WHILE talking about our family we always talk about its size, shape, unity and samskar. We come to the conclusion that the old joint families were better than the nuclear one’s of today’s. It’s a fact that India has been known for her joint family system. Its specialty was not only the size but also the mutuality of care, discipline and security. Each and every person was living for each other, not for the self. At present we find different types of families.
A few years ago in Kolkata, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in a remarkable family. When I was served the meal by four daughters, two daughter-in-laws and some other members, I was constrained to ask how many people lived together. And was pleasantly surprised to know that 119 people lived together under one roof and ate out of the common kitchen. Everyday they had about 10-20 visitors also. In contrast was another family in Patna. Only one parantha had been cooked for lunch. The husband was away at office. I had to be content with sharing the wife’s parantha. Yet another family whom I knew in my childhood comes to mind. There were two brothers, who were deeply attached to each other. One brother looked after the family farm, while the other looked after market and court matters in town. People used to try and turn the elder brother against the younger one by saying things like, “You work so hard. He goes to town and has fun. Why don’t you divide the property and let him do his own work?” The farmer used to reply, “The time for dividing the land has not come yet.” Then one day the younger brother was returning from town. He had two ‘sweets’ in his pocket. When he reached, two children rushed to greet him. One laddoo was larger than the other. The larger laddoo was in the hand towards his nephew and the smaller one in the hand towards his son. The younger brother quickly crossed his hands, gave the larger laddoo to his own son. The elder brother was quietly watching the whole scene. He stood up and said, “Now the time has come to divide our land and kitchen also.” And this is how a joint family was split up. Only on the ground of discrimination.
The family is not merely a concept. It is a first school for children, which produces not only the bread earners but human beings also. In order to build, preserve and nurture a family one needs to use the heart more than the head. In Indian philosophy, the family, not the individual, is the primary unit of society. The family protects the rights and duties of individual. From the family we get love, respect, protection… and a whole gamut of benefits. Three-four generations make up a family. And the family is recognised by the overall achievements and special qualities of its individual members. In the Indian way of life this is the prime example of an interdependent relationship. The foundation of a strong family rests on a happy marriage. Marriage is not a union of two individuals, it is bond between two families.
Indian thought teaches the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. This means the entire world is one large family. The good of all has been the overriding concept of Indian philosophy.
Today, things are changing, large and joint families are almost a thing of the past. The family is being subjected to manifold pressures. Beliefs are undergoing changes. We are being deprived of true happiness because of the modern way of life, which prescribes selfishness as its prime motive. Disrespect towards elders, neglect of children, distrust between husband and wife are the new trends gaining ground in our societies. That is why we require Family Counselling Centres, Free Legal Aid Cells, Family Courts and Women’s Commissions. In spite of the activities of all these organisations, frequent family break-ups have become a challenge for society today. Woman, the pivot of society, has been given some rights in laws, but in spite of her responsibilities, she does not receive true respect and dignity even in her own home. We need old age homes for our elders and crèches for our children because of the break-down of the extended family. Deprived of the love and respect of their older and younger generations, the middle generation is becoming insecure.
Now there is time we have to become alert. We have to be sensitive to the difficulties and troubles of the old in our neighbourhood, to the insults that are given to an old lady, to the neglect suffered by little children of working parents, to the new brides who are tortured or killed for dowry. We also have to make sure that laws enacted for the protection of women are not misused by unscrupulous persons. And first of all, we have to save ourselves from the tendency to weigh everything on a materialistic scale. It is impossible to quantify the love and sacrifice that goes into building a family. Can you put a price on mother’s milk? No. Interventions of elders in families and societies are more useful in saving the families.
Bringing up the children and serving the elders are the most priceless gifts of life. These gifts are renewed when we are loved by our parents and cherished by our children. These gifts keep the family, community and world alive. Everyone needs a safe haven of peace and happiness. Family provides them.
Nation is also known through the families it contains. The idea of oneness and living for each other, respect and pride for a nation nurtured in the families only. It is the family where all the qualities of human being are taught and preserved.
Let us come forward to save the families. The nuclear one’s also. It breeds confidence, mutual respect and interdependence. Let us create ‘home sweet home’ to build new India. By saving the families only we can serve the nation, which is the need of the time hour.
(The writer is former Chairperson of Central Social Welfare Board)