Are Traditional Indian Family Values Really That Regressive?

Posted by Shashwat in Society
November 19, 2017

A fairly popular advertisement doing rounds every few minutes on the T.V. these days is that of a home loan from a leading private sector bank. It shows a mother-son duo driving around in a car and shopping for a wedding. The son who is about to get hitched is asked by the mother to look for a new home as the daughter in law coming in is bound to create friction in the household, leaving him in a dilemma of choosing sides between the two ladies. With an epiphany, the bank swoops in and announces first 12 EMIs off on a new home loan. The son is all smiles now and agrees with the proposition at once. Finally, the bank takes credit for saving the day saying, “Ghar ki khushi bani rahe (Let happiness prevail at home.)”

There is an implied assumption here that the two ladies can in no way get along well with each other even before they have actually given living together a shot. Splitting beforehand as a solution for happiness at home sounds rather pessimistic than proactive. This solution to avoid conflict is akin to cutting your leg off to lose weight. I assume if you want to lose weight then you would first try to do so by dieting and working out rather than take drastic measures such as severing your limb and calling it proactive. Then why can’t people at least try to work things out and clear their differences if any instead of presuming a conflict of interest?

The 40-second ad left me wondering about two things – The state of the elderly after the family goes nuclear and why this perception exists that people can’t get along well together even before actually trying to live together.

Traditionally Indian’s have lived in a joint family with their parents where the parents were respected for the wisdom that came with their old age. The parents too reciprocated this by guiding and supporting the younger generation with affection. However Indian society has gone through rapid urbanisation and with it came a rapid change in the family set up, from the joint family systems, the families went nuclear. With the children gone, the elderly are left lonely and fending for themselves. This was not a problem in the joint family set up.

According to a study conducted by HelpAge India in 2014, over 50% elderly surveyed have reported abuse. Many suffer violence, neglect and isolation on a daily basis at the hands of their children. According to census 2011, almost 15 million elderly Indians live all alone and close to three-fourths of them are women. “What is surprising is that the youth of today is aware of the problem, but yet seem unwilling to act. Take the case of Delhi where 85% of the youth admit elderly abuse exists yet 92% say that they won’t act to prevent it,” says Manjira Khurana, Country Head, Advocacy and Communications, HelpAge India.

Abuse of the elderly is not limited to any particular strata of society and is equally common among the rich as well as the poor. Recently retired tycoon Vijaypat Singhania was in the news for being entangled in a legal battle with his son for a roof over his head. Mr Singhania who built Raymond into one of the best-known apparel brands was one of the richest men in the country gave away his shares in Raymond worth more than ₹1,000 crore to his son Gautam Singhania.

Mr Singhania now has a word of advice other parents – “Love your children and care for them, but don’t love them so much that you are blinded,” he says.

Much can be learnt from this counsel of his. The elderly must learn how to adapt to the changing times and learn to cope with the challenges of modern lifestyle. Instead of splurging their life’s saving on their kid’s marriage and blindly handing over all their wealth to the children, they must learn to invest in themselves, take care of their health and save for their retirement.

In our quest to blindly ape the west for economic development we have moved from a joint family to nuclear family set up and are cruising towards the no family concept. The elderly are put in the retirement homes and the children in daycare. So at the two crucial stages in life when human beings are most vulnerable and require utmost care and affection they are being considered as a deadweight, something that curbs the independence of the younger generation.

If we keep following the same trajectory, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that soon there may be advertisements of 0% EMI ‘send your parent to a nursing home’ loan.

India is a young country now with more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. However this will not always be the case, those who are young today would someday definitely get old and thus need to plan for their retirement lest they too end up in some dingy nursing homes all alone.

For the second issue of people having this preconceived notion that they won’t get along well with other, I will use another example from the TV to get my point across to you.

The Indian Hindi entertainment genre is overrun by two types of shows – the eternal family feud soap operas and the reality shows. The first category, i.e. the daily soap opera has always been very popular among the ladies. The basic premise of these shows is always the same – a joint family whose members broken into factions harbour immense dislike for each other, to the extent that they are ready to kidnap, poison, murder each other usually for money, property or revenge of some sorts.

Who knows maybe it was these saas-bahu shows that led the mother in the home loan ad to have this perception that joint families are becoming toxic and she should rather split than take the chances of being poisoned by her daughter in law over some argument.

Moving on to reality shows from soap operas is like jumping from frying pan to fire. This jump, however, is somewhat necessary given their immense popularity amongst the youth and with India’s demographic dividend what affects the youth affects the future of the country. Therefore do watch at least one episode of the popular ones like Roadies, Splitsvilla, Bigg Boss etc. for educational rather than recreational purposes.

The contestants in these shows usually compete for some prize, but that is only secondary. The primary focus is on the backbiting among the contestants who are well versed in expletives. An occasional physical scuffle is known to boost the TRPs. A contestant’s misbehaviour is directly proportional to their popularity and once popular these masters of misconduct provide their reliable services on other shows as well.

One such popular and currently running show is Bigg Boss. How they spell big with a double ‘g’ might lead you to believe that the makers are spelling impaired, but who cares when they have successfully rolled out 11 seasons in 11 years.

The day I saw two guys get into a heated argument over their favourite contestants, I knew that reality TV had sunk its teeth sunk deep into the youth segment.

The show is about a bunch of strangers cut off from the world, living together under the watchful eyes of ‘bigg boss’. The housemates start conniving and fighting right from the word go. Bigg Boss is based on the Dutch TV series Big brother, which in turn is based on a character from George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984.

Perhaps the son in the home loan ad agreed to his mother’s proposition at once because he didn’t want to turn his house into the dystopian house of bigg boss. In all probability, his judgment of how strangers living in a house behave with each other may have been clouded by reality TV.

You might shrug this off as an exaggeration and say that nobody gets that affected by TV, but when physical and verbal violence is all that you see on TV you start to believe that violence is the apt way to settle disputes. This is not just limited to the entertainment genre, try switching over to the news channels where debates are resolved not on the basis of facts but by lung power.

Television and movies play a very instrumental role in setting the social norms. You probably don’t even notice how they determine the way you talk, dress, eat and even how you feel about yourself.

Use violence as the first rather than the last resort is what TV seems to be teaching us today. On the contrary, values taught at home and school dictated that civil discussions and hearing each other out best settle differences.

Talking about traditions and values can get one labelled as regressive, but I am willing to take on that risk to make my case. I urge you not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Everything traditional is not necessarily regressive. Don’t be too quick to dismiss them without judiciously analysing their pros and cons.

I am not asking you to be a saint and offer your other cheek when slapped upon one but don’t slap someone on your first meeting saying you acted proactively like your favourite reality TV contestant because you had anticipated your future animosity with that person.

When it comes to families, there is no one size fits all solution. Not everyone gets along with their families, or they may have a hundred other genuine reasons to split. However, if a few basis points knocked off a home loan is all that it takes to part ways I don’t know if it was even a family to begin with or just a coalition of convenience.

All I ask you is not to get unnecessarily influenced by the pop culture and give traditional values of family, community and amicability a shot.

Taking the word ‘social’ out of Aristotle’s description of a man, wipes out the line that separates apart man from a beast. Squabbling might be a successful formula for boosting TRPs but emulating it in your life will certainly not boost your life’s happiness.