Ties that bind

Journalist Gitanjali Prasad, author of The Great Indian Family: New Roles, Old Responsibilities— who has done a thesis on contemporary families at Wolfson College, Cambridge – talks to Rishi Majumder on families she’s written off and ones she hasn’t discussed.

Gitanjali Prasad


Does the joint family stand a chance in these times?
It will definitely endure in India. However, its character has
changed. Earlier, the older generation laid down the law of the household, while today an individual’s opinion is accepted.

How has the working woman impacted the joint family?
Well, she’s become economically independent. She can marry only if and when she feels it’ll benefit her. Her entry into the workplace also means there should be a ‘free’ person to look after personal needs. In the US, one-third of the women in senior positions in the top 500 companies have house-husbands. Also, the concept of ‘home’ or ‘family’ changes because there’s nobody there.

Where do Indian husbands and fathers chip in?
As per my survey, Indian men have been very supportive and extremely connected and caring fathers. More so than their western counterparts.

You’ve spoken about work taking over family time in your book…
Middle class India is very achievement oriented; there’s no dignity of labour. So, from infancy, an entire generation is taught to vie for the ‘prize job’. This drive takes its toll on family commitments. But, quite soon, Indians will have to look at what’s really important to them. There are signs of that happening already.

What replaces the relationships one would otherwise form with joint family members?
Friends could, but what I really see is technology. One finds a lot more children playing games on the computer or searching the internet, as opposed to going out and playing with friends. True, cyberspace does create scope for a lot more interaction, but physical presence and touch is an essential aspect of any relationship.

How do you think the children of single parents get affected?
Research shows that the cause of the parent being single makes the difference. Being a war hero’s widow is different from being separated after a lengthy divorce. But, all this aside, it’s perfectly possible for any single parent to bring up a healthy, well-adjusted child.

And what about adopted children?
They do want to know their biological parents, especially when they enter adolescence. This is difficult to deal with especially because adolescence is anyhow a turbulent period for all. However, the sense of bonding with the parents who brought them up supercedes the attachment they feel towards their biological parents.

You haven’t spoken about a same-sex family or the possibility in your book…
That’s because same-sex families don’t make up one per cent of families even in the UK. See, if two people are committed to the idea of parenthood, the child should grow up well-adjusted. The child might feel the absence of a parent from the other sex, which is common. But our society has stronger biases than the west, and if people start talking about the sexual factor in such a family, the child might be affected adversely.

This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/8xdo

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