Changing perspectives towards joint family system in India

Elders resist being treated as “glorified servants”

| by N.S.Venkataraman

( February 22, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) When I was studying pre university course in St. Joseph’s College, Tiruchi, my English teacher was Prof. Thomas Srinivasan, who was also member of Rajya Sabha for a term.. In one of his lectures , he observed, “joint family system is the glory and ruin of India”.
As a student, I did not understand the significance of his observation but somehow the statement has been remaining fresh in my mind for over fifty years. Certainly, for around fifty years, I have been repeatedly wondering about the observation of the learned Professor and even now I am not very clear in my mind as to whether the joint family system is a glory of India or its ruin.
However, I am sure that this concept is unique to Indian way of life and thinking.
Traditionally, joint family system cover three generations with grand father and grand children living under the same roof and sharing their pleasure and sorrow together, with the wisdom of the elderly persons being gainfully passed on to the younger generations. However, it has always not been a smooth affair with bickerings between the cousins, nieces and in laws not being uncommon but all of them were still compelled to live together as an economic and social entity. The system, still by and large ran smoothly with the eldest of the family member often exercising his authority and enforcing sort of discipline amongst the family members. Even today, when such joint family way of life has largely become a thing of the past, there seem to be many advocates who think that the cost benefit analysis would ultimately favour the joint family system.
One reason why the joint family system has gone extinct may be due to the educational opportunities opening for women , who increasingly assert themselves and want to be part of an independent family and not being under the control of elder generation and in the process becoming a non entity in the huge family crowd.. This need not mean that educated women lack regard for elders but on the other hand , it can be viewed as a positive trend of independent thinking and desire to experiment with their own ideas and objectives in life.
The time seems to be taking a full cycle now with the modern day of life compelling both husband and wife to take up jobs and making particularly the working women to think that there could be positive aspects about the joint family system. With both husband and wife now taking up jobs in many families both in the lower and middle income group, attending to the children and bringing them up in a healthy way has become a challenge. The working couple think that the presence of the elderly family members would be of great help to them in meeting their requirement of keeping the job and bringing up the family.
While the younger people seem to be veering favourably to the idea of having the elders with them in the family due to job compulsions, what is curious is that many elderly people also want independence and desire to live at safe and respectable distance from their children. If the sons and daughters think that the parents should live with them and look after their children , the elders seem to think that the grand parents should not be reduced to the level of glorified servants.
Now, this is the case of conflict of interests between the young and the old , brought about by changes in the socio economic developments.
This is reflected by the fact that there are increasing number of old age homes springing up which cater to the need of the affordable elderly people, who want to live independently and safely in their ripe age.
In the earlier days, such old age homes were largely set up to meet the needs of the poor people and largely as charitable organizations. It is no more so.
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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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