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Extended Familes in India

 

Indian culture is famed for putting great value on large extended families.  Evidence shows that Indians have lived in large family units, extended and nuclear.  Extended families are popular in India and in Indian culture because having an extended support system helps families survive in uncertain times of flood, famine, war and chaos. 

However, if Indians have always stayed in extended families, over the centuries, entire towns and villages would be required to house a ‘single extended family’.  So what’s the reality of extended families in India. 

India is an agrarian country.  Majority of our population still lives in the countryside.  Extended families are a highly effective way to utilise manpower in the farming community.  Having many hands makes light work.  Having many family members was great succour in times of floods and famine.  Hence in the rural communities, extended families make logical and economical sense. 

As long as the farm was ‘in the family’, everyone lived under the same roof.  As and when the land was divided, the extended family naturally moved with the land.  Usually this happened at the death of the grandsire of the family.  Usually 3 generations separated at this point.  Each ‘son’ or grandson would set up a new ‘extended family’ of his own children and grandchildren.

Craftsmen and merchants benefited from extended families by sharing resources, tools and trade secrets.  Having a large network of family members helped them to control everything from production to marketing and sales.  This also helped to keep the wealth in the family and maximise their profits. 

Usually, large extended families only stay together while the patriarch or matriarch of the family provided the financial support.  The moment everyone became financially independent, the extended unit usually breaks up out of necessity and natural tendency of people to want to lead their own lives in their own way.

With an ever increasing population, India has rapidly become urbanised and by necessity, the extended family units are breaking up.  In the cities, there is no physical way to house lots of people in a single house.  As urbanities prefer ‘jobs’ to agrarian life, this automatically means there is no singular family business to unite the different nuclear units of the ‘family’.  As modern Indians chase jobs nationally and internationally, nuclear families are likely to multiply and number of extended families will dwindle. 

There is a modern twist to this tale.  In the age of Facebook and Twitter, families are now coalescing on-line and conversing in ever increasing numbers by Whatsap and text.  Extended families are being created on-line in ways unimaginable 10 years ago.

 

Read about lack of extendRead about lack of extended families in Indian scriptures on this link.

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