I am just a bit embarrassed by this theme! Why?
Just before I typed this page, I saw a new book with the title:”Family values”. By whom? By one Jain muni and Dr.Abdul Kalam!
They don’t both have familes! Then, how they can talk genuinely?
So too our other greats: Mahatama Gandhi, Nehru and Dr.S.Radhakrishnan. Though they had families, their experiences didn’t impel them to talk of family values? I often wonder!
I attach much value to those who practice what they preach! Unless we have such strict criteria, we, Indians would only fall back on our own backwardness, we preach or we pretend!
So, I am a bit embarrassed and yet felt bold to say what I wanted to say on this highly sensitive issue. How the Indian society looks at these critical issues? Who speaks for family values? What are family values like in India now? There is a news item in the pages of this journal. It is about the decline of the family (values) in Britain.
Most Indians might not have even noticed that nowadays even in Britain they, the British government, the British media and the public discourse there, dont write their country or describe their country as Great Britain! There is no more Great Britain! It is now just Britain. No more United Kingdom. Just Britain and the people Britons or more colloquial, Brits!
Yes, there is a great deal of decline in Britain today. There is first the decline of the country in the international arena. The empire gone, the Queen is just a shadow and the colonies are now more concerned about their future, the “white” colonies are now very, very different from the “coloured” colonies like India.
How many in India know that the Commonwealth no more matters. It is almost as good as dead. Only an Indian official serves as its secretary and draws a fat salary. One doesn’t know who pays for that! May be the Brits make it looks like a high ceremonial office and make us, Indians, pay for that too!
Now, the point I am driving at here is the fate of the traditional family system in England. There are now so many unprecedented breakdowns of the traditional family values and the family structure. There are now more children born outside the marriage, about 46 per cent of the new born children, are born outside wedlock.
More divorces, more single parent families, and more children living in the families that is below the poverty line, more homelessness and more workers, more number of different definitions of the middle classes. There is that enduring British institution, the class system.
Britain is one of the more rigid and peculiarly self-conscious class societies.
They would find out or try to find out immediately to which class status you belong to, even if you are from India!
When I wanted to apply to Oxford for admission, my India-based(then)British friend, a British Jewish friend told me that I should write my social background as from the gentry class! Yes, not as from a village or as a farming family, but as gentry class!
I don’t know I got the much-sought after admission for that description of my social background but it might have also contributed. It took me considerable time and efforts to understand the intricate class structure that operated at that point of time and I learnt a great deal through my time there.
At each stage you confront the class question, my British white men servants, we called them as scouts, in my Oxford college behaved in due regard to my status as an Oxonian. They knew instinctively that because I went up to Oxford, more so as the gentleman commoner, I paid for my education that was additional point to be noticed. They noticed! So, the conversations between myself and my scouts, as also with others in the Oxford town, with shop assistant girls or maids or some room makers in the hotels and even my “landladies” the very socially under ranked women who kept homes and rent out to the students in the holidays, were all from the very ordinary social background.
How to converse with them? How to move with them? The dos and the don’ts were too many to learn there! So too socially when you get into touch and also cultivate friendships with the girls from the European continent, from Germany Austria, Sweden and Norway. They are called aupair girls; they stayed with families and attended to the children here for free stay. Sonia Gandhi was one such!
When I got into higher social classes I also learnt lot more etiquette and manners in keeping with such families. I was fortunate to get into such high society families too. Sir Treharn and Lady Rowena, Mrs and Mr.Dickensons and Lady McDonald of Sleat who first introduced me to these two ancient families were also a remarkable high society lady. Now, all these introductions lead me to the question I wanted to ask for a long time but hesitated to ask in India!
There is a breakdown of families and family values everywhere. More so in the West, more in England and France. Marriage as an institution, as a sacred institution even in the traditional societies likes England and France and where the church, Anglican in UK, Catholic in France, are string and yet there is a rapid decline in the family and marriage values. There are more co-habitation, more divorces and more single parent families!
What about India? Who still speaks for family values and marriage as a sacred institution?
Just now I am going through the pages of famed Indian sociologist, my dear and much respected acquaintance and friend M.N.Srinvas’ book, “Social Change in Modern India (1962).
What do I get there, in those very learned pages?
Yes, there is much to learn: Sanskritisation, Westernisation, Caste mobility, Secularisation and studying one’s own society. Much of what Srinivas says is true but much of the empirical evidence he cites are out of date. Today, the processes are more accelerated.
India in 2009 is more westernised, more globalised, every other middle class or even lower classes have seen their sons and daughters are settled in the West, mostly in the USA and UK and Australia and elsewhere. Indian society is more globalised, more westernised or rather Yankeeised! More secularised, more Sanskritised as well.
There are almost very many Western culture symbols or even cultural experiences within every household, irrespective of the social classes they belong to. Yet, there is what Srinivas says about the Hindu society’s structure, basic structure, the beliefs, customs and rituals and routines, the samskara etc.
What about family values? About marriage and the sanctity we attach to family values and marriage as an institution?
While Srinivas has much to say about the orthodoxy or orthodox ways of the Indian and Hindu families, there are certain questions he didn’t bother to ask.
Why I say this?
I don’t know for sure. This is the right stand I should take on such highly complex issue like family and marriage. But some of my hunches are these ways…
Our own great leaders, from Gandhi, Nehru and others like Dr.S.Radhakrishnan, to cite only the well-known names and others like the Mutt heads and others, the question of secular lives, marriage and family values didn’t exactly fit into these particular individual lives or life styles and for the mutt heads they don’t have to worry as they have no families to lead and as such marriage as an institution was not discussed in any elaborate ways.
Am I right in assuming so? As for the secular Indians, secular Hindus, if you like, we as a nation, as a society, have never been so explicit to expound the ideals and precepts for others to follow! Today, in the present circumstances, we have to evaluate and expound afresh, in my view, how family values still matter a great deal. Though we are Westernised, secularised and modernised in our life styles, we as a Hindu nation and society rate family life as sacred and great. We value marriage as a sacred institution.
This needs to be expounded in more detail and by more worthy personages and institutions. So that the Indian society, the Hindu society doesn’t fall for the many distortions and vulgarities and we don’t to learn to desecrate our traditional values and beliefs and belief systems.