Moral continuity : Gujarati kinship, women, children and rituals
This thesis is a study of Gujarati women and children living in the North London Borough of Harrow. It addresses the issues concerning women in the household, that include their relations with other kin and wider networks, caring for children, feeding, and protecting them from evil influences, and their key involvement in ritual practice. Men as husbands, fathers, uncles and grandfathers are also discussed. Children's involvement in ritual from birth, or even before, is addressed and the way they make sense of the world through multiple carers. Households were studied using the methods of participant observation and in-depth, taped, unstructured interviews. Different caste groups, religions and social classes were included in the study group, but the majority were Hindu, and a few Jain. Muslim households were excluded because they represented less than 10% of the Harrow population and would have made the study too broad. Data obtained from a three-month period of research in Ahmedabad, informed the Harrow data, but a direct comparison was not made. The theme of moral continuity emerged from the data as a central concern for Hindu and Jain households. This was linked to kinship ties, respect for elders, obligations, religious festivals and rituals. The joint household remains popular and many younger people are learning Gujarati, practising rituals and asking for arranged `introduction' marriages. Family `rules' which have been followed through many generations are followed in respect to festivals, life-cycle rituals of childhood, warding off the evil eye and what foods to eat. Childhood is a time of purity when children are thought to be close to the gods, requires special consideration, especially when it comes to food, and milk may be thought to be the safest option. Children live in a network of interdependency with other kin and through rituals participate in a world that respects the hierarchy of the household and wider Gujarati `community'. Western influences of toys, peers and the educational system are acknowledged at various points. In conclusion, a sense of being Gujarati is still held by individuals today in Britain. Continuity of moral codes is achieved through ritual practice, which is transformed over time, links with the ancestors and gives a sense of belonging to 'one of us'.