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  Balanced family  
  Fact and fiction  

SOCIOLOGICAL literature in the area of family studies has been rich in typologies of enormous variety. Yet, the notion of a 'balanced family', which is so pervasively and perversely oft repeated in our society, does not find any mention there.

There are two possible reasons for it. First, sociologists and anthropologists have perhaps become too arm-chairists and these usages, despite their compelling and formidable presence in the everyday world, do not appeal to them. Second, the whole notion of a balanced family is part of the private-intimate world of knowledge production and consumption networks mediated through stamped well-wishers of a family and hence do not get articulated so overtly.

The following family compositions invariably warrant the invocation of the term 'balanced family' by its propagators: Family with a single daughter, family with two daughters, family with one son and, of course, a family with no child.

The idea of a balanced family, with at least two siblings of which one is necessarily a boy, has become a social fact in Indian society, to use Durkheim's phraseolology as its violation evokes strong moral coercion to conform to what is perceived as 'normal'.

This coercion is the most acute in the case of a family with one girl child. The pressure to conform is there even with the family with just a son, but it is qualitatively different and certainly less acute and insistent and more persuasive and optional in nature. By inference, the most integral and indispensable to the idea of a balanced family is the presence of a son at its centre. And this is precisely why this reeks of abhorrence and appalling skewdness in our civilisational make-up.

This quest for a so-called balance emanates from our deep 'embeddedness' in the culture of patriarchy where a son is, more than anything, considered the 'provider', especially for the parents when they grow old.

A woman, the second sex, is considered unfit for this job. What will happen when the daughter leaves after marriage and who will look after the parents and the legacy? This question emerges as the most powerful raison de etre for the whole formulation of the idea of a balanced family.

Much more than dowry and expenses associated with nurturing a 'liability', it is perhaps the constant fear of being alone and unattended when old that seems to be driving young parents to ultra-sound clinics for illegal tests in search of a balance (read son). This is despite the fact that some of the most macabre killings of the aged people have been committed in the recent history of the Northern region and the city by none other than their own sons. Sadly the image of a son as a quintessential saviour and a provider is far too ossified and the image of a daughter as a compulsory migrant, as a deserter, is too indelible.

This is especially true in an urban setting with its fragmented, individualised and anonymous lifestyle with almost negligible non-familial social support and mutual awareness. The pressure of keeping a small family necessitated by both the economic and physical space constraints of a city creates conditions for the idea of balanced family to flourish and get propagated.

The notion of a balanced family with a son and a daughter sounds democratic, equalitarian, gender-just and benevolent, but that's a huge trap. As a matter of fact, it is hypocritical, malevolent and dangerous in its practices. This is an idea that seems to be behind the world's most horrendous genocide being committed predominantly by the rich, urban and educated class of Indians, what demographers refer softly as female foeticide.

The state and civil society both will have to work in tandem to debunk this myth of a 'balanced family'. This could be achieved by working on a comprehensive policy package for the rehabilitation and security of the aged population. We, in the mean time, can plan our investments keeping in mind the changed socio-cultural scenario.

Kids, irrespective of their gender, are going to fly anyway leaving us with our hard-earned, home-loaned nests. And, as for the legacy, who knows what happens after death. Some practical 'me-centric' financial investments coupled with some doses of enlightened renunciatory philosophy from our old reservoirs of wisdom will enable and equip us to be better prepared for future shocks, if any.


The writer, who teaches Sociology at the Government College for Girls, Sector 11, Chandigarh, is also a member of the core committee of the UT government's campaign against female foeticide.

Photo caption: Family as depicted by sculptor Ram Kinker -- Photo: AJ Philip
  By  Santosh Kr. Singh  
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