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Changing Indian Families

Changing Indian Families

Many of us remember the big families, large joint families with tens of people living together in one house. Almost at the same pace as inflation and real estate prices, we have seen a breaking of this trend in last couple of decades. Some of us miss those times, some even get frustrated at the state of affairs in families, some see the current trend as an attack on our culture and a western import. All these sets of people are right to a large extent. But we seldom see the reasons behind changing structures of families. Realizing the causes may not correct everything, but we can at least see clearly what can be changed and what cannot be changed, so that we can take a wise decision while living in a family.

A joint family was essentially an economic unit. About 80% population was involved in agriculture and even for the rest 20%, the profession was largely based on what one’s parents and grandparents used to do. This had many repercussions – a large part of people’s lives was spent in a joint family and even when the land or profession was divided later in life, it was divided equally among the sons. This meant that all the sons had equal financial status almost all their lives.

Compare this to today’s scenario – siblings rivalry can start during student life – who is more intelligent, who gets better marks, who is a better cricketer. If not at this time, when they grow up, start working, have some savings at the age of say 30, it’s highly unlikely that all the siblings will be making equal money. For middle class families in an average size town, a monthly income of 10000 rupees per month and 40000 rupees per month can both be found equally commonly. These are not just numbers; with increasing materialism, this difference could show up in their cell phones, their vehicles, their furniture, their clothes; which is bound to spark some jealousy, competition.

Another crucial difference between a family of today and a family of 50 years back is the role of parents. When children used to adopt the same profession as parents, at any point of time, parents had more experience at work than their children. For being in the profession for longer, they also had better network of people in case help was needed. So respect for parents came naturally. Compare this to today’s scenario – lot of people work in today’s service industry and their parents have no idea what their children do at work. Even if they try hard, it’s hard for them to understand what exactly their children’s duties at work are. Not only does it create a sort of disconnect between them, they have less number of common things/interests to talk about.

In today’s work place, there are trainings to increase the team work between co-workers which involve some kind of physical activities to accomplish a common goal. Imagine a set of people doing such activities continuously for years. That was a typical family few decades back – most of the work was physical work and more than one pair of hands was needed to complete the work. So team work was inherent part of life.

The single largest factor that can be considered the reason behind changing dynamics of family lives is telephone. A girl gets married, and visits her parents’ house once in few months, so if there is no telephone, she has no idea about day-to-day proceedings at her parents’ house. With 70% of Indian population having access to cell phones now, this scenario has changed. Oh no, going to No-Phone era is not a choice for us. All we can do is adapt to the changing circumstances and make best use of available resources. Using the same telephone, we can also remain in touch with relatives who live at faraway places.

The crux of the matter is that for our forefathers, the kind of social framework they lived in, it was much easier to live happily with their parents, their siblings, their wives, their cousins. With multifold increase in population, going back to that framework is just not possible. Without support from social structure, one needs to put a conscious effort to enjoy the bonding in his/her family. It gives a different kind of satisfaction if the people you are bound to bump into during family weddings, funerals, childbirths are among your best friends, it’s a comfort to think that when you grow old, you are not going to need old age home or state support. As I read one facebook status – ‘Cousins are usually the first friends we have as children. No one will ever understand your crazy family like your cousins do even if you haven't talked much lately.’ To enjoy this craziness together, we need to put efforts into it, we need to rise above envy, materialistic differences; not easy, but at the end may be worth the effort!

Author: Arun Chaba

Published: July 23, 2013

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