a class have similar social chances but the social chances vary in every society. It includes chances of survival and of good physical and mental health, opportunities for education, chances of obtaining justice, marital conflict, separation and divorce etc.  Life style denotes a style of life which is distinctive of a particular social status. Life-styles include such matters like the residential areas in every community which have gradations of prestige-ranking, mode of housing, means of recreation, the kinds of dress, the kinds of books, TV shows to which one is exposed and so on. Life-style may be viewed as a sub-culture in which one stratum differs from another within the frame work of a commonly shared over-all culture.


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