How Children Can Suffer Abuse In The Name Of ‘Family’ And ‘Tradition’

Posted on June 20, 2016 in Society

By Prerna Manian:

“Conservative Indian family”, “traditional Indian parents”, these terms are often thrown around in justifying acts of suppression practised by the institution of family in India. Giving it a name concretises a system which helps in perpetuating oppressions of different kinds, be they related to a child’s education, marriage or any decision they make in their lives. Family is the most important institution in India, and it is thus a major root cause of many problems. Suicide cases for not getting enough marks, not getting the right job, being pressured into marriages – these burgeoning problems often find their roots in a troubling familial atmosphere.

Family as a system lays down ground rules for the development of a human being, and in South East Asian countries, family is the be all and end all of the chart of an individual’s life. You are born to construct a new family, which works according to the rules of the family it is a part of, and you grow up to make a family of your own. It is the institution that gives birth to you and marks out your life. Anyone who tries to deviate is ousted from the conventional system and is labelled a rebel, a deviant, a threat to the status quo of the society. This is because the social system of India is collectivistic or, at least, is the dominant mode of social transactions. Geert Hofstede, a researcher in this area of sociology states:

India…is a society with both collectivistic and individualistic traits. The collectivist side means that there is a high preference for belonging to a larger social framework in which individuals are expected to act in accordance to the greater good of one’s defined in-group(s). In such situations, the actions of the individual are influenced by various concepts such as the opinion of one’s family, extended family, neighbours, work group and other such wider social networks that one has some affiliation toward. For a collectivist, to be rejected by one’s peers or to be thought lowly of by one’s extended and immediate in-groups, leaves him or her rudderless and with a sense of intense emptiness.

Continuing with this Hofstede also says that the individualistic side to India is religious and highly masculine in nature, and thus it also works to contribute to the collectivistic nature of the country. Every individual act is by and for the family in insidious ways and is biassed towards male-identifying (cis-male) people of the nation. This makes female-identifying persons of the country inferior no matter how many empowerment strategies are employed; the status quo works in ways to bring back the woman to the hearth. Family, thus as an institution not only lays out rules for an individual but also entrenches them in distinct gender roles. This religious side of the worldview also accords family the status of utmost perfection, giving it a divine position and thus making it difficult to stand against it.

This masculinist notion of family and its power over an individual are necessary to understand how emotional and physical abuse is normalised in this institution which is considered ‘sacred’. Often cases filed by children against their parents for physical or any kind of abuse are neglected and are not deemed important as it is seen to be implausible to have parents abuse their own. The father of the family, going by the masculinist notion of superiority, is often seen as the ill-tempered, disciplinarian who has to be acquiesced to. Paintal and Pandey in their research about parenting styles say that the mother is seen as less punitive as compared to the father, and this makes abuse a given in the structure of the family, with no room for exits. This becomes even more problematic when cases of mothers abusing their own children come up, as it is not an act recognisable by law. Domestic violence laws are not gender neutral, and cases filed by women against their mothers are adjourned as inadmissible.

The possibility of having abusive parents, regardless of which gender they belong to has to be accepted for it to have a law of its own. Most children are told to ‘compromise’ and understand the position of their family in the society for their issues and thus often reach no solution, but only give rise to more issues in the individual’s life. The status of divinity accorded to the parents often creates a socio-religious matrix to go against their injustices. If an act favouring the parents and securing their future in the hands of children can exist (Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007), it is highly important to understand the possibility of a flip-side to this dynamic, and make provisions for the same.

Featured image credit: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images.

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