Globally, the institution of family has experienced a multiple changes today. While the pandemic and the lockdown made family the focal point of people’s lives, and brought it again to the centre worldwide, however, for a Kashmiri, with or without a pandemic, family was and continues to be the centre of life. May be the credit goes to our landlocked state, our climate (Robert Kaplan’s the revenge of geography), our too emotional women folk, our history of uncertainty (an insecure conflict culture). There are incidents where mostly mothers (over a decade ago) would even decline their sons joining a job of outside, with the lone argument that ‘I can’t see him going far away’ (usually for sons, as daughters would never even apply for such a jobs). It was therefore not the pandemic that made us realize family’s significance but family in Kashmir is more than a house with a few known people. We are comparatively more homesick than others. Kashmiris whenever outside mostly keep talking about home (which is many a time taken as ethnocentrism) and by home they just don’t mean their own family members, they mean our collective ethos, our sense of being and honour, emotions and our way of life that is full of we-feeling, humanity and community consciousness.
Let us now come to the state of our extended family. My teacher says it was never there in Kashmir and I second him. It was never, or it never even existed, doesn’t mean it structurally isn’t there. Relatives are though treated as relatives but family politics has gone to another level generally. Extended family and conspiracies are synonymous now (Azarwun, competition and envy).The mutual relations are just a stage managed show; beneath lies an unceasing bitterness.
As far family and neighborhood is understood, now it is to some extent visible in downtown but is vanishing from the villages. Earlier people in villages would visit their neighbours quite informally and wouldn’t mind asking for some dish (Seynn pyuoont) or even a bowl of cooked rice. Also people in villages used to go to each others’ homes to smoke tobacco together, watch cricket matches or movies together, without any formalities, or reservations. But now people visit their neighbours purely as guests, that too seldom. All those informal relations have vanished forever. Now neighborhood is somehow visible only during lifecycle or mostly on life crisis events only (Mohalla committee cooking for the deceased neighbors’ family). What has landed us in this state is a painful question? Is this new sense of privacy too much and pathological, is also a worry?
As for family and children, the dynamics is visible here too. The decision making to an extent has shifted to children and family in Kashmir is filo-centric to a greater extent now i.e. where the lead role is played by children and there are reasons for that. They are well informed about market and more tech savvy, in fact they are born with technology. There are, however, other matters where elders take the lead (though women still in lesser proportion). Love affairs of children turning to marriages are usually covered up by parents despite internal reservations, purely due to social structure (of Khandan). Even parents at times are not happy with the behavior of their children but still keep praising them in kinship just to save their honour and family image. Same is with elderly persons who though feel tortured but don’t complain because of their family’s sense of honour, and thus internalize violence (out of Pitterr-hassad). Brother to brother has never been an affectionate relationship but an economic and competitive one historically, and the one earning more has always called shots in the family. Therefore it is not what they call as Num te Maaz but ‘Bouy Baeyiss Dushmana’, that still holds true in our context. There is a social compulsion in that too. People despite having bitter and unfriendly relations with close ones side with them in any crisis purely due to ‘what will others say’- public image (Lukkeh Mandcheh). This mutual rivalry and bitterness in an extended family too has reasons behind it – like material wealth, high or low income, career of children, land or absence of it, etc,.
The family in present day society has encountered a range of issues and challenges, like power relation among spouses, rising late marriage tends alienating elderly, etc. We see fast deteriorating of joint family norms, if not increasing divorce rates but a rising silent domestic violence and unhappy marriages, budding deviant and criminal tendencies of adolescents, extra disposable money available to kids along with expensive and bulk of junk food, drug abuse and too much of brand craze in some cases. Such factors too have given altogether a new dimension to the institution of family in Kashmir. Further the tensions of shrinking land for residential purposes, and unaffordable land prices amid huge youth unemployment have wreaked havoc to family peace.
Also, it may not be absurd to say that family, irrespective of identities like urban, rural, rich, poor, high caste, low caste etc., all have witnessed changes due to changing life styles, market economy, changing consumption patterns, emerging power relations, gender constructions, etc. like a tendency among poor to teach their kids in expensive schools and too much emphasis on children’s career prospects, especially among second generation educated families is an interesting observation. As for living in a conflict zone, I think it is not children or youth who feel insecure but their parents who feel more insecure and apprehensive of their children’s career prospects and safety, given the prolonged uncertainty and not many career options in the valley. There are many families who lost their loved one in armed conflict and are living in a perpetual pain and a sense of loss.
The social mobility of families is much witnessed due to the processes of changing occupational patterns and people progressing well. Further Sanskritization, Ashrafization or for that matter Sayyadization (as much exaggerated by some amateurs, however, some caste changes in the urban belt can’t be ruled out) like processes are not happening at an alarming trend but in reality it is the caste dropping trend (not mentioning caste while writing names) by many of those families who are perceived to be of low castes/social status in our society.
The family kinship close nexus is deteriorating and relations are material-driven and not emotional-driven. Though the family ties, generally speaking, are still quite significant to its members, becoming manifest through everyday life, especially at the time of life cycle events or life crisis events, the mutual bonds have weakened. Also the kinship bonds have developed a tendency of becoming more formal, impersonal and weak (due to personal entertainment and new defined privacy/deliberate secrecy).Now joint family or extended family normative structure or collective ethos too has turned into lobbies, conspiracies, hatred for each other, competition with relatives/ neighbours, show off, and a new sense of privacy. All this has actually destroyed the core objective of the institution of family.
A shift from collectivist culture to individualistic culture is witnessed. In the era of individualism, instrumentalism, rising material hunger, spousal tensions out of ego clash, understanding marriage as a relation of need and greed, rigid nature of spouses and most prominently the lack of moral and actual realization of education, etc, the institution of family has undergone a huge shift.
Divorce is, however, still being not treated as a practical option to put an end to domestic or spousal tensions. People do stay in strained relationships, paving way to increasing dysfunctional families and stress. Further the staunch false sense of competition between man and woman has shaped up a new family ethos and given a more competitive look to the family where salaries matter more than the mutual love and respect between husband and wife.
There is a dire need for a new familism as family is on the brink of crisis. The psyche needs to be changed for collective good and mutual love for the family. We have to learn to live beyond the deficiencies and blames, and avoid the relationships based on need and greed factor, besides reconnecting with the extended families in real sense to strengthen the family fabric. The larger question that remains is: are we failing the family or is the family failing us?
(Dr Adfer Shah is a Delhi based Sociologist working in Jamia Millia Islamia. Author is Associate Editor of Eurasia Review and Women’s Link journals).