Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Indian Joint Families: Pains & gains of a naturalistic social security system

Lately in my psychotherapy sessions many women (in their 50s) were referred for pain... most often with complaints of back pain.
I noticed some common pattern in their respective lives - early marriage, joint family set-up, critical in-laws (although some had at least one in-law who was very supportive). This coupled with high sensitivity to approval (almost socialized for that), being a full-time home maker, husbands being busy with successful businesses (often from Vaishya caste), children who have individuated and might be ready to leave the nest, life revolving around domestic duties where they and their contributions are taken for granted / minimized.
While listening to them I often got a sense that I have heard the story before. There is a dry deadness to it all.  Its just an endless cycle of domesticity, kitchen, thankless caring and boredom. As if there is little to look forward to...
Often 'pain', debilitating pain, is what brings the family together, around the oft-neglected 'mom'.

(One also had more horror in her life with series of losses, abuse, helplessness and guilt about not being able to protect own son from similar abuse).
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The other group is that of personal growth circle which I run for my students. Here I encourage them to share their life stories and its eye opening or even inspiration to hear from them. Its a very diverse group with majority coming from a rural area/small Indian town, a couple with urban middle-class background and few others coming from beyond Indian sub-continent.
During the last session I suddenly realized many of these students lost their father in their childhood, one even his mother. Most of them, and few other too (due to other reasons) grew up with other relatives, grandparents, maternal/ paternal uncles etc, and were treated well (almost like foster homes, but still had a sense of reliability and trust, which is missing in the lives of children stuck in government bureaucratic child support services of western /developed countries).
Having such close community network, the joint family system, most of them grew up into decently secure individuals with happy memories of their lives with their cousins. Into resilient young adults, with a solid value system, and a trust in the universe, the way this world runs and who were able to ignore some of the negative life events and move further. Isn't it heart-warming?

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Such are the pains and gains of an old system, which on one hand can hold people, especially women in narrow spaces, and on the other hand can provide support and security in much better ways than an informal, seemingly uncaring, bureaucratic system.

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