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Indians are more traditional than other peoples

July 30, 2007

I posted the photo-essay this morning and then was delighted when I saw this headline in the newspaper: Indian family values intact. I am going to write about it briefly here.

A Kantar Media study has said that Indians are very attached to their families and family values pervade. This is what the survey said:

Findings go on to demolish the popular TV fed misconception of Indian being a decadent society with sons and daughters throwing out old, crusty parents and wives and husbands switching partners…

Actually all Indians already know this, except for those who are living far away and/or those who are hooked on to soap operas. I have written a post on the reverence that Indians feel for their old here.

The low divorce rate in India as compared to the rest of the world I have written about here but as the post (and its comments) reveal this low divorce rate is more because of traditional family values which make divorce unacceptable.

Other interesting findings from the survey:

1. Less than 1 percent of Indians live alone, and this is in keeping with the norm in most Asian countries.

2. 76 percent of Indians feel that it is important for their family to think that they are doing well in life. This is against world trends. While Brazil is similar to India in this aspect (74 percent of Brazilians feel their family’s opinion is important) in countries such as Hungary the figure is 20 percent, in Germany 33, Great Britain 37, Spain 40, Poland 44, France 46, USA 51, Russia 65, and Sweden and Kenya 67.

3. Over 50 percent of the parents want their children to move ahead in life, even if it means great pressure on the family. This is in keeping with trends in countries like the U.S. However the figures are 63 percent in China and 33 percent in Germany.

Actually this sticking to tradition thingie may not always be a good thing as the figures on divorce show. Approval of the community, society and family is so required for most Indians that they tend to suffer silently rather than disturb the pattern. So what one needs is to reach a balance…where individuals are able to seek happiness and at the same time familial values are not destroyed. Maybe such an ideal does not exist anywhere in the world. Or even if it does, it probably does not last…its like a see-saw. One goes to one extreme and then that extreme makes the society realise that they need to change and they start coming back to the middle…but there is a danger that they may go to the other extreme. I don’t know. I am not a sociologist but human behavior is fascinating to me as it is to most people, and I guess we can never find explanations for everything. The only solution is to try and find a balance in our own lives and not get totally dependent on what others think…

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. B Chopra permalink
    July 30, 2007 11:03 am

    Like to Add:

    Many people in india are biased by Cultural/Traditional rules.. especially women.. majorly in Rural India… who tolerate anything to maintain their Marriage & Family… and Economical independence is another factor… and socially – walking out of marriage is still not an easy thing do.


  2. July 30, 2007 12:26 pm

    You hit the nail on the head Bharath. People in India, esp women are terrifed of losing their marraige and family.
    Also at another level, men too do not want divorce because they have a social status to maintain. A divorce in India can even affect the marraige prospects of the children.

  3. July 30, 2007 12:41 pm

    Yes, the balance is very important…

    One important symptom I observe of ‘over-valuing’ the family is the prevalance of child abuse, where the perpetrators are usually family relatives and are never caught or exposed.

  4. July 30, 2007 7:26 pm

    As a Spanish teacher, I’ve seen how much Latin Americans value family as well, especially the elderly, who often live with the younger generations.

    Personally, it has been important to me to establish my own identity outside the expectations of my parents, especially my father. If one can do that without breaking family bonds, all the better!

    Like you said, it’s a balance.

  5. July 31, 2007 12:39 am

    Personally I disagree with survey like this. What is so special about Indians that they will be able to keep their family values intact in spite of climbing high on wealth ladder? Nothing. Indians are just like rest of the world. So when as a country we will prosper, there is no doubt that family values will suffer.

    The wealth and prosperity are the signs that we are successful with our high level institutions, like society and government. These high level institutions are gaining at the expense of low level institutions, (e.g. obviously family).

    Nature is very delicately balanced, in every respect, at all the time.

  6. Nabbi permalink
    July 31, 2007 3:10 am

    Just last night on the news (on India) there was something about the increase of female infantcide, especially surprising to discover an increase in middle and upper class women. The explaination was along the lines that there’s still a very deep seated desire for boy babies and it’s thought to be too expensive to care for girl babies. Once the couple find out the baby is a girl they usually plan for an abortion. The ending comment was hinting at the value – or lack of – in women, and how women really need to stand up and show that they are of value to family and society. As a mother, an Asian mother, it really tore at my heart how there’s still such beliefs in Asian countries. I believe every child, boy or girl, is a blessing. There’s that fine line of how much tradition is good for a family and country, and when it starts to be dettrimental and perspectives are scewed.

  7. Nabbi permalink
    July 31, 2007 3:13 am

    Oh, I forgot to say, I agree with B Chopa’s comment too. It’s difficult to break out of the traditional mold when it’s been going on for centuries. Same in Korea (where I’m from)

  8. July 31, 2007 7:04 am

    Kedar, ofcourse! Every society changes and if you notice I have said that in my post. And in any case this survey is about now…and gives some clue as to what Indians think now. The majority are still traditional and this I can see from my observations, one doesn’t need a survey to tell us that..these surveys are always limited in nature as they ask only specific number of questions to a specific number of people.
    And I personally do not believe that being traditional is necessarily good (so its not as if Indians are special) as it can lead to very unhappy individuals. This too I have mentioned in my post..and every society has been here, where Indians are and they have moved on. For better or for worse.

    Nabbi, in my opinion traditional values need not be good for a country at all. And traditional values mean that females remain dependent and have thus less value. One needs to find a balance.
    However one must remember that killing females was never a traditional belief, at least not in India. In India its modern practice. In the olden days because of the joint families, economic burdens were shared – between brothers, even cousins. Plus society was not materialistic. So we have moved towards some modern traditions – a more materialistic society with consumer goods which are making people greedy. Greed which is partly responsible for people wanting boys in India, because of dowry etc. Greed or a terror of falling into debt (girls need a heavy dowry in some communities) But killing female babies was never a part of Indian tradition (killing of widows was, but only in a certain part of India and this too came about later, not in ancient times) because of another reason…people had 10-12 kids! There was enough chance for every family to have several boys. Today with 2-3 children per family some people prefer to get rid of the females! Its a sick thing. But ofcourse you are right in the sense that female foeticide is rooted in the belief that females are burdens to the society.
    Economic independence is the only way for women to stop being an economic burden. This will also change the family structure and old traditional ways of life as once women go out to work everything changes.

  9. Nil permalink
    July 31, 2007 8:37 pm

    Yes there is a definite need for all people to find a correct balance between tradition and adapting to this ever globalised world.

    I love Indian values which encourage respect for elders, parents and close-knit families in general. What’s better than having a big, loving happy family?

    However, the status of rural women in particular is quite a moot point when considering how much tradition should be at stake. When an issue like divorce is at hand (for example, abusive marriages or dowry disputes), the woman’s community shouldn’t stigmatise her as an outcaste. There needs to be widespread education schemes to somehow enlighten them and emancipate women. Even something like family planning could be implemented by means of more female literacy. With India’s high birth rate, contraception may not always work. Kerala’s relatively lower birth rate is testament to the importance given to females in the state. I believe literacy rates are close to 100% and the ratio of females is actually higher then males.

  10. axinia permalink
    July 31, 2007 9:34 pm

    Nita, congratulations!! – this time I landed by this post of yours directly from the WordPress Dashboard News!!!
    I do not see any problem for India being a traditional country – somebody should keep the traditions, isn’t it? If I look here in the West how people are actually unhappy with their lives being “independent, single, divorced etc. I ask myself – what is so good about this so called advanced society??

  11. July 31, 2007 11:09 pm

    Thanks for telling me Axinia. I just didn’t check the referrers today…and when I checked I found that indeed wordpress was referring me..but anyway by the time I went to look, it was gone!
    About being alone, I find it difficult to understand how people live alone by choice. No person is perfect and there is so much joy in sharing your life. Every human being has to think of the other first. I wonder if you have seen ‘as good as it gets’…i feel it holds a lot of lessons for us all.
    ofcourse I myself have been extraordinary lucky in love, married my college sweetheart…but I know if we hadn’t got married I would have found someone else. No moping around for me! 🙂

  12. Phantom permalink
    August 1, 2007 4:30 pm

    As it is with any system within nature, life and the environment, rarely do extremes cause harmony and equilibrium. Eastern philosophy has long advocated a central duality of life – brahman / atman in hinduism, yin/ yang in chinese, even zoarashtrianism has the concept of duality intricately interwoven into its philosophies.

    Point is – for truly progressive evolution, we need to evaluate the good and the bad, eliminate the bad, and consolidate on the good. While this may be a gross over-simplification of things, it really comes down to being able to combine the good from multiple systems, and eliminating the bad.

    The west could learn much from the sentimantal, sensitive, spiritual values of the east. The east could learn much from the pragmatic, logical mindset of the west. The human brain has equal energies dedicted to the logical and creative aspects of thought – why can’t our lives be the same.

    Having lived in the west for almost a decade now, i still wonder how people here can continue to lead such sanitised, emotional-less (relatively that is, compared with life in India), sentiment-less lives. Every mothers / fathers day all the restaurants are filled with happy familes, sons and daughters taking out their dad/mum or grand-dad/mum for a joyous meal….and while this scene presents happiness, positivity and joy, it also symbolises the cold hard fact that many of these people hardly meet or associate with their parents during the year and hence this mothers / fathers day has beocme institutionalised as an event, a reminder of that relationship that in reality can never truly or never truly be denied, ignored or trivialised. This is not to say that westerners don’t love their parents / relatives, or don;t share an emotional connecton with them….but its certauinly the case, that for westerners (and by this I mean North americans, brits, aussies, kiwis…not continental europeans) life and relationshiops are assessed with a much more pragmatic currency than it is for asians (including the middle east, sub continent and orient). Continental europeans such as tyhe french, italians, spanish, portugese are different…..they hail from more ancient cultures and even now embody strong traditions of family values.

    By the same token, we in India could benefit from modernising our thought process and mindset. For one, we could begin by changing the way we view sex, man-woman relationships… these do literally drive a whole lot of other aspects of our lives. This middle class morality is what causes the cultural suffocation. Rtaher than adopt the double standards that are so common among the urban middle class of today, it’s better if we combine a healthy does of oragmatism when thinking and discussin about issues such as drinking, smloking, women;s role in society, female education, sex, dating etc. Adopting a more modern outlook on these does not in any way have to implly an abandonement of traditional family values. There is indeed a middle ground, and we have to find it, cos that is where truly lies harmony and equilibrium.

  13. August 3, 2007 2:26 am

    Family values in all cultures must be respected and evolve with time.

  14. August 5, 2007 1:21 pm

    I agree with Bharath too.
    In my opinion family values should be respected but not at the cost of women.

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