Recently Hindustan Times published a piece by Shashi Shekhar called Modern Families: Let’s Keep Our Loved Ones Close. I found some aspects of the piece quite bothersome. Here I attempt to parse through it and while decoding it, I present my point of view.
Let’s scratch the surface and take a look: what does the glorification of the family mean and who does it benefit?
The traditional definition of the family is: two or more people living together, related by birth, marriage or adoption. As members of a unit, they are supposed to support each other, in their general pursuit of a life of dignity. But what if the unit turned against one of its own? Let us remember that historically, women were bound into the heterosexual, monogamous family to further the rights of men over their property, so they could be certain that the property they passed on, went only to their own offspring. Man leaned on the assurance of monogamy to ascertain that the child he called his own, was indeed his. The family has evolved into a unit to keep women’s reproductive and productive labour harnessed to benefit the family unit and the man at its helm.
In the Indian context, the family has served as the basic unit of caste. Endogamy is the device used to ensure the perpetuation of caste. Endogamy or marriage within the same caste, (while prohibited with certain kinship i.e. gotra) keeps the caste system thriving. A prerequisite for this arrangement is ensuring the virginity of the girl being given in marriage. You need only glance at the matrimonial adverts in national newspaper to ascertain this. You’d be forgiven if you think you’ve been transported back in time. Certainly, doesn’t feel like it’s 2016.
The normative heterosexual family is the unit of the state and it is well established that the modern state functions in the image of a family. The power structure of the family is replicated in the power structure at the state level.
Parsing through data collected by government agencies like National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), we find that among all registered cases of violence against women, the largest share was cruelty by husband and relatives. Women are most at risk with their own families. The safe haven that is the family, is certainly a mirage as far as countless married women are concerned.
Large numbers of women are kidnapped every year and forcing a woman into marriage continues to be the chief reason to kidnap her. As per NCRB data, just last year, in 2015, close to 54% of all abductions of women were carried out to force them into marriage.
The report also says that police sources said much high numbers of kidnapping are probably due to the fact that parents of girls who eloped for marriage often registered cases of kidnapping against the man the girl eloped with. That’s the loving family for you, which refuses to accept a woman’s right to choose her own life partner. The unmarried woman is unsafe in her own home.
When harassed for dowry, a woman is left to her own devices, often facing torture and cruelty not just at the hands of husband but also her in-laws. Parents usually tend to have used up every resource on organizing the wedding, hence a return to the natal home is out of the question for most women. Often, women don’t survive the torture and are either killed or commit suicide.
Over the last three years, 24,771 dowry deaths were reported which translates to roughly one dead woman every hour and that is just according to the government statistics. We know that the number of case reported are only a fraction of the real numbers.
While the writer pines for the elusive happy family, all this freely available data makes not a dent in the carefully constructed halo around the sacred entity.
Let us look at a few of the statements made in the piece:
1. “Police suspect that even after coming out of prison, they wouldn’t desist from such activities.” The reference is to youth who commit crime, and have spent time in prison.
If our concern is to have them desist from crime, they must be provided with appropriate tools, such as counseling, set up with alternatives for a job and we should do everything required for their rehabilitation.
2. “Even our law enforcement authorities find themselves helpless when it comes to bringing misguided youth back into the mainstream.”
This is what happens when we confuse the job of one person with another. The police aren’t counsellors or psychologists.
3. “The rapid pace at which India’s family traditions are breaking down also has sociologists worried.”
Really? I thought change was the only constant and societies and its unit have always changed and will continue to do so.
4. “Here we shouldn’t forget that Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra have higher literacy levels than other states in the country. But that doesn’t seem to have an effect on the incidence of disputes within families.”
The higher number of disputes in educated families indicates that women are asserting themselves. With education and a job comes economic independence and this helps women to assert themselves. They may have a greater say in how their families are run. Having become contributers to the economy of the home in different ways, they may also take part in the decision making. Is that so terrible?
5.”The Hindi heartland might compete with these states in the spheres of industrialisation, per capita income or literacy but they are not too far behind in cases of marital discord.”
No sir, a woman asserting herself, her individuality, to gain economic independence or just to live life in her own terms, is not bringing about “marital discord”. The traditional marriage is set up in such a way as to be heavily loaded against women, and men have disproportionate power in the relationship. An educated, assertive woman should be viewed as an advantage to the family.
That a mainstream media house would publish such anti-woman content is not surprising. To discuss the family without talking about women, who are its integral part, instead blaming them for its “dysfunction”, is myopic at best.
The piece clearly stresses family over women. This plays into the mindset that has results in countless atrocities against women, across the country, everyday. Family ordained murders of women called honor killings and burning brides for dowry and killing 2000 baby girls everyday, (usually female fetuses in the womb) are all extensions of the same mentality which stresses family above women.
Traditions which dishonor a member of any group need to be amended or, better still, discarded. It is time we looked up a new version of the family or like other endangered species it will also become extinct. Good riddance, says my feminist heart.