Impact of Corona Pandemic on Kinship Tie: A Study from Rural West Bengal

Arup Majumder

Kinship is the most universal and basic of all human relationships and is based on ties of blood, marriage, or adoption. In an article titled "What Is Kinship All About?" published posthumously in 2004 in” Kinship and Family: An Anthropological Reader”, Schneider said that kinship refers to “the degree of sharing likelihood among individuals from different communities. For instance, if two people have many similarities between them then both of them do have a bond of kinship."

Sociologists and Anthropologists debate about the existence of the types of kinship.  Most Social Scientists agree that kinship is based on two broad areas: birth and marriage; others say a third category of kinship involves social ties. The three types of kinship are: Consanguineal: This is based on blood—or birth: the relationship between parents and children as well as siblings, says the Sociology Group. This is the most basic and universal type of kinship. Also known as a primary kinship, it involves people who are directly related. Affinal: This is based on marriage. The relationship between husband and wife is also considered a basic form of kinship. And Social: Schneider (2004) argued that not all kinship derives from blood (consanguineal) or marriage (affinal). There are also social kinships, where individuals, not connected by birth or marriage may still have a bond of kinship, he said. By this definition, two people who live in different communities may share a bond of kinship through a religious affiliation or a social group, such as the Kiwanis or Rotary service club, or within a rural or tribal society marked by close ties among its members (

However, in this article we are trying to figure out the impact of corona pandemic on kinship ties. On the basis of this objective, the study is mainly based on direct, in-depth observation and interviews have been conducted through questionnaire with the migrant labourer’s as well as landloser’s family members. The stories of hardship and economic crises have been collected from both family members by the method of case study. The name of the original individual have been changed in all the case studies for research ethical purposes.

Sashibabu was spending happy days with his family until this corona pandemic at Simulpur village of North 24 Parganas, West Bengal. Both of his sons are employed in a popular hotel in Mumbai. According to the decisions of the Central as well as the State Governments, the migrant labourers have returned to their home by the special trains arranged for them. Sashibabu’s sons returned home too. Their saliva samples were collected and sent for testing to the local hospital as per the strict rules of the local Panchayat and administration. The results were negative, no germs were found. Following the hygienic rules, they were home quarantined.

The onset of the problem initiated when the quarantined days were about to end. The daughter-in-laws of Sashibabu were worried. Though the reports were negative, there were some cases where the virus showed no symptoms at all. So they were of the opinion that it may have been hidden within the body and the infection will occur later. In that case, they will be unable share their personal space with their husbands. All on a sudden, people from Sashibabu’s in-law’s maternal home visited their place. They insisted to take back their daughters along with their grandchildren. Sashibabu and his wife were unaware of the situation. He showed them the reports which were negative but they were reluctant to listen to anything.  Finally they took away their daughter and granddaughter with them.

This is just an instance. If we take a look around, we can find a large number of incidents in different parts of the villages as well as cities especially in the families of the migrant labourers. The impact of Corona virus does not only disrupts the country’s economy but also led to the breach of a number of families. And all these have a great impact on the Indian Kinship Tie. Directly or indirectly, Affinal Kinship is greatly hampered. In this case we can see that Sashibabu and his daughter-in-law’s family are related by marital relationship. On the other hand, Sashibabu’s granddaughter is connected by blood ties to the boy’s family. So when the girl left for her maternal home, it affected the social relationship to a great extent.

Earlier it was witnessed that the economic downturn has led to the breakdown of a large number of families. Joint families are gradually breaking down and resulting into nuclear families. An example is cited. In Gokulpur, a place near Kharagpur when a private pig iron manufacturing Company named Tata Metaliks was being formed, a number of farmers lost their agricultural lands. In return they received a small amount of compensation money. The joint families, after the loss of their agricultural lands, fragmented giving rise to nuclear families. For example, Kanailal Santra is a Sadgope Landloser farmer. About 15 – 16 years ago he with his three sons and daughter passed his life happily by cultivating 5.92 acre paddy land. His three sons Bachan, Dhiren and Haran got  married. He led a happy life with his three sons and their wives. The average yield of paddy in his land ranged between 13000 to 14500 Kg. in a year. He did not purchase any paddy from the market to feed the members of his joint family.

In 1992, he received a notice from the Midnapore Land acquisition office and came to know that 3.12 acre of his land would be acquired for the Tata Metaliks Company. After receiving the notice he went to a meeting organized by the local peasants, but did not submit any objection. The local political leaders belonging to the ruling party, however gave assurance to him that one of the members of his family will get a job in the industry. After some days, his land was acquired like many farmers of Gokulpur and nobody were given a job. Kanaibabu received Rs. 68, 000/- as compensation for his 3.12 acres of land. After receiving the compensation money, Kanaibabu and his eldest son made an attempt to purchase some cultivable land in their locality but the money was not sufficient for the purpose. Then he bought two ploughs and a pair of bullocks for cultivating the land he still possessed, and deposited the rest of his compensation money in the bank.

At this stage, acute problems centering on the cohesion of the family arose. Since the joint family faced food crises, the sons began to engage themselves in different types of non agricultural jobs outside the family. It had two serious effects. Firstly, all the three sons could not give adequate time and labour for the cultivation of the land still owned by the family. Secondly, the sons did not earned an equal amount of money. These two factors led to a difference of opinion and conflict among the sons and their wives as well as between the father and his sons. Even there were conflicts among the family members and thus Kanaibabu’s sons decided to separate themselves from the joint family and have their own small family.  Kanaibabu was helpless but agreed to share the compensation amount among his sons when they demanded their share. The jointly held family land which was under the name of Kanaibabu was also partitioned, although in an informal manner. The pair of ploughs and the bullocks remained to  Kanaibabu who stayed with his wife and the youngest son (who was married later) and one unmarried daughter. The separation of the families at this stage did not lead to the construction of separate houses. The three separated family units shared the same roof within the ancestral compound but used to take food cooked from three separate hearths. We have identified this stage of joint family fragmentation as the ‘First Phase’. In course of time the elder sons became eager to construct their own houses within the ancestral compound. During this period, the sons asked for some money as loan from Kanaibabu but he could not help them as he still had an unmarried daughter. Both the elder sons then sought loan money from their respective father– in– laws. The father-in-laws rendered some help in the beginning but gradually financial assistance from the in-laws families were declined. This in turn has led to the loosening of the relationships of the landloser family with their affinal kins.

Kanaibabu, who is now 78, is a helpless old man with his aged wife. Just a few years back, he had three sons looking after him, his joint family and never faced any food crisis. He lamented that he now lives in a kinless world. He felt even his separated sons are leading an unhappy life. Landlessness has led them to this kind of crises and we identified this stage of fragmentation of the family as its ‘Second Phase’ (Majumder, 2011).

Thereafter it can be seen that whether it is the displacement of livelihood or be it a case of the global pandemic, the kinship ties of the traditional joint families are affected as a result. Unlike Sashibabu the head of the family go through a lot of mental anguish just like  Kanaibabu, who faced similar consequences.

Our fight against the COVID-19 is a long battle. So it will take a prolonged time. Also we need to fight constantly to turn our economy around. Besides this, another thing must be kept in mind. Apart from our physical health, our mental health needs attention too. Thus some trained Psychological Counselors should be appointed who could work through the problems. They will not only resolve the ignorance of the people, but also will focus on the emotional health related concerns. This will enable the people to find solutions to many of their problems, thus keeping the affinal and consanguineal Kinship fresh and intact, keeping the traditional joint families of West Bengal as well as India unbroken and unharmed.

Majumder, A. 2011. Landlessness to Kinlessness: A case Study of Peasant Joint Families under the Impact of Land Acquisition, Journal of Indian Anthropological Society, Sec. 46: 239- 249

Web references

Dr. Arup Majumder, School of Languages and Linguistics, Jadavpur University

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Jun 8, 2020

Dr. Arup Majumder

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