A Social Study of the Benefits of the Joint Family
last updated 21st November 2010
More on Joint Family HERE
Family & Community
One of the recent cartoons on Boloji by our very own cartoonist Ashok Dongre was a tragic satire on the hard and cold realities of today . The cartoon was followed by a question that Ashok raised on Boloji's cafe relating to the problem of ill affordability of owning a place in the cities today. This problem is very real for many living in Indian cities where the price of owning a house as well as rental apartments and flats are sky rocketing. Even when in a family the husband and wife both are working and earning, acquiring a house of one's own remains a distant and an almost impossible dream.
So what is the solution to this growing problem ? I believe that 'Joint Family System' could well be the answer.
Here are some of my thoughts on why, despite the fact that in this age nuclear family is the order of the day, a 'joint family system' needs to be revisited and revived and most importantly how could we possibly make the system work.
Joint family system – A useful model for families in future
It is my personal belief that in the big picture of things and from the perspective of sustainable use of nature's resources, human endeavors and activities that promote and make use of inter-dependence, co-operation at the level of family, neighborhood, community, sate, nation and global is in conforming with nature and results in more gains (economic, social and environmental) than losses in the long run. Knowing that human life span is on the increase and we are going to be inhabiting this planet for longer than we used to, it makes sense in trying to do things that are beneficial over the long run. And of course, that will also ensure that future generations are able to lead a life of prosperity.
The 'joint family system' is one such thing that has the potential to
ensure sustainability of life and natural resources on this planet. I believe
the joint family system has several benefits and hence needs to be re-visited.
We must consider it as a possible model for future families.
In countries like India, with increase in population and resources like land and space becoming scarce, the families and individuals are leading a life filled with stress and worry. On the other hand the situation in developed countries is similar for different reason. In developed countries like USA and Australia. the individuals are stressed out for different reasons. Some of the major problems that people living in developed countries face are - job insecurity due to unstable economy, difficulty in raising children while pursuing career ambitions, young adults having difficulty starting out on their own. Therefore whether living in developing countries or in developed part of the world, the model of 'joint family' has potential benefits that can lead to secure, healthy, stress free and affluent individuals.
I also believe that having experimented with 'nuclear families' and having experienced its drawbacks, we are capable of developing a model that draws on the benefits of 'nuclear family' and 'joint family'. We might even be forced to do so when resources become more and more scarce with passage of time. We will certainly do it when our survival is at stake.
Joint family system vs. Nuclear family system
Today we have a generation of people who after having lived in a joint
family system have taken the initiative to break out and start a nuclear
family. This generation today has come of age and very well appreciates
the strengths and weaknesses of both the system. In a sense I represent
such a generation and therefore wish to present my personal thoughts on
why and how we could revive and make a 'the joint family system' work.
The generation that broke out of the old joint family system did so when individualistic thinking began to gain predominance in the society. It was exciting to explore, experiment and establish a living set up on one's own. The nuclear family gave immense freedom from the traditions and ways of life that the old system was ridden with. Hence whenever and wherever the parents and the grown up adult children could not get along well and when the adult children could afford to build a house to call their own, nuclear families began to be formed. As it happens with most changes in the society, initially the people from the old system did not take this change very well. They were saddened to see the disintegration of family values and system and emergence of individualistic nuclear families. However, gradually when nuclear families became the order of the day, the old generation slowly began to accept the realities and became comfortable with it.
The other factor that gave rise to nuclear families was industrialization. Industrial revolution brought with it increase in job opportunities in and around major industrialized and commercial cities and towns. This forced men and women to move out of their family home and away from the parents. In this case, often the parents who remained emotionally attached to the place where they spent most of their life preferred to continue staying in their family home and accepted with some sadness their children starting out new life away from them.
Today, as a person from the generation that broke out of the system in the hope of immense freedom, I look behind and ask myself 'what has my generation really and truly gained from the quest for freedom and what has it lost'.
The one and only major gain that I see from the 'nuclear family' system is the opportunity it provides us to create an identity of our own - something we as human beings crave for and are born for.
On the loss side there are several –
Being physically far removed from the family members and as a result inadvertently getting disconnected from their hearts and minds,
Stresses in bringing up our children only relying on child care centers. In Indian cities and towns, it can be even more difficult where there are not enough facilities available for care of children.
Coping with all problems - big and small on our own as we are unable to afford the privilege of sharing and downloading worries on someone (other than spouse) whom we feel close and connected to. This has led to increase in several problems in the society like depression, suicides and heart disorders due to highly stressed lives.
Missing out on celebrations and festivities that binds us to our culture and gives us a sense of being at home. This is more relevant to those living out of the country.
Having difficulty in passing on the cultural values to our children. Cultural values are learnt and taught by seeing them in action.
Facing great difficulty in even passing on our own language to the next generation. (this is more applicable for those who have moved out of the country.)
Through this article I wish to propose that based on our experiences of two fundamentally different models of family, we create a new family model based on the 'joint family system'. In this new model the basic and underlying concept of the joint family would remain the same however it will incorporate changes in the ways members in the family interact with one another. The basic concept of the joint family system is that more than one family come together under one roof and lead a life of mutual co-operation and inter-dependence. In the revived model, the families coming together may or may not belong to the same parent family. A joint family system could be created by a family of friends.
Tips for a successful joint family system
If we were to revive and revamp the 'joint family system' model to create
a new one we need to think how can we learn from the mistakes that we made
in old joint family system and create a new system with the insight gained
from the experiences of nuclear and joint family system.
Here are some things that can be done differently from the old system to make the 'joint family system' a success –
1. Mutual Love and Respect
One of the major reasons why my generation was desperate to break out of the joint family was the attitude of the older generation to impose their views and thoughts on us. In some families the father's word would be the final word and nobody could dare say or do anything against it. Such an autocratic style of leading a family leads to repression and suppression giving rise to feelings of discontentment and unhappiness.
If the joint family system is laid on the founding stone of mutual and genuine love and respect for each and every member (including children) then the system is guaranteed to be a success. It helps to keep in mind that love, respect and affection are things that can be only commanded and not demanded. We command these precious things by GIVING them first. For example - you cannot expect your son or your daughter to have respect for your advice and suggestions if you cannot demonstrate understanding, love and respect to them through your actions and words and by being sensitive to their individual aspirations and ways of thinking.
2. Open and Honest Communication.
Family members need to communicate openly and honestly with one another. The elders in the family must encourage and create an environment conducive to open communication. In the absence of such an environment, family members can feel repressed and suppressed that can lead to discontentment. Non-judgmental listening and demonstrating mutual trust are necessary to help family members open up to one another.
One of the things that disintegrated the old joint family system was the constant interference and meddling by elders in the matters of youngsters. Learning from the past mistake, another important aspect of communication is knowing when NOT to communicate. In other words, it is important to give one another space and respect the boundaries of each other. Living under one roof does not have to be about transgressing the personal space of the members. Personal space is more mental than physical. If a joint family system has to succeed, recognizing and respecting this space is crucial.
3. Realistic Expectations of Members.
It is important that members in a joint family system feel accepted for who they are and as they are. The crucial part of acceptance of one another is acceptance of our own weaknesses and limitations and that of others. By doing this, expectations of members of one another become more realistic. Realistic expectations help us to be more tolerant of weaknesses of one another. Having unrealistic expectations of others is often the root cause of disappointments and discontentment with others.
4. Acknowledgement of and Being Grateful for What IS.
When more than one family live together, it brings together members of different strengths. One of the great advantages of this (when compared to a nuclear family) is that different strengths of different members can be potentially enriching to the family and in turn provide a sense of fulfillment to the members. For a joint family system to be a place where the members feel valued and nurtured, acknowledgement of the strengths and different positive aspects that each member brings to the family and being grateful for the same is useful and even necessary.
These are some of the essential ingredients for a successful joint
Come to think of it, a joint family system can become a training ground for the future generation to learn and develop attributes and skills of living in harmony with fellow citizens in a society. If our current family model is reflective of a lifestyle that is based on selfish existence and intolerance to others views then how can we expect the society (of which such a family is a unit) to be any different. A joint family system can help build a society that is more tolerant of personal differences in views and thoughts and where people appreciate and carry forward the value of mutual respect, love and co-operation. Yet another reason why the 'joint family system' model is the model for a sustainable living in the future.
– Meenakshi Jha
September 9, 2001
I was reading the article "In Defence of Joint Family System" by Meenakshi Jha and I couldn't agree with her more that most youngsters have to live with their parents not by their choice but by their limitations. True the cost of living and especially rent of apartments in all big cities is growing beyond the reach of many. As such young people are left with no other alternative but to live with the parents – sometimes adjusting in a small one or two bedroom apartment. On the other hand, some times it is otherwise – the aged parents need to be taken care of especially so in our Indian society.
Is it viable to live happily sharing home with parents or vice-versa?Provided both the parties are willing to adjust and of course be able to consider what we are getting in return. As I always believe nothing is free in this world.
The foremost cause of young adults breaking away from their families is a yearning for freedom. Very appreciable! We all need freedom – freedom to live our lives in our own way. Freedom to discover Life per se with our choice of lifestyle. The problem arises, when there is interference of family members and uninvited opinion as to how one should live or react in situations. Most parents tend to ignore when their children come of age and are in a position to take charge of their lives. I personally believe that there comes a time when parents have to really "let go" and let the grown up children face realities of life and make decisions for themselves. As my husband always says on issues like this, "Nothing grows under a Banyan Tree" and he having built a life of his own all by himself inspite of all odds, repeats this quote often to not only our children but to others as well.
There are times we as parents could get disturbed at our child's unhappiness but that does not in any way give us the right to dictate our terms to his/her spouse. As parents what in a situation like this is to become a guide and explain the phenomenon of social norms rather than simply condemn. Children invariably look up to their parents as role models and this the parents should not ever forget. Unless the situation is grave like a spouse is emotionally or physically abusing your child, I think we, as parents have no business to jump in the middle. We have to learn to ignorejudiciously. Where necessary, we could send our point through directly to the concerned parties with clear communication and direct talk. More important, we should accept the person totally who joins the family as one of the family and before reacting to any of his/her actions, we should always ponder how would we react if the action were coming from our own child?
We can take care of small details. For example, the couple should have the freedom to invite friends, have the freedom to throw parties or visit their spouse's family as freely as they mutually like. They should also have the freedom to have difference of opinion among themselves as only by differing they recognize the individuality of each other and this acceptance of individuality leads to a better understanding. These are small things but their disruption could causes big problems.
It takes a lot to adjust and accommodate within the family. Once we grow up and become distinct individuals, it is difficult to adjust not only with the person you marry but also the in-law family. It is still conventional in most societies for the boys to stay with the parents after marriage rather than the girls. Glumly the person who joins the family is expected to do all the adjustments with very little consideration for her personality, upbringing and basic character. She has to adjust to the whims and fancies of the family she joins under all odds.
In any kind of relationship, we all know it is much easier to adjust to the behavior of the other person if we are compassionate and understanding and we accept the person as is. It would be easier for the girl who is leaving all her loved ones behind to adjust and be accepted in an alien family if the family is more rational and accepting.
It is a small example but goes a long way in understanding relationships. The daughter in-law may be very possessive or selfish or argumentative or so forth. Why is she like that? May be she is the only child and has been spoilt by the parents. There can be many other reasons. However, the logical reason is that shewho joins the family enters a new world and it is the responsibility of all in the family to help her adjust in the new environment by being more compassionate and understanding. Does not love beget love? One should give a leeway. The problem comes when we just see the bad side of the girl and keep complaining. If we could be more compassionate, we could definitely contribute in helping her adjust more amicably and lovingly.
The bottom line is the parents need to draw a line as where it is there place to make a comment.
On the other hand the person who moves into the family has a greater responsibility to make all efforts to fit into the norms of the family. Till next time..
– Meera Chowdhry
October 21, 2001
LONDON, ENGLAND, January 14, 2003: Living with mom and dad, rather than venturing out on your own may actually contribute to saving the planet. A study, conducted by ecologist Jianguo Liu and his Michigan University team, targeted a biodiversity hotspot -- a region where large numbers of species are endangered or threatened by human activity. India took the honors as the hotspot chosen by the team. Liu said, "During 2000-2015, the average annual rate of growth in population size in India is projected to be 1.3%, while the rate of growth in household numbers is projected to be 2.4%." Liu predicts that the major reason for the increase in number of households will be divorce and that during that same fifteen-year period the average Indian household size will be reduced from 5.5 to about 4.8 persons. Liu based his predictions on the previous fifteen-year period before the year 2000 when the number of Indian households grew 30% faster than the population. From an environmental stance, as the number of households with one, two, or three occupants increase, proportionately so too will energy consumption, land and water use and construction materials. Other experts, such as sociologists, agree that more households means more energy use. However they are not convinced that extended families are the "greenest" on the planet. Liu calls the study a wake-up call.
Courtesy of http://www.HinduismToday.com/
NEW DELHI, INDIA, May 12, 2001 : The Chowdhury residence in the Central Town neighborhood, with 15 rooms and six bathrooms, is a rare modern-day example of the Indian joint family system, with 65 members of a family living under the same roof. How do they manage? "If there's a fight, reconciliation is brought about over dinner or lunch," says Rajishwar Singh Chowdhury, who at 77 is the eldest of the family. He has four sons and three daughters, who have children of their own, and all live happily in the spacious house. The men run various businesses from food to spare parts. The women do all the housework. Shivani, newly wedded into the family, said she was initially apprehensive about living with so many people but was now delighted. And the third generation echoes the sentiments. "I love to be a member of such a big joint family," said 18-year-old Ricky.
Traditionally, Namboothiris lived in a joint family system. On the paternal
side, they consider their parents/ uncles/ aunts, grandparents/ uncles/
aunts, great grandparents/ uncles/ aunts, and similarly, nephews and nieces,
children, grand children and great grandchildren as a single unit. This
used to be a Namboothiri family. The three generations above and below
formed a "tharavad". And, still above and below that was considered as
a "griham". The system is now continued in very few families, as most have
partitioned at different stages.
The head of the family is the ultimate authority in all matters including transaction of properties. He has overall control on all members of this joint family. In observing "pula" (defilement) also, this closeness or remoteness in relationship is considered as the basis.
Despite scores of judicial decisions, the circumstances in which a Hindu
undivided family comes into existence has been the subject of debate and
controversy. Under the Income-tax Act, 1961, a hindu undivided family is
assessed to income-tax as a distinct unit of assessment.
Once a family is assessed as a Hindu undivided family, it would continue, even after partition, to be assessed as an undivided family till a finding of partition is given under section 171 by the assessing officer.
A joint Hindu family consists of all persons lineally descended from a common ancestor and includes their wives and unmarried daughters; while a Hindu coparcenary is a much narrower body including only those persons who acquire by birth an interest in the joint or coparcenary property (Gowli Buddanna v. C.I.T. (60 I.T.R. 293 (SC)). A joint Hindu family may be composed of smaller or branch joint families which may hold properties in their own right and may themselves be assessable units as distinct from the apex jointfamily (C.I.T. v. Khanna (49 I.T.R. 232).
The privy council observed in Kalyanji Vithaldas v. C.I.T. (5 I.T.R. 90) that the expression Hindu undivided family is used in the Income-tax Act with reference not to one school to read it as equivalent to the narrower expression Hindu coparcenary (Sushila v. I.T.O. (38 I.T.R. 316).
The Supreme Court held in Gowli Buddanna that there need not be more than one male member to form a Hindu undivided family alongwith female members (Vedathanni v. C.I.T. (1 I.T.R. 70 (SB)); that even if the family is reduced to a sole surviving coparcener with other female members, the property and income belong to the joint family, and in respect of such income the tax is leviable on the joint family and not on the male member as an individual (Attorney-General v. Arunachalam (34 I.T.R. (ED) 42 (PC)).
This principle applies also where joint family property is partitioned and property is allotted to a coparcener who has a wife but no male issue; in such a case the income from theproperty is assessable as the income of the Hindu undivided family composed of the member and his wife (and daughters, if any), and cannot be included in the assessment of the member as an individual (Narendranath v. C.W.T. (74 I.T.R. 190 (SC)).
The same position prevails where a coparcener marries after the partition : on his marriage, the income from the property allotted to him should be assessed as that of the Hindu undivided family consisting of him and his wife (Premkumar v. C.I.T. (121 I.T.R. 347).
The Supreme Court held in C.I.T. v. Veerappa Chettiar (76 I.T.R. 467) that after the death of the last male member, the Hindu undivided family may consist of female members only.
However, a single person, male or female, cannot constitute a Hindu undivided family (Krishna Prasad v. C.I.T. (97 I.T.R. 493- (SC)).
In view of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the separate property of the father inherited upon intestacy by the son is to be treated as the son's separate property and not as the property ofhis joint family (C.W.T. v. Chander (161 I.T.R. 370 (SC)).
A member of a Hindu undivided family is not taxable at all in respect of any sum which he receives as such member out of the income of the family, even though the family may not have paid the tax on its income. However, income from separate and self-acquired property of a Hindu which has not been thrown into the common stock is assessable as the income of the individual and not as the income of a Hindu undivided family, even though the Hindu has sons from whom he is not divided family, even though the Hindu has sons from whom he is not divided, for the sons have no interest in such income (Kalyanji v. C.I.T. (5 I.T.R. 90, 94 (PC)).
The general principle of tax law that income from an individual members' property thrown into the family hotchpot is taxable as the income of the joint family, is superseded by section 64 (2).
The commission earned under a managing or selling agency (Murugappa v. C.I.T. (21 I.T.R. 311) or insurance agency (Ram Jhav. C.I.T. (31 I.T.R. 987)) agreement by a karta or other coparcener would prima facie be his individual income, unless it is shown that the rights had been acquired with the aid of joint family property (Re Haridas (15 I.T.R. 124)).
Offering received by the holder of the hereditary office of the head of a religious sect are his personal income, where the functions and obligations attached to that office are personal (Ranchhodraiji v. C.I.T. (54 I.T.R. 664). The salary received by the treasurer of a bank, whose office requires personal responsibility, integrity and ability, would be his individual income, although joint family properties may have been furnished as security to the bank (Piyarelal v. C.I.T. (40 I.T.R. 17 (SC)).
A member of a trading joint family may carry on business on his personal account, in which event the profits would be his individual income and not the income of the joint family (Padampat v. C.I.T. (24 I.T.R. 184)), although the member might have borrowed the requisite capital outof the joint family funds (C.I.T. v. Thaver (2 I.T.R. 230) ) or the member might, after earning the income as his own, throw it into the family hotchpot (Amarchand v. C.I.T. (30 I.T.R. 38)).
Such members carrying on business on their personal account in partnership may be assessed as a firm (Harisingh v. C.I.T. (2 I.T.C. 80)). However, the mere execution of a partnership deed by the members of the family will not preclude an assessment on the undivided family as such in respect of the profits of the business (C.I.T. v. Doraiswami (1 I.T.C. 214).
If a coparcener utilises joint family funds for contributing his share of capital in the firm, he should be regarded as having entered into partnership on behalf of, and as representing, the family (C.I.T. v. Kalubabu (37 I.T.R. 123)).
Last year, the Punjab & Haryana High Court in C.I.T. v. Bhagat Singh (229 I.T.R. 239), held that all persons lineally descended from a common ancestor, including their wives and unmarried daughters constitute a Hindu undividedfamily which is a normal condition of Hindu society. There need not be atleast two male members to constitute a Hindu undivided family. A Hindu undivided family can consist of a male Hindu, his wife and unmarried daughter.
The facts in this case were that B constituted a Hindu undivided family with his wife, son and four daughters. Partial partition took place between B, his wife and his children. It was out of ancestral property that the partition was effected on April 1, 1971. This partition was duly recognised by the department.
On November 23, 1971, another daughter was born to B. B. claimed that in respect of the property acquired in partition, there was a Hindu undivided family composed of him and his daughter. He claimed exclusion of dividual assessment. The income-tax officer rejected this contention by observing that since his wife was already separated from the Hindu undivided family, subsequent birth of a daughter to him, would not get back to him the status os a Hindu undivided family.However, the Tribunal accepted his contention.
On a reference, the Punjab and Haryana high court held that what was received by the assessee on partition was part of the ancestral property which did not cease to be Hindu undivided family property and on the birth of a daughter subsequently, the assessee constituted a Hindu undivided family qua the property received in partition.
Qua this property, the court held that his status reverted to that of a Hindu undivided family and the income received from this property could not be assessed in his hands as an individual, but the same was to be assessed in the status of the Hindu undivided family consisting of himself and his daughter.
Finally, in an interesting decision in C.I.T. v. Pratapchand (36 I.T.R. 262), a Hindu who declared for the purposes of the Special Marriage Act, 1872 or 1954 that he did not profess the Hindu religion, did not thereby cease to be a Hindu : the Hindu law still applied to him, with the result that he would be entitled to file areturn as karta of a joint family in respect of the income from the ancestral properties.
Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.
By Sumit Roy
I grew up in a 'joint family' that was trying hard to delay the inevitable.
The first twelve years of my life were spent in a huge, rambling house with a host of cousins, uncles, aunts and, of course, my parents. But because it was the cusp of the 20th and the 21st centuries, the joint family was beginning to break up. The professions of each of my uncles took them to far away cities and lands. And with them went their "nuclear families" – their wives and their children.
As a boy, the summer holidays were what I looked forward to. Because that's when 25 Southern Avenue, our ancestral home in South Calcutta, was brimming over with family. My father had four brothers. All of them, their wives and their children would converge on our family home trying hard to keep a tradition going that the impending 21st century was destined to break up. But during those formative summers of my youth, as many as 20 of my family members would sleep under the same roof. By joint family standards, that's quite small. It's not unusual for a 'joint family' to have anything between three and five generations of the same family living together. A family size of 25 would be considered small. A family size of 125 was more like what you should expect.
The Law in India, for tax purposes, has a more exacting name for 'joint families': the Hindu Undivided Family. The head of the family, called the karta, is whoever is the eldest male member of the family. All the brothers, their wives and their children live together. Sure, the sleeping quarters of the husband and the wife and their infants are usually separate but what distinguishes a "Hindu Undivided Family" is the common kitchen.
A mealtime for me during those 'joint family' holidays was a feast for the body, mind and soul. "Big Mother" would sit all of us cousins down in our ascending order of age and feed us, from the same large "thali", delectable balls of rice soaked in the choicest curries.
In a deft stroke of child management genius, these balls of rice would acquire their own nicknames according to their size. "That's the sparrow's egg for the littlest one … that's the pigeon egg for the next … here's the hen's egg….", she'd say. The more over-imaginative of us (and the less biologically sure) would "book" a rhinoceros' egg or even an elephant's egg for the next round, vying to be as big and tall and as good at sport or study as our elder siblings. Along with these magical "rice eggs" we would be fed stories from far more enduring myths: The Mahabharata or the Ramayana. Stories that formed the basis of our cultural identity.
Holiday home-work (the assignments our schools would give us to do over the holidays) was the responsibility of "Second Mother" – my natural mother – because she spoke excellent English and all of us cousins were now in "English medium schools". But with brothers and sisters ranging from 28 years to 4 years there was never a shortage of someone who had just mastered a subject lately or knew how to find ones way out of a tangled proof of Pythagoras' Theorem. So school work was a breeze.
All of our "mothers" had special roles. If one was in charge of feeding the brood, the other was in charge of our studies, a third might see that we stay out of mischief, a fourth might look after our clothes. I'm sure there was no organization chart but everyone knew their places and roles changed as seamlessly as a well managed football team.
The function of my uncles and my father seemed to be to dote on us children. I am sure they all had a role in keeping the family larder full but all I knew them for was an endless stream of toys and games and delightfully scary stories that would put a Hitchcock to shame. (It was later in life that I learnt that they were Hitchock's stories suitably adapted from a recently seen movie!)
In a true joint family, the earnings of all members go into a common pool. And the Karta has sole authority over that earning. Sure, each family member can draw from the family's resources, but it is at the will of the "head of the family". The joint family works well when yours is a family run business. With anywhere between 50 and 150 people living in the same household, you don't seriously have to go looking for 'people you can trust' to run your business. Our family never really had a family business. My paternal grandfather had died young. Leaving his wife, five sons and one daughter to fend for themselves. The eldest of those sons worked hard as an Insurance Agent to earn enough to educate his siblings and help them grow into professionals.
Now, the next generation of Roy's is scattered all over the globe held together by the ether of the 21st century. Which reminds me. I have to send an e-greeting to my third brother's second son. If our clan was all together in our ancestral home in Kolkata, the preparations for his birthday would have started at 5 am in the morning and would have culminated in a feast for perhaps 100 people. And that's just the "family members" living under the same roof.
Yes, I miss being in a joint family. After all, at least one third of the days in the year would have been a "birthday feast" for someone or the other. Add to that the marriage anniversaries and the religious festivals and you've got a suitable occasion to celebrate life pretty much everyday!
copyright Sumit Roy 2001
"Without bhagavad-bhakti, without glorification of the Supreme Lord, whatever we have is simply a decoration of the dead body." (Bhag. 10.12.34)
"Human civilization and all activities thereof must be dovetailed with the supreme blessing of the Lord, and without this blessing all advancement of human civilization is like decoration on a dead body." (Bhag. 1.15.21)
"The whole materialistic advancement of human civilization is like the decoration of a dead body. Everyone is a dead body flapping only for a few days, and yet all the energy of human life is being wasted in the decoration of this dead body. Sukadeva Gosvami is pointing out the duty of the human being after showing the actual position of bewildered human activities. Persons who are devoid of the knowledge of atma-tattva are misguided, but those who are devotees of the Lord and have perfect realization of transcendental knowledge are not bewildered." (Bhag. 2.1.4)
Joint Family at Risk
Individualism has brought India's traditional family to the brink of extinction
By Choodie Shivaram, Bangalore
If current trends continue, the turn of the 21st century may witness the extinction of one of society's most ancient and influential establishments, the joint family. In India, the joint family is a sacred institution deeply rooted in Hindu heritage. It has been heralded as the cultural stronghold that has borne Sanatana Dharma intact through India's inimical dominations. Lately, its prestige has plummeted. Though extended families exist in most parts of rural India and some cities, joint families are harder and harder to find.
A joint family consists of many relatives living under one roof and sharing one kitchen and often a single bank account. Extended families include members who live in other dwellings or locales, near or far. With the nuclear age's nurturance of nuclear families, most joint families have completely disintegrated. Many that have stayed together have independent kitchens, checkbooks and lifestyles, conditions contrary to the oldest customs.
Few people welcome this trend toward dissolution. But they don't lament, either. Most simply call it inevitable. However, religious leaders, elders and members of functioning joint families are apprehensive, knowing that this family structure, better than any, preserves Hindu values and attitudes irrespective of the moral turbulence that may rage outside the home's walls. To lose this safe haven of Vedic culture, they feel, would be a body blow to dharma.
The joint family forms a veritable domestic fortress, aptly symbolized in India by the giant banyan tree, whose every branch grows roots which in turn support and feed the main trunk. Joint families insure not only the biological continuity of the human race, but also the cultural continuity of society. They successfully transmit ideologies, customs, traditions, beliefs and values from generation to generation. Individuals may come and go, but the family stands as a unit. Members are publicly known more by family name than individual identity. The social security, both material and psychological, that a joint family provides is unique and inestimable. Shared responsibilities result in minimal concern over the basics of life--money, food, shelter and clothing. Such concerns typically become all-consuming in a nuclear family; a single husband, wife and their children living together.
The Harilelas of Hong Kong (left) are living proof of the joint family's value. Naroomal and Devibai Harilela came to China from Sindh in the early part of this century. In the 1930s, their family was penniless. The six brothers sold newspapers on the street to make a living. Continuously encouraged by their mother to stick together, they advanced in their profession to eventually join Hong Kong's most successful businessmen. Their Harilela Group today owns hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, real estate and stores. They have always lived as a joint family--now numbering 50--and have for many years occupied a palatial mansion in Hong Kong, defined by separate quarters, and common dining, puja and gathering spaces. Their mother taught them to pool their resources, work hard, be patient with each other and be prepared to sacrifice--the essential principles of every lasting commmunity.
Failing families: I grew up in a joint family in Karnataka, surrounded by 13 uncles, four aunts, grandparents and other live-in relatives. The joys and pleasures of growing up in such environs are unbounded. I carry with me most wonderful memories of childhood, filled with fun, affection and care. I miss those evenings after dinner when grandfather would collect all the "grandies," tell us a story and show us the various constellations in the sky. As I recall it now, it seems like a bygone dream. Our family disintegrated for all the reasons that a sociology text would enumerate. It's sad, but breaking up was inevitable.
Many joint families in cities have fragmented. Even the Prabhat family, featured in Hinduism Today [May, 1995], has decided to part. The reasons are many. Glaringly evident are disagreements over property and assets. After the head of the family expires, the brothers dispute their shares. "This is because the elders have not inculcated the right values in the family. Growing materialism drives them to crave for more. It is as if they were waiting for the head of the family to die. It's disgusting when you hear of such instances, which are common now," laments Mr. Raman, a retired engineer.
"Most joint families disintegrate when the elders lose moral authority," says Mr. A.V. Subba Rao, an advocate. "Also, there is a common tendency for the head of the family to be partial to certain children and grandchildren. Often, a glaring favoritism is shown towards the daughters and daughters-in-law. Secondly, some children are exploited, while others are coddled. This differential treatment breaks down the relationships rather than bringing about unity."
Often it is the eldest son who selflessly supports a large family, sacrificing many of his own ambitions. Sadly, however, his sovereignty may be rescinded by younger members once they settle down independently. They fail to acknowledge his service. My father suffered immensely, both emotionally and monetarily, because of this trend. Such instances are common.
Geetha, a young lecturer, moved out of a small joint family simply because she could not get along with her sister-in-law. "My mother-in-law favors her kids," she complained, while the employed sister-in-law said, "She would never lend a helping hand in the kitchen." These petty differences eventually led them to part.
"With education and employment, women have become more independent, and growing individualism attracts them towards nuclear families," opines Mrs. Shankaran, who lives alone in her Bangalore bungalow. Her two sons live separately with their wives, but visit their widowed mother frequently.
Even functional joint families are being transformed. One distinct trend in liberal families is the mother's use of the joint family as a day-care center to look after her children while she pursues studies or a career. The Nanis are a well-known family of theatre artists in Bangalore. After marriage, Bhargavi joined the Nani joint family of four generations living together. "They were traditional, and there was discipline we had to abide by. For instance, a daughter-in-law had to wake up early and dress in a sari with kumkum on her forehead. None of the elders objected to my being employed. They took care of my children. I had no worries on the home front. They would even allow me to act in plays," says 60-year old Bhargavi. "I enjoyed living in this family immensely. It did call for a lot of adjustments, but the advantages outweighed the disadvantages," she affirmed.
Today the Nanis continue to live as a joint family with their two sons, daughter-in-law and their children, but a basic shift has occurred in family protocol. "Those days we adjusted to our elders. Now we adjust to the youngsters," Bhargavi revealed. "They are too individualistic. You cannot impose your views on them. You have to be broad-minded and make a lot of compromises."
Why won't you stay? As the sun of modernization has risen, the inconveniences of a joint family now seem to eclipse its merits. The head of the family, with absolute power, may disallow an individual the liberty to express opinions or pursue creative desires. Members with such aspirations can feel constricted. If their desires exceed the commitment to family duty or the will to resolve differences, their departure is assured. "Industrialization shattered the very foundation of joint families," asserts Mr. Venkatesh Murthy, a professor of mathematics. "But we cannot say we did not want industrialization. People are now more concerned with their rights than duties. The personal self has become all important. No wonder joint families are on their way out!"
Joint families all-too-often treat women as non-entities, relegating them to the four walls of the kitchen. My mother would rarely step out of the kitchen or socialize with family members and relatives. My aunts, on the other hand, had freedom to socialize. When my mother had an opportunity to talk, she would do so shyly from behind the door. Education and women's liberation have beckoned women to break free of such shackles.
As the rural class finds new avenues to explore, enticed toward urbanization, the urban families give way to growing individualism and self-reliance. Want of privacy and consumerism induce a certain selfishness that leads towards a nuclear family system. The accelerated growth of metropolitan cities and Western influences fuel this trend.
Reforming family: Ironically, the West may be approaching the other end of that materialistic road. Members of an "intentional family" essentially adopt each other and live together as a joint or extended family. They may have been total strangers before their merger, but they instinctively yearn for togetherness. Usually, these are individuals have no family of their own or who live far from their birth family. Their common desire for a safe neighborhood and secure home environment with friendly, caring faces binds them together as a new family. The elders adopt the younger members and become their grandparents, while they in turn are looked after and given special care as they grow old.
It began in the early 1970s, a time when many felt that families were breaking down, a time of loneliness and isolation. The idea of forming new families with people who barely knew each other was a risky proposition. But many of these families survive today. Children who have grown up within these kinships are now parents. Like a normal family, they have had to face the pain of death of family members, divorce between some couples and the loss of several who have left the group. Yet, some say they like their foster family better than their birth family.
Wherever we look, the continuance of the joint family seems precariously perched on the aspirations and allegiance of each of us. Are we out to fulfill our own interests? Or, are we willing to sacrifice a little of ourselves for the greater whole? Tradition tells us such sacrifice reaps rewards in excess of that which was forgone. It also confirms that we each learn in our own time, at our own pace. "To keep a joint family, a spirit of selfless service, tolerance and broad-mindedness is a must. In modern living, to find these virtues is extremely rare," concludes Murthy.
Dr. Prem Sahai of Iowa, USA, is an authority on the Hindu joint family. His years of study were largely motivated by the desire to keep his own family together. Below, he succinctly summarizes for Hinduism Today the basic structure and duties.
Membership: Father and mother; sons and wives; daughters until married; grandsons and wives; granddaughters until married; great grandsons and wives; great granddaughters until married.
Head of the family: Father with support of mother. In the absence of the father, the most capable elder son with guidance of his mother and support of spouse. In the absence of the elder brother, a competent younger brother takes over.
Distribution of duties: The head of the family assigns members according to their abilities and availability. The mother is responsible for nurturance, clothing, household activities, gift giving and acceptance of gifts. She consults her daughters-in-law and wives of younger brothers and educates them for proper decision-making in her absence.
Religious ceremonies: The eldest son is to perform all these duties. His spouse joins him. Others share and cooperate as they are able.
1. Every member sees that others get the best and most of resources. Each person himself asks for the least, and last.
2. All are willing to endure to relieve the others' burdens.
3. No one owns anything. Each is a trustee for the joint family, extended family, society and the nation.
4. Everyone's voice and opinion has value and importance.
5. Everyone's conduct is such that intentions can never be questioned. This includes honoring the traditions and fulfilling spoken and unspoken expectations of the extended family, society at large and
the venerable principles of Sanatana Dharma.
Defying all notions of disintegration, the Narasinganavar family has demonstrated to the world that the undivided family is still viable. About 25 km from the city of Dharwad, Karnataka, in the small village of Lokur, 170 kinfolk have lived harmoniously for seven generations. They are bound together by their Jain religion. "Why should we fight," exclaims 72-year-old Lokappa, punctuating his point with a perky fist. "God has given us everything, and we are happy. Togetherness is our strength, and cooperation is our support."
Their mansion, Jaina Bhakta Nivas, is the nerve center for all activity. It is where the women and children are housed and where food for all is prepared and served. They have another house for married couples, a granary and their own Jaina temple.
This fantastic family's sojourn began when Narasingappa migrated to Lokur from Hathangalada, Maharashtra, 400 years ago, with his brothers and children. There have been no fights or disputes over property in their history. Now, Parasanna, Lokappa and Bheemanna, the three brothers, live with their uncles, cousins, children and grandchildren. The oldest is their maternal uncle, 90-year-old Annappa. The youngest is Bheemanna's yearling grandson.
Being educated, the responsibilities of finance and decision-making were entrusted to Bheemanna by his elders from early on. Now, at age 68, all directives are issued by him. The elders may collectively decide on issues, but Bheemanna's word is faithfully followed by all, including elder Annappa. This solemn discipline and mutual respect is the secret of their unity. "Mutual love and affection is what has kept us going," avers Bheemanna.
Full control over the finances remains in the hands of Bheemanna, who makes the necessary purchases and investments. Clothes are bought for the entire family at Diwali and new year. "Money is a corrupting force and the root cause of all trouble," avowed Lokappa. "Everyone in our family is content because all needs are provided for. No one has an individual savings. No one is rich or poor. All are equal. There is no greed, selfishness or jealousy."
Agriculture is their occupation and source of income. The family owns 200 acres of cultivable land, a dairy of 60 cows and buffalos, a flour mill and a fertilizer and pesticide shop. All requirements of food, grains, vegetables, milk, edible oils, etc., are produced from their own efforts. All that they purchase from outside are clothes, soap and tea. "We had a mere 60 acres 40 years ago," certifies Lokappa. "Every year the profits are invested on purchasing land or equipment for our agriculture. We do not distribute the profit among ourselves or buy fancy items. Whatever we buy benefits the entire family."
Being Jaina, they are strictly vegetarian. The women prepare over 1,000 rotis a day, with 40 ladies taking turns four to five at a time. They begin at 5am and continue till late afternoon, only to begin again by evening. They use no modern mixers, grinders, cookers or gas stoves. This to me seemed like the most strenuous aspect of their chores, but they seemed perfectly cheery. They sing while working, chat when free and share each others' saris and jewelry. There is no bossing around.
In fact, fear and punishment are not found in this family. "Mistakes are very rare. No one oversteps their limits, each one knows his duties and abides by the codes of the house. If someone errs, we stop talking to him for a while and shun him. With that, he realizes his fault and makes amends," explains Thimmappa.
This family is an efficient example of division of labor. Each member is entrusted with a definite responsibility, such as operating the flour mill, maintaining the edible oil extracting unit, textile shop, fertilizer shop or repair of vehicles and implements. The family is totally self-reliant and self-sufficient. Not once during my visit did I come across someone lazing around. All the women were continuously engaged in household chores. I could see that every member contributes his or her might. These are tireless workers.
The Narasinganavars' life is peaceful and simple. Traditions continue. Elders serve the family selflessly and lead an austere life, setting fine standards for the others, as Bheemanna verified, "All that we know is to work hard, be sincere and live an honest life."
The Reddy family had lived as one unit for four generations in a village near Kaiwara, about 80km from Bangalore. The men worked in the fields. Some women assisted, but most handled the household chores and took turns in cooking--a substantial task at 50 kgs of rice and 100 ragi balls each day! The family lived comfortably. Why, then, did they divide?
Mr. Narayanaswamy Reddy's young daughter, Susheela, confided, "Out of the 50 men, only 10 or 15 worked. The others simply lazed around, taking life for granted. This inequality led to the breakup."
Distraught by the split is Narayanaswamy's mother, 70-year-old Chokkamma. She was working in the fields when I met her. She related that, at barely eight years old, she entered this huge house of 60 members and grew fond of the family. "I advised them not to break up, but who listens now-a-days? They have fought and parted," she said dejectedly.
It was 90-year-old Sonappa, the eldest male, who had managed all family affairs. Gradually, as he started losing hold on the men, his responsibilities were transferred to Chandrasekar and Narayanaswamy.
Womenfolk are commonly blamed for the breaking up of a family, but this family attributes collapse of their dream to the men's conscious decision "to make lazy men responsible." "The women never brought in differences. In fact, they wanted the system to go on. Even now they get along famously," says Chandrasekar.
Upon break-up, their land holdings of 80 acres fragmented. Each got only 3/4 of an acre. "But everyone is doing very well now, even with this small piece of land. Those men who never worked are now hard workers and are reaping good harvests from their fields," says Susheela.
"We had no differences, and we wanted to continue as one unit. Even to this day we feel like one big family. There are no ill feelings," maintains Chandrasekar. But Susheela laments, "We visit each other, but it can never be the same."
One City's Successful Family
Sagacity and self-sacrifice spell affluence in Bangalore
Modern stresses, city strains and rampant materialism conspire to make urban joint families irrelevant or even extinct. Many city-dwellers feel that the Narasinganavars (see page 24) have achieved their rare success only because they live in a village, with agriculture as their occupation. But the family of M.M. Krishnamurthy has been living jointly for four generations in the midst of bustling Bangalore. They even run a family business.
Krishnamurthy's 40-member family is known as the "MM Industries family," MM industry being the family business. Septuagenarian Krishnamurthy, second of four brothers, is the head. He rejoices in joint living, he told me, "I cannot explain the joys of living together. One has to live and experience it. It requires so much adjustment and patience. It teaches you so many things."
Krishnamurthy's father, Munivenkatappa, and uncle Mallappa, who lived together along with their parents, started the business in South Bangalore. Their children still live together and continue the family enterprise which today is a local landmark. "We prosper only because of our unity. Everyone in the family is expected to do their own job," Krishnamurthy told me.
The men were educated at Ramakrishna Vidyasala of the Ramakrishna Mission in Mysore, where their culture and discipline have their roots. At home, upon rising, every member first goes to the puja room and only after praying comes for breakfast. They celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi and Janmashtami on a grand scale, and host a spiritual retreat at their house, presided over by the RK swamis.
The family maintains astonishing harmony and togetherness. The ladies share housework equally and get along well. "No one is jealous of the other. Everyone has what they want. I find that the ladies often exchange their saris and jewelry. They take a rare joy in this," reveals Krishnamurthy.
Girls in the MM family are allowed to study as much as they want, but they are not permitted to work. "It's against the family tradition," states Krishnamurthy. The women visit their relatives and attend family functions. Viewing movies is very rare.
How does the family adjust to the inevitable problems? "The secret of staying together is a lot of sacrifice and compromise. One magic that works here is to overlook and ignore petty mistakes. We turn a blind eye. But if a member continues to err, I correct them once and recall ten mistakes of theirs in a row. There is no scolding or punishment. Silence is our secret agent. Soon, they realize their mistake and fall in line," Krishnamurthy explained. Talking back to elders and disobedience are absent here. The elders by their exemplary conduct have paved the way for unity.
"All the earning members contribute a portion of their income to a common finance pool. All family expenses are met by this account. A perfect record of all expenses is kept with vouchers," says Krishnamurthy. Youngsters are not given pocket money. Only the earning members handle money. All requirements are met by the elders. Youth cannot go out without the permission of their parents or elders.
To me, Krishnamurthy divulged two secrets of a successful joint family, "To live together like this, everyone must contribute to the family, not just money, but also sharing the work equally. And there must be a strong leader, a kind of benevolent dictator."
A welfare state has to assure its citizens a living or maintainance. It means that the state has to organise some schemes of social insurance besides providing avenues of employment to as large a body of population as possible. The success of the welfare state depends on the test as to how it has dealt with the unfortunate and weakest sections of its citizens. the Kautilyan state was aware of this responsibility towards the helpless citizens. In ancient Hindu society the joint family system was strongly entrenched and it was the best insurance for the helpless and afflicted members of the society; Kautiliya accepted this system and enforced the law according to which the head of the family was to look after the dependents. A capable person neglecting to maintain his or her child, minor brothers or sisters, widowed girls and unmarried daughters (except those who were outcastes) was fined. (II:I:28.) Similarly any person embracing asceticism without making provisions for his wife and sons was punished (ibid., 29.) In those days under the influence of protestant religions like Buddhism, etc., many householders were joining ascetic orders without caring for the fate of their dependents. So the individual's responsibility to his family in such a situation.
Why are there wars in the world? Why are there conflicts within the family, within nations, within so-called religious societies, etc.? It is because there is no common platform of loving service to satisfy the Supreme Lord or His bona-fide representative. Every materialist has his own mental speculations which he takes as more significant than the Supreme Lord's desire. Since every materialist has his own mind, intelligence, and false ego through which his desires to lord it over manifest, there is constant conflict and/or dissatisfaction amongst all materialists. This is suggested by the following Bhagavatam reference:
"To the gross materialist who cannot see anything beyond the gross material body, there is nothing beyond the senses. Therefore his occupational activities are limited to concentrated and extended selfishness.
Concentrated selfishness centers around the personal body-- this is generally seen amongst the lower animals. Extended selfishness is manifested in human society and centers around the family, society, community, nation and world with a view to gross bodily comfort. Above these gross materialists are the mental speculators who hover aloft in the mental spheres, and their occupational duties involve making poetry and philosophy or propagating some ism with the same aim of selfishness limited to the body and the mind.... Because foolish people have no information of the soul and how it is beyond the purview of the body and mind, they are not satisfied in the performance of their occupational duties. The question of the satisfaction of the self is raised herein. The self is beyond the gross body and subtle mind. He is the potent active principle of the body and mind. Without knowing the need of the dormant soul, one cannot be happy simply with emolument of the body and mind. The body and the mind are but superfluous outer coverings of the spirit soul. The spirit soul's needs must be fulfilled. Simply by cleansing the cage of the bird, one does not satisfy the bird. One must actually know the needs of the bird himself." (Bhag. 1.2.8)
For example, one mental speculator may have his own theory about the world and how it came about and what is its purpose. Another mental speculator may have his own theory as to the meaning of some religious text. Some other materialist may just be interested in making money or gaining some politically powerful position. Thus in their so-called "preaching", each one will form his own organization (ism) and try to convince others to follow his ism. Those of similar type of mental speculations (thinking) or the blind followers join such isms. One should naturally expect nothing but dissatisfaction and conflicts amongst such concocted isms because the spirit soul is beyond the subtle and material elements. He cannot be happy in working for anyone's mental speculations:
"This is because other occupational duties (whatever ism they may belong
to) cannot give liberation to the soul. Even the activities of the salvationists
are considered to be useless because of their failure to pick up the fountainhead
of all liberties. The gross materialist can practically see that his material
gain is limited only to time and space, either in this world or in the
other. Even if he goes up to the Svargaloka, he will find no permanent
abode for his hankering soul. The hankering soul must be satisfied by the
perfect scientific process of perfect devotional service." (Bhag. 1.2.8)
KARNATAKA, INDIA, July 24, 2004: As one shift of the 178-strong Narsinganna family finishes eating, another hungry batch replaces them. Feeding the family takes up most of the day, and the family women cook in two-hour shifts, squatting before the wood fires in the smoky kitchen to prepare 1,600 millet rotis and vast quantities of vegetables and lentils. "Cooking and housework is all that we know," Saraswati, the family's oldest woman, said resignedly. The men eat first, served by the girls under 11 years old who do not yet cook. Dozens of infants crawl in and out of the laps of their elders, helping themselves. Five generations - about 130 people - live in the ancestral home, with the remaining 50-odd family members accommodated nearby. "It is compulsory to eat together twice a day in the main house," said Bhimanna, the 71-year-old patriarch. He explains that the family that eats together stays together, bringing happiness and security. This is why they continued to live together when the traditional Indian joint family is swiftly disintegrating. They believe that the womenfolk had kept them together, preferring brides of around 15 years old who had not studied beyond the sixth grade. A senior Narsinganna pointed out that keeping the women under control ensured harmony -- undue freedom could spell ruination. "We consume what we produce and share everything," said Thiranandra, 37, in charge of the family's rather full diary. "There is no room for individual wants." The annual budget is about 1.2 million rupees (£14,000) while a further £3,500 goes on clothing, medicines and farm labour. Annually they consume about 132,000 lb of millet and 33,000 lb of wheat in addition to home-grown vegetables. The family is clothed with about 20 bales of varied cloth bought during the Hindu festival of Dusherra. Weddings are celebrated on a grand scale, sometimes several couples at once. A lone television set has pride of place at the top of the family house and is switched on sparingly for popular soap operas. "It's like watching television on a busy railway platform."
From Hinduism Today
The beauty about the Indian culture lies in its age-long prevailing
tradition of the joint family system. It’s a system under which even extended
members of a family like one’s parents, children, the children’s spouses
and their offspring, etc. live together. The elder-most, usually the male
member is the head in the joint Indian family system who makes all important
decisions and rules, whereas other family members abide by it dutifully
with full respect.
Importance Given to Protocol in Joint Family System in India
A major factor that keeps all members, big and small, united in love and peace in a joint family system in India is the importance attached to protocol. This feature is very unique to Indian families and very special. Manners like respecting elders, touching their feet as a sign of respect, speaking in a dignified manner, taking elders’ advice prior taking important decisions, etc. is something that Indian parents take care to inculcate in their kids from very beginning. The head of the family responds by caring and treating each member of the family the same.
Discipline in Indian Joint Family System
The intention behind the formation of any social unit will fail to serve its purpose if discipline is lacking and the same applies to the joint family system as well. Due to this reason, discipline is another factor given utmost importance in the joint family system in India. As a rule, it’s the say of the family head that prevails upon others. Incase of any disagreement, the matter is diligently sorted out by taking suggestions from other adult members. One usually also has to follow fixed timings for returning home, eating, etc.
What Researches on Joint Family System Reveal
The reason why Indians are proving to emerge as a prosperous lot globally, many researches claim, is because of the significance they attach to the joint family system. All working cohesively to solve a problem faced by any one or more members of the joint family, is what works magic in keeping one tension-free, happy and contended even in today’s highly competitive environment. An Indian may be a top corporate honcho or a great sportsperson or a movie actor and so on in a particular professional field, but all these accomplishments relegate to the backseat when at home.
More on Joint Family here
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