Marriage. Bengali marriages are arranged, but Hindu and Muslim marital practices differ in certain key respects. Among Hindus, considerations of caste rank are important; that is, marriage usually occurs between persons of the same caste. Hypergamous unions—between members of closely ranked castes, with women marrying upward—are not forbidden. But hypogamous marriages—in which a woman marries a man of a lower caste—are strongly discouraged and rarely occur. Because of the egalitarian ideology of Islam, caste-related restrictions are not formally required for Muslims. But since Bengali Muslim society as a matter of fact reflects some castelike features, social rank is also a strong consideration in the selection of mates, and there are some low-ranked Muslim occupational groups that are perforce highly endogamous. Among Hindus also lineage exogamy is the basic rule and matrilateral cousin marriage is also forbidden. By contrast, as Islam raises no barrier to cousin marriage, its occurrence among Bengali Muslims is common, although empirical studies show that it is neither pervasive nor necessarily preferred. Similarly polygyny, rare and strongly discouraged among Bengali Hindus, is of course permitted to Bengali Muslims, although its actual rate of occurrence is not high. Divorce among high-caste Hindus is strongly discouraged and, at least until recently, has always brought great stigma. Islam discourages but nonetheless permits divorce, and thus its rate among Bengali Muslims is much higher than among Bengali Hindus. Finally, among high-caste Hindus, widow remarriage—despite a century of legislation outlawing the ancient custom of proscribing it—is still greatly frowned upon. Islam places no barrier on remarriage for either sex after spousal death or divorce, although the incidence of remarriage of elderly Muslim widows is not high. For both Hindus and Muslims patrilocal/virilocal postmarital residence patterns are much preferred and almost universally practiced, at least in the rural areas. Neolocal nuclear-family households are much more common among urban professional families in both West Bengal and Bangladesh.
Domestic Unit. Throughout rural Bengal the patrilineally extended family homestead is subdivided into its natural segments, called paribar, consisting of men, their wives, their children, and other dependents, who form the basic subsistence-producing and consuming kinship units. The economic and social "jointness" of the paribar is underlined by the sharing of a common kitchen or hearth, as well as the ownership or control of land and/or other productive assets, if any.
Inheritance. Among Bengali Hindus, inheritance is governed by the dayabhaga system of customary law in which a man has sole rights in all ancestral property until his death and can in principle pass it on to his survivors in any manner that he wishes. Unless he makes a will to the contrary, upon his death a man's sons are to inherit equally all property as a matter of survivorship, not a matter of right; his wife and daughters have no claim by right to any of his property, but they do have the right to maintenance so long as they are dependent on their sons or brothers. Among Muslims Inheritance is of course governed by Islamic law, which permits a man's female dependents to inherit a portion of his property; since sons are expected to be the sole providers for their Families, the law permits them to receive more of a father's property than do daughters. In actual Bengali Muslim (at least rural, peasant) practice, however, daughters commonly forgo or are deprived of their inheritance of immovable property in favor of their brothers, assuming that if they need to return to their natal homes after widowhood or divorce their brothers will take care of them. Although joint retention and use of the father's property by his sons is the cultural ideal for both Hindus and Muslims, in practice the subdivision of a man's property begins not long after his death, and the formation or further proliferation of the domestic units discussed above begins.
Socialization. Children learn proper behavior from Parents and older siblings, gradually becoming differentiated according to gender as they mature. The pattern of older Children caring for their younger siblings is widespread. While small children of both sexes are warmly indulged, as girls approach physical maturity their movements outside the Household are gradually curtailed in anticipation of the relative restrictions that both high-caste Hindu and Muslim adult women will experience for most of their child-bearing years. Schools abound throughout Bengal, but whether and how long a child will attend depend much upon gender as well as the social standing and financial condition of the family. Schools for religious education—Hindu pathsalas for boys and Islamic madrassas open to both sexes—are found everywhere and commonly attended, at least during childhood years.