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New roles and old responsibilities

Is the Great Indian Family an endangered species as India goes on an economic overdrive?

india Updated: May 05, 2006 11:55 IST

The Great Indian Family: New Roles, Old Responsibilites
by Gitanjali Prasad
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Price: Rs 295.00
Pages: 335
ISBN: 0-14-306182-8

This pioneering book offers a stimulating perspective on how new imperatives have affected roles and responsibilities within the middle-class Indian family. Gitanjali Prasad draws upon mythology, history, autobiographies and social science research to support impressions garnered from in-depth interviews, and comparisons with the situation in the West provide a scenario of the work—life balance of the family of the future.

 
 Cover of The Great Indian Family

Here is an excerpt:

How Good Were the 'Good Old Days'?

Its tempting to believe that there was once a golden age of the family and that the fissures, the break ups, the many complications that the contemporary family has to face are a recent development. This is, of course, only partly true. Marriages are more fragile today than they were a decade ago, and child care and elder care are perhaps more problematic than they have ever been. But if you think of families of the past, there are many instances of half-brothers and sisters, or siblings who share only one common parent. Generally, it was the man who re-married after having lost a wife in childbirth. Less commonly, a widow re-married after her husband died in battle. Amongst some communities in north India, it is customary for the widow to marry her husband's younger brother. This happened not just in rural homes, but also in urban middle-class homes. In her autobiography On Balance, Justice Leela Seth reveals that her husband, Premo, actually ran away from home because he was asked to marry his elder brother's widow (Seth, 2003). Indeed, till as late as 1956 it was perfectly legal for a Hindu man to have than one wife.

So, as far as women are concerned, there were no 'good old days'. The fact that a marriage endured did not in any way indicate that it was a good or a happy marriage. Many women stayed in marriages because they could not survive on their own and they simply had nowhere to go. And this is why the moment women were offered options they chose to opt out of a situation where they were financially dependent on the men in their livers. Also, the moment the idea that a marriage was less than permanent became widespread, women became even less inclined to plan their lives taking their marriages for granted, making the institution even more fragile.