As India begins accepting, if not celebrating, individualism, some big questions need to be asked: Does the nation have the social infrastructure to support a single lifestyle?
“There is no state support, no 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 large joint family in India has cushioned its members from the worst blows by sharing resources. Such cushions would become much rarer in a society, where bonds of kinship are eroded and the individual takes precedence over the group.
“In India, the lack of that support would make it difficult for individuals to support themselves in later years,” says Gupta. Not so in the developed economies of the West, which have highly developed healthcare, social security and effective policing. India lags 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 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 of most successful single Indian women approached by this paper, and the reticence displayed by many single men, most of whom refused to comment, it would seem that there has also been a shift in how the two sexes view the same state of singlehood.
While the men seem to view their singledom as social failure, the women are largely proud of it. 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 for singles. “The state has no provisions for single-person households in old age homes or in security requirements, so choosing to be single isn’t a safe idea in the long run,” says Gupta.
As a nation, we are still 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.