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  • Writer's pictureSenthil Kumar

Indian Family at the Crossroads of Global Business...

"Family is the fore-thought and hind-sight for a man or woman from India...Family is the omni-present-web of cultural reality that has been spun for centuries across Indian sub-continent. Be it nomadic, tribal, agrarian, industrial, or post-industrial digitized global context, for a man or woman from India, Family has been and is still the axis-mundi for all his/her actions."

Whether a vagabond, farmer, trader, businessman, entrepreneur, teacher, guru, politician or a statesman, family has been the frame of reference for measure of success, well-being, and purpose in life. Even gods have their families...and even the world of heaven is defined as the family of eternal forces..of course, "family" is behind big scandals too. More than the nation state, language or religion, "family' has been a strongest and stable institution across India. The other institutions 'caste' and 'religion, which have been on steady decline ever since the industrial era began. But the ties and comfort of family are still intact and are of precious value for the majority of Indians. Maslow's hierarchy of needs, or for that matter most motivation theories can be interpreted only within the context of family in India. Without family, these theories have no space in India.

For the past 3 millennium of recorded history in India, the 'family' has been identified as one of the central tenets in politics, economics, finance, business and trade related decisions and actions.. For example, the notion of "hindu undivided family" - it is a system of extended family structure that was prevalent throughout the Indian subcontinent consisting of at least a few generations living in the same home or ancestral lands bound by the common relationship. A patrilineal joint family consists of an older man and his wife, his sons and daughters and his grandchildren from his sons and daughters. The family is headed by a 'karta' or elder, usually the oldest male, who makes decisions on economic and social matters on behalf of the entire family. The patriarch's wife generally exerts control over the household and minor religious practices and often wields considerable influence in domestic matters.

While "men" have undoubtedly played a dominant role within the family, the role of women cannot be understated. Right from the times of feudal wars through colonial rule to post independence industrialized era, Indian women have been the back bone - albeit staying within the family - of all the struggles and successes. Rise of major cultural, linguistic and political institutions can be attributed to Indian women. But women did it because of the safety and comfort provided by the institution of family - despite the oppression of rights women experienced due to religious and feudal customs.

For the past several decades, especially after independence, the large joint family system has been under stress. Several factors have been said to have caused the breakup of large undivided (hindu) families into small nuclear families: Migration of men to industrialized cities, mobility afforded by small families, greed, self-interest driven consumption, new liberty expressed in terms of purchasing power and material wealth. There is no doubt, nuclear families have helped women, even men in some cases, to come out of oppression what they experienced within large hindu-undivided-family. Including right to education and work, and take lead roles in the society.

However, the fast-paced economic growth, spendthrift & debt-laden lifestyle, unhealthy competition for material success, profitability and productivity demands, and the abstract, impersonal global business forces are impacting big jolts on the perceptively sacred institution of indian family (including the modern nuclear family) - tearing it up into islands of disconnected, depressed, desolated individuals saving for living in a retirement home away from the "Family".

The point I am raising here is: whether the vision of politicians and government do address this challenge? Do they envision a future for the Indian family that has served as the central root of India's economic and cultural system? Right from the interest rate on home mortgages to employee wages and incentives to corporate investment / downsizing/ divestment decisions to protecting the savings of the majority all emanate from political and economic policies envisioned at the top. Whether business decisions are still made taking into account the interests of family? Take for instance, the way home mortgage interest, asset valuation methods,or rental pricing practiced in the recent times in India. They are all devoid of human values and appear as if they are designed for highly productive robots..not to serve and protect the interest of families..Most middle-class families have become aliens in their own towns and cities due to hyper real estate markets..Look at the plight (flight!) of the globetrotter business man "Vijay Mallya": who was ruthlessly trying to downsize the employees to save his mismanaged "King Fisher airlines" had to run-away from India fearing prosecution, spoiling the reputation of Indian business and his family in particular.

Advertisements and products catering to the conspicuous consumption and greed will short-circuit the family happiness. Women in many ways will become tacit victims of global trade that does not respect family. Businesses trapped in global financial quagmires without a vision for the "indian family" (which is the source of cultured indian consumer, employee, producer, entrepreneur) can become the heavy burden for the entire society. Above all, along with family-happiness, national peace and stability can be undermined by offshoot of blind consumption-driven growth such as pollution, environmental hazards, inequality, and scant regard for the fellow-beings, and the proverbial Hobbesian jungle...

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