Indian census data allows us to identify districts with low and very low female/male ratios caused by fatal daughter syndrome. We may look within these districts to observe an all-pervasive class system marked by the ranking of the extended families which characterize the Hindu culture. That is, the extended families are the repositories of social power, economic power, and political power---a combination of powers rank ordered in the comprehensive hierarchical family systems of India. All are strongly patriarchical (excepting the weak patriarchy of Kerala).
These Indian class ranked families are integral to the Hindu caste system. Muslims and Christians living in the same localities are accorded a kind of proportional class standing within the overall Hindu culture. Those districts with the lowest female sex ratios are clustered in the northern states adjacent to New Delhi where the dominant land owning caste is often the Rajputs. Although Rajputs are not the dominant caste in a majority of India census districts, naming a caste is important because marriages are not allowed (by hard-line religious and social traditions) across caste lines or into the Muslim or Christian communities.
The class hierarchy of the extended families among the Rajputs is replicated within the many castes and sub-castes. That is, a highest-ranking (dominant) caste sets a pattern of family behavior which is emulated by other castes (also Muslims and Christians) in the locality or region. This commentary on the family class system is offered here in a generalized form affording only a background for the relevant marriage and family life practices in India outside the special case, Kerala.
Among the Rajputs (and the customs established within other patriarchical castes) the purity of the male lineage, father to son, is a highest value consistently protected. Systematic suppression of female sexuality is the patriarchical method for maintaining male-lineage purity. The sexuality (physical beauty, demeanor, manners, and skills) of a female may be her means of self expression (thus a part of her power relative to others, particularly males). This sexuality is suppressed by family institutions, disempowering females. Although more extreme in India, the struggles of females to circumvent such disempowerment in western patriarchical families have been a familiar plot central in countless novels in the West. In India every opportunity for expression of each females sexuality, excepting only in her husbands bed, is circumscribed or denied.
All marriages are arranged by family elders; girls are seldom allowed any role in these negotiations. Maintaining and improving the class status of the family is seen as the central goal of each marriage plan. The maintenance of her husbands family line is the brides opportunity and destiny. The arranged marriages of the royal and other high-ranking families of Europe generally had this family power function.
The basic marriage rule is: outside of family and within caste. The critical problem in marriage arrangements flows from the need to maintain or improve the class standing of the extended family. If a daughter should be married into a family lower in the class ranking, the daughters birth family looses status. On the other hand, a son may marry down provided the brides family can afford a large dowry. Inasmuch as class ranking is based on the somewhat interchangeable elements of wealth and social power, a significant infusion of wealth into the grooms extended family could maintain or even improve a familys class ranking.
As we compare the Kerala family structures, it will become important to note that at marriage in North India the bride moves into the household of her husband. The daughter-in-law arrives as the least significant member of her new family---an obedient slave to her husband and his mother. She is also cut off from her birth family by distance and restricted visiting customs. As an outsider in her new extended family, she may be denied female support, and may exercise influence in family decisions only through the intervention of her husband acting on her behalf. Even here she is disempowered. Husbands are discouraged from forming affectionate bonds with their wives---such attachments diminish a husbands allegiance to the family patriarch and attention to his first responsibility---the extended family.
Years may pass before the brides status may be secured by the birth of sons bonded to her and acting on her behalf. Before puberty daughters are helpful to mothers, but at marriage their value to their natal household disappears as they devote themselves to their husbands welfare producing sons for the benefit of his family lineage and caring for his parents. Anthropologists have a word for this female disempowering family structure, hypergamy---brides marrying socially and economically upward within caste into more esteemed extended families requiring compensation for what would otherwise be a misalliance.
Within the powerful Indian family customs, the failure of a family to arrange the marriage of their daughter brings shame on her natal family and serious loss of family status. In spite of legal allowance for divorce and regardless of the cause, if a daughter should be divorced, irrespective of cause, she may not be accepted back by her natal family.
One student of North Indian families (Luschinsky) has described with feeling the terrible dilemma internalized by Indian women.
(Families in Kerala) (Directory) March 20, 2000