As India begins accepting if not celebrating individualism and hurtles towards becoming a country with a large number of single-person households, some big questions need to be asked: Does the nation have the social infrastructure to support a single lifestyle?
"There is no state support or provisions for single people in India so choosing to live alone isn’t a safe idea in the long run. Social security becomes an issue for these autonomous people," says sociologist Dipankar Gupta who believes the family structure works as a major support system in our society. Historically, in times of stress and insecurity the great Indian family has been able to cushion its members from the worst blows by sharing its resources. This would become much rarer in a society where bonds of kinship are eroded, where the individual takes precedence over the group.
"Living without that support makes it difficult for individuals to survive independently on a long-standing basis," he says. Not so in the developed economies of the West which have a highly developed healthcare system, social security and effective policing —all of which are conducive to a flourishing singles lifestyle. India lags behind on all these fronts. According to Gupta, choosing to live by oneself isn’t yet financially viable either.
"People who choose to live alone these days generally hail from affluent backgrounds as they have financial backup and can maintain their single status without dependence on the family unit," he says adding that the lack of family obligations and a reduced participation in social activities could also lead to social isolation among singles. Considering the optimism evinced by most successful single Indian women who were approached by this paper and the reticence displayed by many single males who refused to comment, it would seem that there’s also a shift in how the two sexes view the same state. While the men seem to view their singledom as a social failure, the women are largely proud. This ambivalence could later manifest as depression and other mental health issues among men who perhaps experience social isolation more keenly.
The biggest problems, however, could grow out of the absence of provisions tailored to singles. "The state has no provisions for single person households in terms of old age homes and security requirements, so choosing to be single isn't a safe idea in the long run," says Gupta.
As a nation, we are as yet unprepared for the long term issues that people who live by themselves would have to deal with especially as they age and in times of financial insecurity. Definitely food for thought for policy makers.