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It’s in the family

File photo used for representational purpose.

File photo used for representational purpose.   | Photo Credit: Shaju John

Bonding in joint families has a positive impact on the emotional quotient, though not everything is hunky-dory in such a set-up

The family, in Indian society, is an institution by itself and a typical symbol of the collectivist culture of India right from the ancient times. The joint or extended family has been an important feature of Indian culture, but now nuclear families have become the order of the day. There is no denying the fact that socio-economic factors have played a role in the break-up of the joint family system.

Clearly, much can be said on the advantages and demerits of both — the joint family system and nuclear families. Societies evolve with changing times and any process that brings in progressive customs and practices should be welcomed. For instance, emancipation of women through education is essential to break the shackles of regressive social problems such as child marriage, dowry, violence against women and superstitions. Women should not only be empowered through education but also should be encouraged to be in the forefront of the battle against blind beliefs and customs, even if there is resistance from male-dominated patriarchal societies. As has been very aptly said, educating a woman amounts to educating an entire family and society, which is the fundamental requirement for the growth and progress of a nation.

One of the main advantages of a joint family system is the strong bonding it creates among siblings and other members of the family even while providing a sense of security to the children. It is believed that children who grow up in an extended family with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins will imbibe the qualities of sharing, caring, empathy and understanding. This might not always be the case of children who grow up in a nuclear family, though one cannot simply generalise. The bonding and bonhomie one finds in close-knit joint families has a positive impact on the emotional quotient of children. Of course, I do not mean to say that everything is hunky-dory in extended families. They too have their share of conflicts, quarrels and misunderstanding. Family values play an important role in shaping the outlook of people. Respect and care for elders are among the central principles in the Indian family system. It is saddening to know that the trend of the elderly being admitted into old-age homes is increasing. There could be many reasons, including lack of adequate residential space in nuclear families, or in a globalised world, overseas location of children, for such a situation.

However, without being judgmental, I feel that it is not good in the long run either for the country or society to neglect the elderly. That is when they become most vulnerable and need family support, particularly from their children. I also get disturbed when I come across news reports relating to the abuse of the aged. The government, of course, has enacted laws to deal with such instances, but every effort should be made by all to ensure that the value system of respecting the elderly is not eroded.

Another major advantage of a joint family system is the fact that grandparents or other members like aunts will take care of children when both the parents are employed. Living with close family members will immensely contribute towards making the childhood memorable and happier, a crucial factor to the overall personality development of an individual. It should also be remembered that the family system creates a strong bond of unity at an early age, paves the way for social cohesion and in a broader sense promotes national unity. The qualities of sharing and caring by senior family members automatically lead them to think of a secure future for their children by making savings.

Children who grow up in an extended family not only imbibe qualities of tolerance, patience and a democratic attitude of accepting other viewpoints but also develop a sportsman’s spirit while playing with siblings and cousins. Various age-old traditions, customs and ways of living are all products of the family system. In fact, the family system lays the seeds for social cohesion and democratic thinking. Families play an important role in preserving and promoting the cultural and social values in a society. Adopting our age-old philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which embodies the spirit of humanism, compassion, magnanimity and tolerance, family becomes the basic building block of a harmonious, inclusive society. Family can shape the world view, foster and reinforce the value system of the individuals and therefore, consequently, be the warp and weft of a sustainable, peaceful, inclusive, prosperous world.

As is true of most joint families, our grandparents were cared for, and consulted by, their children and loved and respected by their grandchildren. However, with the turbulent changes in society, the respect for elders is dwindling. Nuclear families, growing life expectancy, the generation gap, changes in the value system, adoption of Western ways of life, migration for better opportunities, and the increased participation of women in the workforce have marginalised the elderly in India. Many of them are forced to live lives of humiliation, discrimination, abuse and isolation, without financial, medical or emotional support. This is common across all social classes and across urban and rural areas.

There is an urgent need to expand geriatric healthcare facilities in our hospitals, a concept that has remained a neglected area of medicine in the country. It’s true that wherever the family fails to protect the elderly, the community, civil society and the government have to step in. But why should family fail? Why should our elderly face deprivation, dispossession, loneliness and abuse? Why should we establish old-age homes? Our civilisation has always been proud of the way we treated our elderly. Reports and studies paint melancholic stories of the elderly that reveal the growing societal degradation as we move more towards material pursuits than towards our traditions. This is an unacceptable trend. When we fail to meet the needs of our elderly, we only write a dreadful preface to our own inevitable destiny.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 3:19:56 AM |

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