Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Indian family system must change

It seems to me that not enough blame is given to India’s traditional patriarchal family system for our economic condition and disempowerment of women.

This point was driven home to me by a trip to China. I am told that a typical family in contemporary China is nuclear, consisting of a married couple and one child. The Chinese government imposes financial disincentives for having more than one child. Women in China almost always work. The concept of “housewife” has no currency in China. So in this typical family you have 2 persons earning incomes and 3 mouths to feed. Contrast this with the traditional Indian family where you’d have anywhere between 4 to 8+ mouths to feed with 1 to 2+ persons earning incomes. The China and India ratios of earning person: dependent person probably account for much of our economic disparities as developing nations. (This comparison is slightly unfair in that I am including the grandparents in the traditional Indian family whereas in the China case these older couples would be living by themselves. Even so, they’d have 2 pensions instead of 1)

There are two glaring reasons for this contrast. One, Indians produce more offspring than the Chinese. Two, the women in a traditional Indian family do not earn, or at least do not earn nearly as much as the males (this may not be true for many rural areas). This economic disadvantage, aside from many cultural factors, is, in my view, the biggest reason for gender inequality in India.

Now we come to the detrimental role of our family system in abetting the disempowerment of women. The first and perhaps lesser significant contribution is to the abovementioned economic disadvantage of women. A large patriarchal family has large household operations (food, housekeeping, looking after the aged and children, etc.), and women are seen, not unjustifiably, as better suited to fulfill this role. In the general case, it is simply not possible, even with hired help, for the household to function smoothly if both the husband and wife both work full time.

The second and more harmful effect of this family system is that because a wife marries into the home of her husband, a girl child is seen as inherently less desirable than a male child. A girl child becomes a financial liability for her parents until the time she is married, whereas parents can expect economic support from a male child. Any earnings of a woman after marriage contribute toward her new home. Also, since people generally prefer to live with a large, supportive family in their old age, they’d want a male child over a female child to facilitate this possibility. Partly for such reasons, family continuity through a male child culturally becomes a very significant incentive for having a male child, further fueling the process.

Tradition tries to compensate for this by stressing on powerful imagery, symbolism and drawing on mythology. The female is supposed to be the Lakshmi of the house, the one that brings wealth and good luck to her parents as well as her husband and his home after marriage. The joy, nobility, and karmic benefit of kanyadaan (daughter-giving) is stressed upon. The disempowerment is compensated for by venerated images of female as Shakti, the source and acme of strength.

As powerful as these cultural images may be, in the end the economics and more practical reasons win out. Which is why the girl child is generally less desired in our country, and I don’t think this will change unless our family system changes. Thankfully, this is slowly happening.

On the other hand, I live in a traditional family system and, for many reasons, not the least being my privileged economic situation, enjoy it more than if I were living in a nuclear family. There are many benefits (especially to the old) of a joint family system over a nuclear one. It would be interesting if we could evolve a system that adds the pluses of both systems and avoids the minuses. Some other day...

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

can u ever be positive about india.. and see beyond the reasons of failure and write about how to come over it.... its good to compare... but do u really want to follow the china method.. its a violation of our rights.. are u happy giving up that..?? for every good rule there is a downside the question is are u willing to change for it.

4:30 PM

 
Blogger Misanthrope said...

Apologies for the negativity, but that is, as is obvious by the name, the theme of this blog. I did end this article hinting at how this failure can be overcome - switching to the nuclear family system. That's the best I can come up with for now.

About China, I agree with your democratic spirit. Yes, forcing anyone to have fewer children is a violation of his/her rights. However, financial incentives/disincentives, within limits, are fine by me. The underlying philosophy here is that by having more children, you are burdening the system and proving to be a higher cost to the country's infrastructure etc. Thus you should be penalized.

3:35 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

om

i don't really understand your claim that you should be penalized if you have more children... if you are burdening the society, won't you naturally be penalized? but if you can afford to have 60 children, why shouldn't you? in fact, some might think that is the very purpose of life... to ensure your lineage is the most dominant...

isn't this idea that you should be penalized a manifestation of the falsity of communism... the constructed system is forced to do the dirty work that nature takes care of...

11:05 AM

 
Blogger Misanthrope said...

what do u mean by "naturally be penalized"? give an example... if u can afford to have 60 children, then i'm guessing u can afford the financial penalties too. no problem there. in fact, theoretically speaking, it would be ideal if the poor produced few children and the rich produced more, since the rich can take better care of them.

to those who say that the very purpose of life is dominant lineage, i'd say i don't much care for their thoughts... that's just not what society can be, should be, and is based on.

why do ppl with more kids burden the system? i think there is a good discussion.... i was talking only about india, by the way. india does not have the educational or employment infratructure to handle the population. plus there is the issue of top-heavy taxation, where the rich pay disproportionately more tax and some of it goes toward the upkeep of the burgeoning population of the poor.

2:51 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

om

i understand that the rich can afford penalty... i just don't see why it is needed... why is it there? the people who take care of their children should not be penalized... that's just stupid...

and the people who can't afford to take of their children are "naturally penalized"... they can't eat...

if that sounds sick... isn't that what china is proposing anyhow? except that it's systematic... instead of natural...

why should i prefer the system?

stopping the poor from having children doesn't happen through financial incentives/penalties... they're poor, so the penalties don't work... and they're often poor because they don't have the foresight to plan accordingly...

a great anecdote is the story of the implementation of the rhythm system in rural india... when the man wanted to have sex, he shoved all the counting beads to the side... and had his way with his woman...

12:08 AM

 
Anonymous generic cialis 20mg said...

Hello, I do not agree with the previous commentator - not so simple

9:30 PM

 

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