A joint family was a phenomena found only in India of the bygone days. This really meant that, the parents with all their children and grandchildren stayed together under one single roof.
This system could prevail for decades for several reasons. First and foremost, all the children stayed in the same town as, no one went out of the town to another distant town in search of a job. This made it possible for all children to remain in town, and that also in the same house. Secondly, and more importantly, the sons and daughters-in-law were all treated as one family, and all these members were obliged to listen to the dictates of the elders. This made them succumb into staying with the parents, even if they did not like the idea. This system of joint family continued in India till the advent of the British Raj with which came the British culture. Now, the culture of single unit families was borrowed by India from their British counterparts. At that time, little realizing that single unit families started evolving in India. This happened in the middle of the current century. There is nothing in the world without advantages and disadvantages, it remains to be true of the joint family system also. The system had its flaws and great advantages too.
The joint family has a great advantage in the gift of the feeing of unity among all the members of the family, no matter how large it may have been. Each member felt part, yes, an integral part of the whole, and so never felt alone. In days of celebrations and in times of despair, the whole joint family was together in any eventuality to enjoy or fret. The children of the family were the children of the family, and not the children of any one couple in the family, so there could be no differentiation between the children of one brother and those of another. It was not possible that the children of one brother studied in a public school and the children of another brother studied in a municipal school, just because their fathers were of different financial standards. This might have been very good for the family as a whole, but it had its own drawbacks. The children and if not they, at least their mothers could have felt that their children were suffering at the hands of the system, and it could even be justified, for, if it was not for equal distribution of earnings, her children could be given more. There was a fair point in this, but the level of toleration and understanding was so very high that not a single member dared to raise an objection to the system. The system did give advantage to one at the cost of another, but does this not happen in every system. An old adage depicts this so truly that, “one man’s food is another man’s poison”. From the present standards of great extent, but still, the system of joint family was not without its advantages. In times of despair and tragedy specially, the system must have been a boon. An individual was never left alone to cry and die alone, and with this, the horros of a tragedy were minimized.
Besides, all the members of the family lived together, cared for each other and the children all grew together. This was a special asset for the children who always had the pleasure of company of their equals in size to play with, and a lot of elders to cherish them. All the children of the family knew each other from their childhood and never felt a difference between cousins and their real brothers and sisters.
The burden of housekeeping was shared by all the men and women and no one individual was made to feel burdened with the load of domestic tasks, which were shared and managed easily. In this system the elders had the finest share of it all. They were never lonely, they were given their due respect and regard by each member of the family. Above all, it was the dictates of the elders that always prevailed in the family. The cares of housekeeping were not their liability. All this gave them a very comfortable living in the evening of their lives. They felt wanted and cared for. I feel that, the greatest advantage of the joint family system accrued to the elders of the family. They had no cares and they were very well looked after, so they got a handsome return for all their labour during youth. On the contrary, the single unit families of today, are a singular curse for the elders more than anyone else in the hierarchy of the family. This is a curse to elders more than to anyone else. Now, they are neglected, unwanted and more often than not, even removed from the family.
The single unit family has come into being mainly because now, young men of the family are going out of their homes in search of better jobs so, their staying under one roof becomes impossible. When this happens, none of the individual son is willing to accept the responsibility of the old parents. So in this change over of the family system, the most hard hit are the elders of each family. To add to the separation due to the job hunting of the men, coming out the women also to work has given the final death blow to the joint family. What to talk of a joint family, in this scenario, even a single unit family hardly remains a family in its true sense. When the woman goes out to work, there has to be a lock outside the house, and, not only the physical lock but, a lock is put to nearness, familiarity and friendship amongst the members of the family. Even the children of working mothers suffer due to lack of affection and care so, who else can be looked after in such a family. The children from the age of two or even earlier, are put into crèches and learn whatever is available to them. In such a high dry scenario, where is the scope for elders to be attended to when children cannot get the attention they well deserve.
It is undoubtedly true that now everyone is free to do what ever he or she wants to do, without the shackles of a joint family but, at the same time, each individual is lonely and forlorn, as, there is no one to talk to no shoulders to rest upon and cry one’s woes, and no one who can help or would even care to help. The children who, in a joint family grew together, today, do not even know the names of their cousins. Just imagine when these children grow up, they will have no friends and no colleagues in the family, and will surely be very very lonely.
Both the family systems have their advantages and disadvantages, but wherever possible, brothers and their families and the parents should live together, it will certainly mean some sacrifice from all members but it will not be without an ample return, in the form of a feeling of security and belongingness. Above all the new problem that we have created regarding our senior citizens will also vanish, for they will be looked after by the young.