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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Report: Is joint family system a glory or ruin of India ? Views of Senior Citizens

Nandini Voice for The Deprived, a Chennai based NGO  invited the senior citizens  to provide  the views on the following subject  : “Is joint family system a glory or ruin of India?”

The objective of the exercise  was to ascertain the views of the cross section of senior citizens about the continued relevance of joint family system in the present day context and  inform  the consensus views of the senior citizens to the society.

The entries of the following senior citizens were selected for the award:           
            Mr. Ashok Rajan , Chennai
      Mr. K. Nallathambi, Tiruchengode, Tamil Nadu
      Ms. Nirmala Krishnaswamy, Chennai
      Mr. Ganesh .ShankerTripathi, Noida, Uttar Pradesh
      Ms. Sudha Chandrasekaran,   Coimbatore
      Mr. L. Ranganathan,  Chennai


152 senior citizens responded  expressing their views on the subject :
Number of women participants:  58
Number of men participants:  94

Age above 90
Age between
 80 to  89
   Age between
          70 to 79
Age between
        60 to 69

      * Yes
   *   No
    * Yes & No

*  YES   refers to those who approve  the concept of joint family, if there would be  appropriate mindset amongst the  family members

*  NO   refers to those who think that joint family system  is undesirable

 * YES & NO  refers to  those who approve the concept of joint family system but think  that  it is not feasible in today’s conditions

Of those who said that the joint family system would survive (  YES category described above) ,  55% of the participants said  that a new system is gradually evolving that would elegantly combine the merits of the joint family system and the nuclear family system in the course of time.  They are of the view that the basics of the joint family system is very strong and it is bound to survive in one form or the other.

The highlights of the views expressed by the senior citizens on various aspects of the joint family system are given below:

Is joint family system a glory or ruin?

Many senior citizens protested about the title of the competition asking them to comment whether joint family system is a glory or ruin.  

More than 90% of the seniors said that the joint family concept is unique to India  and has been practiced for centuries with great dignity and cohesion.  

The central theme of the joint family concept  is the love and affection as well as  respect for elders and overall pride in the family traditions.  These aspects should be considered as virtues of joint family  system, which have brought glory to India and admiration abroad for the Indian family system.

However, it was recognized that the joint family system  is now facing the threat of extinction due to the compulsions created by the technology advancements,  widespread educational opportunities  and women empowerment.  

Many senior citizens said  that the challenge is  how to preserve the virtues of the joint family system in the light of the changing life style.

 Changing economic and social life pattern:

The joint family system was in  vogue in traditional India , where the entire family  was focused on similar line of economic activities such as being involved in agriculture, trading , government jobs or in providing services  etc. 

In those days, the sons largely  followed the pattern of profession practiced by the father .  In such situations, it often happened , that the income have to be necessarily shared by all members of the family to ensure  optimization of  the use of resources for the livelihood.  This situation contributed to the inter dependence of the family members.

With the rapid spread of education and job opportunities , such conditions have undergone sea change in recent years with sons and daughters taking up jobs in different locations in India and abroad.  In such circumstances, living together in joint family under one roof  is no more possible. Further, with the prevailing pattern of nuclear families, living together in joint family under one roof is no more an economic necessity for many persons.

Financial  resources :

 In the yester years , senior most member of the family kept the financial resources at his command  and therefore, was recognized as the leader of the family.  

 However, these days, this would not happen in many cases , since it is often found that the son , daughter or daughter in law earn more money than the parents and grand parents themselves in many cases.

With the resources not being controlled by the senior member of the family, the grip on the leadership of the joint family  by the senior inevitably gets diluted. This invariably weakens the cohesiveness in the joint family system.

Impact of mixed marriages:

 With the social equations changing, inter caste and inter religious marriages often  take place where  it may not be possible for the couple to live in the joint family, due to the difference in the  traditional and cultural practices. 

Suppressed tensions in the joint family : 

While there are obvious merits of the joint family system, it is not as if the joint family life has been a smooth affair for everyone.  

In view of the differences in views  and  capabilities  of the individuals , conflicts of interest used to arise leading to bickerings in relationship between the family members.  There were many instances when a few family members have not been even in talking terms for length of time , inspite of living under the same roof. 

 The suppressed tension is conspicuous in several joint families affecting the harmony.

 Empowerment of women:

With the increasing educational and job opportunities for women, it is natural that such women feel empowered and want to lead a life of their own in the way that they want, instead of being mere “child bearing entities”.

There is a view that in the traditional joint family system of yester years , women’s freedom and liberty , both in thoughts and actions were  subjected to the approval of the men folk, which resulted in near destruction of the personality of women and killing their initiatives. Women were no doubt respected those days  but only in limited context.

With the advantage of  education , job , economic independence, there is reluctance on the part of women  these days to live in joint family , where they cannot realise  their own aspirations  and have to subject themselves to the dictates of joint family compulsions.

The women do not want to be anymore treated like “glorified servants”  in the joint family household .The approach of such  educated and empowered women have  been the primary driving factor towards the desolution of the joint family system.

Character building among children:

 With the aging process  that can develop  wisdom in individuals, senior citizens are well positioned to advise and guide the  grand children in the formative age group about the value systems in life  and the importance of personal discipline in attitude and methods.  

One of the main reasons  attributed for increasing incidence of violence and sometimes unethical and immoral conduct amongst the students at the school and college level are attributed to the  absence of the guidance from grand parents, that has happened due to the collapse of the joint family system. 

.Mindset of senior citizens :

It is not as if the joint family system are desired by all the seniors and disliked by all the younger generation.  

The fact is that many grand parents also tend to think unconventionally and want to have independent life in their ripe years  , doing  what they want to do.  They do not want to be weighed down by the responsibility of looking after the grandchildren and the households.  

While it would certainly be a pleasure for the grand parents to spend time with the children, they do not want to be reduced to the level of  “glorified servants” by their sons and daughters, merely looking  after the  grand children and “guarding” the household.  

Some seniors have pointed out that they cannot  even  go  on pilgrimage or visits for a length of time, since the grand children have to be looked after and the households have to be “guarded”.

Likely future scenario :

With the advancement of  technology and information network  and the size of the families becoming smaller, the traditional joint family system will become out of place in futuristic society.

With longevity and health conditions improving , the senior citizens will also like to live independently as long as possible.

The sons and daughters  stressed by the competitive world ,  full of challenges and opportunities  and at the same time  facing  the need to bring up their children in healthy environment with traditional value system intact, are likely to long for the virtues of the joint family system and will like to preserve it to the extent possible in tune with the ground realities.  

 At the same time, they will like to have their own independent way of thinking and approach to life and may   tend to politely turn down or ignore the advise of the seniors  if it would contradict their views.

Also , given the present  conditions, the seniors would like to live alone as long as possible till their health and finances  would permit.  When they reach a stage , when the health and finances may not permit independent living, they may find that they have no alternative other than living with their children.  In such eventuality, the elders have to submit themselves to the situation and should be careful to ensure that they would not be a  source of irritation to the sons and daughters and even grand children.. They may have to suppress their own personality to buy peace with those around..  

For the elders  in such conditions,  the alternative is to go to old age homes which will be no better.

Emerging family system :

 Sacrifice is the strongest foundation on which joint family system has been built.
 If all generations would realize this, then it would be possible to build a new  family system  where the  virtues  of joint family system  would be preserved  and the pitfalls that have emerged due to the changing  life style would be eliminated. 

The emerging system is likely to consist essentially of the people of different generations living apart (in India or abroad)  yet  getting the feeling of nearness  by constant communication and frequent visits.

Many senior citizens pointed out that the emerging system would still be different from the prevailing system in western countries , where the family system has virtually collapsed beyond certain age of sons and daughters.

The million dollar question is as to how the benefits of rearing children  in healthy manner , that would be facilitated by the  matured influence  of the grand parents,  can be ensured in the emerging system.

Nandini Voice For The Deprived
M 60/1, 4th Cross Street, Besant Nagar, Chennai-600090
Tele:- 24916037

5th May 2012

Copyright: Nandini Voice For The Deprived &  Silver Inning Foundation 

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