Monday, November 21, 2005

Analytic View: Joint Family and Nuclear Family in India

In India, the land of culture and unity, culture and unity are well manifested in the structure of society, indeed in the smaller unit of a society i.e. family. A family is a set of human beings related to each other in a non-professional manner, giving rise to a concrete cohesion within the family. Love, care, and affection are the most prominent human values, which are responsible for maintaining these bonds of relationships within a family.

Typically, a nuclear family may be conceived as a unit consisting of a couple, children, and grandparents, and pets. In India however, there exists a special kind of family structure that really is quite vivid in the way it manages to handle and keep intact the human relations. This special kind of family structure is Joint Family System. A joint family is a collection of more than one, nuclear families that are interconnected by blood relations or marital relations. All the members, regardless of which particular nuclear family (within that joint family) they belong to, live together and share happiness, grief, and virtually every kind of problem and joy together. The joint family in itself simulates a typical view of our multi-cultural, multi-lingual, yet tightly intertwined Indian society.
Indian president replies to a question related to spiritual strengths of India as
“One of our strengths is our joint family system. In this system a problem is no problem. In a nuclear family a problem can destroy a family. We have a number of religions. I find that religions are like orchards, but they need to be linked. Every religion preaches compassion and love. If we can transform religion into a spiritual force then we have arrived. By 2020 we should be a prosperous and happy nation without loosing our civilizational heritage….”

Read more from President’s Interview

Looking more closely into the subject, one would find that there are certain duties which need to be carried out along with enjoying the benefits that a joint-family offers. These couplings of benefits and duties are:

  • Love and Respect: Learn to love, to earn respect, is the key to have harmonious and never-ending relationships. Mutual respect and love are biggest values a joint family can offer. These values, however seek something in return, that something is again the love and respect. In many families, a person, usually father, grandfather, or grandmother, is responsible for taking decisions in virtually every field related to family. The quotation, With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, starts proving true in such a scenario. Being an elder, when someone chooses to make any important decision for someone else, say, a teenager child, in the family, he must ask himself/herself:
  • Is his/her decision going to make the child unhappy? If so, find out the reason and rethink over your decision if the reason is justifiable. Otherwise, the child requires counseling from none other than you or the person closest to the child.
  • Is your decision, just a claim of your authoritativeness? If so, you are somewhere wrong, and the decision deserves a careful thought.
  • Is that particular member ready, physically or mentally, to carry out the work or responsibility, you’ve decided for him/her? If not, again that particular member deserves some counseling.
  • Honest Shares in Home-Economy: For many families, there is a single point of income, such as a common shop, a single earning hand, or some revenue periodically generated from fixed assets like rents and royalties. In such cases, eldest member (or the earner) is usually the one, who takes after the economic power and responsibility to manage home funds, divide the share of each nuclear family (within the joint family) rationally. Most of the times, his inability in doing so, becomes the reason for family-partitions. This inability however, may arise due to various factors, including:
  • Dishonesty of himself (or his own nuclear family) or some other family member
  • Inappropriate distribution of responsibilities and rights for each nuclear family, for expenditure. Share of each nuclear family within the joint family must be decided setting up the balance among the needs (education, clothing, and special preferences), number of dependents, contribution to funds, and the special eventual expenditures. This balance is really pivoted on a very sensitive fulcrum, which should be the result of a healthy exchange of honest thoughts of each responsible person in the joint family.
  • Each Individual’s Equal Recognition: is also very important factor for not allowing any inferiority or superiority complex to creep into anyone’s mind. This particularly must be avoided at the level where, parents start expecting their child to be as bright as child (-ren) of other couple in the same joint family, for instance. This sometimes, gives rise to silent bitter feelings and these feelings may end up causing differences.

  • Difference in Opinions: must be taken care of, by all the responsible members of the joint family in a matured fashion. The healthy brainstorming over the issue in question may give rise to an even healthier environment of living. The other way to conquering this problem is having a heated altercation, which makes conditions bad to worse, ultimately resulting in separations.

Concept of nuclear family is deemed to address all the problems often seen in joint families, but at the cost of all the advantages and relationships, which can be experienced only while being in a joint family. Nuclear family system has its own advantages, which exactly are not advantages but the ways out to the problems in joint family. The core strength of the nuclear family system lies in ‘Fewer the members, lesser the problems.’
The problems commonly found in joint family system are automatically eradicated because there is no one to produce those problems, in case of nuclear families. This solution is achieved but at the cost of an ironic set of factors that do count. This set of factors and the results of those factors include:

  • Loneliness and Depression: On account of the busy urban lives of the family members. Very less frequency of the intra-family interactions even causes depression in housewives, grandparents, and even the children.

  • Sharing Joys and Grieves: There are very less people to enjoy a particular delightful occasion, as well as to provide support at the time of family problems.

  • Development of Children: Is usually more dependant on outsiders’ viz. schools, crèche, and various classes, as parents are not capable of coping up with the educational and recreational demands of the children, along with the burden of their own occupation. In a joint family, the scene may be the different because of a greater number of members.
Sometimes, being a part of nuclear family may also allow parents to think and plan for their children’s future without having to worry about anything except their very own problems, not at all related to anyone else.

In many circumstances, only nuclear families are the ones which get an edge. I however, feel that the separation of joint-families, which are one of the cultural heritages of India, can be avoided if all the issues are tackled with healthy and proper communication among the family members. Most important of all, money must never be allowed to be the cause of all the mess.


Anonymous malji said...

ha, to males of course the joint family is some sort of panacea, they make all the rules, keep the money and attention is centered around them. The Daughter in Law on the other hand, faces imprisonment in her own home, Mother in Law knows everything because she has lived 50 years? How a mother raises a child, spends her time,cooks a dish etc. is dictated by good ol auntie.

Living proof of the joint family NOT working is the fact that India has the highest maternal mortality rate, one of the worlds lowest literacy rates for females, and an extremely high mortality rate for girls under age 10 (another living proof of the continuing selective sex infanticide in India). Progressive countries have moved away from this joint family system and these progressive countries don't have such disparities for women. If the joint family was so great they would promote rights for everyone and HELP everyone in it.

Indian culture may be old, but it is oppressive.If Indian culture is as great as claimed it would definitely not praise widows who jump on their husbands pyre (yes it still happens very frequently)nor would bride burning still claim at least 1600 women per year.

To the male dominated Indian society, the female is an object, to cook clean and bear male children.

I am privileged enough to live on another continent as a Phd student, but this is of no consequence to dear mother in law,going to school and teaching classes keeps me from focusing on my "housework" and "cooking" (which will never be as good as hers)....her poor son is suffering because I make only 5 homemade meals a week instead of 7. I only call to check on how the "family" is doing once a week, which apparently is completely inconsiderate on my part. I'm sure that sitting, sleeping, and bossing around the other poor unfortunate daughter in law living there takes a lot of energy so i should check on her every day.
Two years back i assumed India was advanced in human and womens rights, after all we had: Indira and Sonia Gandhi. Funny, Sub Saharan Africa and Arab countries have more rights for women than India.

Indian males believe they know how these daughter in laws feel, but in reality they fear speaking out against their situation since doing so will create tension and adverse effects against them. In fact since birth they have been instructed to be obedient, first to father then to husband and father and mother in law.
Joint family must be eliminated in India before women can seek any sort of equality in society. This strikes fear in conservatives, and especially males.....but the world has progressed and eventually India will progress more than just giving engineers to the world.

Is this a rant by an annoyed snobby daughter in law....annoyed yes, rant yes...snobby no. I sympathize for the women and girls in India and am committed to helping them. My mother in law is considered progressive by most of those in the community, so the atrocities faced by women in conservative families is completely disheartening.

Here I am India, your threat to everything you consider "sacred culture", look for me in a village near you.

10:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with malji completely. Time has changed.We young women have not led the same life as our mother in-law. So there are bound to be differences in the way we want to run the house.

So far my in-laws have only visited me a few times (I got married 6 months back), but it still drives me crazy. And to top it all--------it's an intercaste marriage of a north and a south indian....and poor me, doesn't understand their language!! (love marriage by the way)

I'll give u some examples... I like to laze around in the house a little, she likes to be running all the time. somehow i manage to get up early and there she is standing with the broom in her hand. Now i am not a fool enough to let her sweep the floor when my hubby and father in-law are watching right???

she likes to keep the stuff differently in the kitchen, she opens the milk packet with her teeth , whereas I chose a better option of using scissors. They like to wacth tamil channels and I have to give up on my star world and zee tv.....

the list can be really long!!!

My point is, why should we not opt for nuclear families? When a girl can leave her whole world behind and come to marry a guy she loves, why is she then supposed to stay with his parents as well??? Did I date his parents for 5 years? Did I get married to his entire family? Why can't we stay seperately?

Does anyone care about my emotions? My dreams of having a home of my own? Why is a girl expected to sacrifice everything whereas the guy gets best of both worlds?? Why can't I have my own space? Why does this country, in the name of culture snatches aways little joys from a girl's life?

How can I wear my shorts if there are two old people in the house? why should I give up on jeans and wrap a dupatta around my body? Why should I not watch my fav channels? Why should I keep trying to copy the perfect dal that his mother makes? When I make it my way? Why should my mother in-law serve my hubby and I sitthere like a fool? why should we not get intimate on the sofa and wait for his parents to sleep before we can even touch eath other?

I agree joint families worked well once upon a time. But that was because of all the little joys that women sacrificed. And now that they are becoming educated and have started carving their own identity, then its hurting the men!!!

Grow up guys.....we are not fools anymore!!!

5:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are both so right!
Indian guys are very selfish.
Any Indian guy wants an educated wife so that she earns money...but asks her to shut her brains off when it is time to take major financial or family decisions. He wants her to be a modern wife at parties where she should enjoy the sight of him boozing till he turns insane....but also be a traditional "Bahu" that obeys his parents unconditionally. He wants to serve his parents to his best but hates it if she gives the slightest attention to her family....
She should be a chaste girl who does not even look at men but he can go round and round after women having affairs after affairs...

He can break all the rules but she must follow every rule by the book..

In short, she should give away all her earnings, cook, clean, smile at all the relatives, attend all booze parties without complaints, keep her feelings bottled up and shut her brains on and off according to his convenience!

We Indian women go through this crap and encourage it!! We are educated fools!

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Pallavi said...

So very true Malji and two of you anonymous sufferers, I fully agree with you. At times I feel the society also needs to change a lot to accept single Indian women who don't want their lives to become a family drama and let a bunch of self-centered maniacs rule her life. Educated Indian women nowadays want desperately to live as singles and adopt children and live a peaceful life. But I don't know why still there are people right from home builders - to whom she goes to buy a herself a heaven - a home, her neighbors, her colleagues, her evil aunts want her to end up in the usual trauma and not let her live her life on her own terms. She is not asking anything from anyone. She just wants a peaceful life!

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure all of you women knew before marriage that you would be living with your in laws or at least knew there would be a heavy influence of them. As "educated indian women", you should've made an educated decsion and not get married into a traditional family (joint or not). For the most part, this was not a suprise to all of you as you know very well the concept of indian joint familes. Perhaps if more women made educated decsions on marriage then expecations would be easier to manage on both sides of the fence. It's unfair to label the DIL as teh victim when she knew what she was getting into. For thsoe who don't want to live the challenging lifestyle of the joint family, opt to get married into a nuclear one. For the DILS who can't stop complaining and self pitying, be part of the solution and not the problem. Adjust into it or leave.

10:15 AM  
Blogger freakyTechie said...

Well said comments on how well have you guys ACTUALLY said are there on the new post on this blog.

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever you guys have said is so true. I have never seen a truly peaceful and loving joint family so far. theres always a cold war happening beneath the surface, each undermining the other. the women folk have to suffer for the menfolk to keep up the pretance sake of everying is well. Joint family has opressed us for too long. Its just become a effective tool for cunning elders to make their childrens and their wifes, to feel incredibly guilty into taking care of them in their old age. What is so wrong with a good old age home? i am definitely going to go for one. Men are also to blame for the major part of the opression . My husband tells me to not take it to my mind when his parents insult me,...and he cant so much as stand my mom contradicting him!! If ever i so much as speak back to his parents, even if its the truth, he will give me a lecture later on , he tells me I should not do like that?? What prompted it in the first place is totally not taken into accout. They wont to stereotype us. We have to cook , clean and if we can support them financially,bam they have hit gold. Whenever i ask his to help around the house , do you know How many times I have listened to him say,ther are so many women in his office , who cook , clean, pack lunches and go back home and do more work ? I seriously doubt my thinking that I am a independant free thinking women very much. We need to do more than follow these age old female opressive joint family structure. Theres is nothing called a open minded husband in India , no matter how modern he is. He cannot let go his ego to a woman.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MALJI SAID IT BEST!!!!!! I wish I was born a guy. Its not fair how they do get the best of both worlds. I mean, they really have nothing to worry about when it comes to marriage. They get to stay in the house they grew up in, get to continue eating their moms food, get to stay with their ma and papa, AND they get to bring home a woman to bang. Men are more emotionally stronger than women, so why isn't it the opposite? grrr

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Malji.

I pity you that the male members of your family are such immoral characters and louts. My father sacrificed his whole career for me and my mother and never complained.

My uncles and aunts have been living in the United States since the '50s and now when they are old, they have nobody to care for them as their daughters-in-law and sons have become as selfish as you are.

They will in all likelihood end up in some old age home, exploited by all and sundry, eagerly waiting to die with their children not giving a damn.

And I think a similar fate awaits you.

It takes effort from both sides to make a relationship work. If you don't know how to make your relationship work or if your family has got selfish and irresponsible people, you have no right to criticize others and their families.

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit that going through the post first and then the comments, i was pretty confused about what side i should choose. Personally, i believe that the joint family system is NOW better than what it was say 10 yrs ago. Mother and father-in-laws are much more open minded and cool these days than they were at that time. Plus, always remember that even you all are going to be in laws someday. Expecting is very easy, delivering is not. The benefits of a joint family system clearly outweigh the cons. No doubt the number of joint families is increasing these days.

1:22 PM  

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