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Why the erosion of the traditional Indian family is worrying


We celebrated the International Day of Families on May 15. The increasing cases of murders of live-in partners, news items about family feuds leading to violent attacks on spouses or other family members and suicide among aspiring youths barely in their teens present a scary scenario. In a way, these are the symptoms of societal ill-health. Every case merits independent analysis and hence, generalisations may not be advisable. Yet, a majority of these cases unmistakably point towards the enfeeblement of our traditional family system. And, this is something that we cannot afford to ignore. Moreover, studies conducted all over the world point to the primacy of families. An increasing number of children taking to crime also mirrors the disruptions in the age-old family system in India and elsewhere.


The family has been a foundational institution of society in most parts of the world, particularly in India. We swear by Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Kutumb or family has traditionally acquired primacy in our interpersonal-social relationship dynamics. At least so far, no social scientist has been able to advocate any alternate unit better than family. It is an institution where consolidation of interpersonal relations naturally evolved while living under one roof, sharing thought processes, participating in collective actions and developing emotional bondings. Notwithstanding the drawbacks — and they are there — of the traditional family system, quite a few precious pluses have helped our family system withstand innumerable onslaughts from a globalised world. Add to this the set of challenges emanating from the changing social conditions in our society, and the crisis is compounded. All this calls for reforms, both, attitudinal and behavioural, and since they are largely interdependent, it is difficult to prioritise them. Besides, since the family is not a creation of any government, one cannot go to governments to introduce these reforms. They need to be society driven. A long list of such reforms starts with the state of dialogue within homes. The sorry state of the quality of conversations in most families today could easily be singled out as the fountainhead of several crises being faced by the family as an institution. This has made our families united outwardly but in most cases, fragmented from within. In most relationships, dialogue these days is extremely transactional. Candid and heart-to-heart dialogues between two adults, starting from husband and wife, are fast becoming rare. The same seems to be true of parent-children dialogue. They have become too formal and superficial. Sadly, with the age of adolescence advancing, depleting mutuality and waning warmth continue to pose several unforeseen challenges.

Excessive emphasis on individualism is also to blame for this near-demise of dialogue. Indian society, unlike in many other spheres, would be paying a huge price if we continue to ape Western societies and emulate mindless individualism. Can we afford to forget the essence of the mantra, “Om Sahana Vavatu” from the Krishna Yajurveda Taittiriya Upanishad (2.2.2)? It is all about togetherness. “May the almighty nourish us together, may we work together with great energy and finally may there be no hate among us”.

Ideas like privacy and private space are too important to be ignored. But that should not blind us to the importance of collectivism, partnership and more importantly, the value of sharing. The joy of sharing leads to a commonality of ethos, likes and dislikes. Refusing to share is to deny these experiences to oneself. As a consequence, the number of opportunities for collective, participatory activities besides naturally evolved occasions for sharing is fast depleting. What is lost, eventually, is mutuality.

In the absence of sharing, a certain amount of opaqueness increasingly marks interpersonal relations within families. Transparency in relationships is the bedrock of mutual trust. It is this trust that provides a strong foundation for families. However, with the overstretching of ideas of privacy and private space, erosion of mutual trust and confidence has become the order of the day.

Evaporation of mutuality has adversely impacted togetherness. Diminishing togetherness prevents occasions to gather insights about each other. This has diluted the process of evolving a mentor-mentee relationship. Earlier, loners were found perhaps only at the top. In present-day society and also our families, they are everywhere. And when loners occasionally live in a collective set-up — maybe a team in a corporate organisation or a steering committee in any social body —they tend to forget that one can’t take any other member for granted, even in an inevitable situation. In this setting, familiarity today is not stopped just at breeding contempt. Ironically, it may as well lead to a ‘taken for granted’ approach causing conflict and confrontation.

Thanks to external factors like peer pressure, exhibitionism has further complicated the family scene. From birthdays to weddings and housewarmings to condolence meetings, everything is being made into a formal event, with complete disregard for the beauty of informality. Such a mindless craze for events has added to the “crisis of authenticity” of our interpersonal feelings. Artificial conversations today are replete with spurious emotions and their customary articulation making our relationships superficial and only “hi-bye” type. And like a termite infestation, one never knows when and how this “artificiality of emotions” has not just entered but caused irreparable harm to any relationship.

Read More at https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/why-the-erosion-of-the-traditional-indian-family-is-worrying-8610424/

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