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Keeping what is good in Indian families1

Families in India revolve around maintaining social relationships. In spite of the drawbacks, Indian families often have high values that the west might covet, values that resonate with Christian values. Christian workers in India could keep and encourage these in the present times.2 Husband-wife ties In a survey3 young Indian boys and even more girls, disapproved of certain behaviors in marriage, and strongly disapproved of sex before marriage, which they considered a sin. They said sex should be enjoyed only with a married partner and sexual relation before marriage with a fianc lessens the respect after marriage. A majority of present-day young men and women have high moral values towards marriage. This is most worthy of preserving. In the same survey, they said marriage fulfils various needs of individuals, including economic. Girls felt strongly a duty was to support their husband economically. While families arrange 95 per cent of marriages in India, love marriages are increasing. With arranged marriages, an individual makes a decision and sticks to it for it involves the honour of the family and, especially among Hindus, the additional motivation is astrologers have checked the compatibility of the prospective couples by tracing their zodiac signs and psychological makeup with the help of their names and dates of birth. Families fear going against astrological guidance on compatibility of the prospective couples in case they upset the deities, and harm the marriage. People assume in Indian marriages that a shared commitment from which love will build. Unlike the western love marriages, where the couples could be worrying about whether they made the right decision, or whether their love for each other will last, married couples in India work to love each other and see their love grow. Scholars observe that sometimes the shared commitment by the couple comes only because there is no alternative. The only choice is sticking it out. 4 Children as added gifts to the family were necessary but not any more. Childless couples may or may not choose to adopt a child or two. Society increasingly accepts them. This change in society is welcome. When people see husband and wife as partners for life, and that they two constitute a complete family, the view of family mirrors biblical understanding of family. India has the lowest divorce rate in the world, in spite of rising divorce rates in cities. Life-long commitment between husband and the wife is still highly valued. Jesus by his presence at a wedding in Cana showed that he honoured and blessed marriage and in his teaching discouraged divorce. Parents/Children ties Bonding between parents and children in Indian families has some very good qualities. Parents invest in their childrens wellbeing, education, training, and skills. Though there is imbalance in the caring and sharing of resources to sons and daughters, parents do it partly because of their patriarchal background. In some instances mother/child bonding is excessive. With more women literate and taking paid employment, things are changing but still this issue needs to be seriously addressed to provide equality in the way parents care for and share resources among their children. The practice of either sons or daughters caring for their parents when they are old is now more common. Increasingly daughters play a part, flowing from earlier strong bonds between parents and children. While old age homes are appearing, it is not considered proper for children to lodge their aged parents in such homes, for these are believed to cater for those who have no family. On the whole, parent/child relationships are good in India, within healthy limits. Even while dying on the cross, Jesus gave the care of his mother to one of his disciples, affirming parent/child bonds of mutual care. Ties between siblings
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Section contributed by Dr John Arun Kumar H Richard Niebuhr Christ and Culture 1951. This article on keeping what is good in Indian families might fall into Niebuhrs final type, "Christ transforming culture," which critiques culture and yet participates in what could be part of the kingdom of God. 3 PR Sumangla and S. Hasalkar, 1999, Values of college youth towards marriage in Journal of Avinashlingam Deemed University, 9,. Coimbatore , Tamil Nadu: .Avinashlingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women Deemed University, p. 163 4 Elaine J. Leeder, The Family in Global Perspective, SAGE Publications, 2004, p.182

Our society encourages strong ties between siblings, a beautiful aspect that helps brothers and sisters to love and care for one another throughout life. If both parents go to work, older children take care of younger siblings, reinforcing bonds between siblings. As children grow, they are often supportive of brothers and sisters until they marry. Brothers do not get married until their sisters are settled, even when parents are still alive. However, sometimes families follow the dictum, blood is thicker than water, to the extreme, causing problems between brothers and sisters-in law in families. In south India, the practice of an uncle marrying his niece is an offshoot of strong ties between siblings, as with children of a brother and sister marrying each other. This practice does not have medical sanction as research has indicated that children born out of such marriages are prone to have congenital defects. In rural India, family group marriages occur, where brothers in one family marry the sisters of another family. Again siblings strengthen their bonds and support each others marriage during rough times. However, if one marriage ends in a divorce, this may lead to deep troubles between the families, and affect sibling marriages. In most Hindu rites of passage, roles are played by brothers for their sisters family. For instance, in some rural parts, when a girl matures, her maternal uncle has to be there in the rituals of cleansing. He provides her a leafy canopy during the period of isolation when she first starts menstruating. When she gets married, if he is not marrying her, he has to be there in rituals performing symbolic actions of giving her away in marriage. Although among Christians there are no such practices in Church, some families follow some form of such practices informally thereby expressing their appreciation of sibling bonds. As siblings get older, they may find old relational bonds come to their aid. For example, a widower may live with his sisters, one single and other widowed. As long as ties between siblings express love and support within permissible limits, they are something good and important to keep. Scholars have noted strong sibling bonds provide a biblical idea for community, such as Jesus used on referring to those who do the will of God as his sisters and brothers. 5 They suggest he used the sibling picture for the relationships not only between God, and us but just as importantly, as a symbol for our relationships with each other among Christians.6 The metaphor could be universally understood, was readily grasped and profound in its implications.7 Ties between nuclear and extended families Nuclear families are common in both cities and villages these days, although they have not totally replaced joint families in many villages. For work, many people move, yet remain emotionally attached to families with the help of mobile phones and internet, and travel by bus and train. People consider arranged marriages ensure the continuing ties with the larger family, and love marriages weaken the ties, though this too is changing. Joint-Family ties The once-championed patriarchal set up is changing slowly among the educated, urban middle classes. This proves a corrective to patriarchal gender divisions, while maintaining the importance of family. Improved perspective and practice preserve a family support base for the embedded nuclear families within. Families doing things together features frequently, and especially characterises large families. Grandparents often care for grandchildren while parents work. In joint families with several sons, daughters-in law and grandchildren in the same house, the women cook together for the family, though this too is changing. Watching television together can be a family time in India, time to bond with each other, plan activities for the next day or the week, catch-up with each other, and entertain guests. Many nuclear families make financial contributions to extended families, such as a son sending his parents a fixed sum from his salary each month towards theirs and his siblings needs. Praying together as a family is another activity families do well to keep. Family altars are common in Hindu homes. Although, women religiously offer worship daily, the father, the head of the family, presents himself with his family on special days to worship his family deity at their family altar or at the temple of their deity. This practice draws family members together, enables prayers as a family, sets a
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Christopher Wemple and Suzan Stafford, Towards Reclaiming the Symbol of the Family of God: Identity and Sexuality in Religion-online http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1655, viewed on 6 August 2009 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid.

spiritual example by the head of the family, keeps ties with the ancestral home, becomes a family occasion, and honours elders and those who take part. For Christians, having a family altar locates a sacred space within the house as a symbolic reminder of Gods presence, perhaps with a shelf or table, the Bible, hymnals and prayer books. In addition, it acts as a visible testimony to neighbours of faith and practice. Family and Neighbours Daily worship and prayer focus the familys trust in God for all needs, individual and corporate. One Christian familys practice interested neighbours, forming a link with that family as well as building family and individual relationships with God. In the Old Testament Abraham was an example of this. Wherever he went, he built an altar and worshipped his God, building his family and witnessing about his God to his neighbours. Removing footwear to enter a home or a temple marks respect and hygiene, both cultural and practical. In view of the feelings of people of other faiths to all things sacred, perhaps we too should take off our shoes when we come to worship God. Homes also are viewed as sacred. Often in small settlements family feelings extend to neighbours and the whole village. Out of such feelings, people care for needy neighbours and offer physical and emotional support, a good practice to keep. Jesus and John the Baptist were related and supported each other. Their mothers kept good ties. Jesus, who grew up in a large family with brothers and sisters, visited and ministered to the families of Peter, Martha, Zacchaeus and others. He healed Peters mother-in-law who later served them. All these suggest that Jesus blessed and encouraged family bonds inside and outside families. With all their complexities, families bring much that is valuable and resonates with biblical principles and practice. With some corrective measures, Indian families have much that is worth preserving. The great biblical command to love God with all your heart, strength, mind, and to love your neighbour as yourself, encourages us to develop and maintain relational ties in families both large and small. Families in India offer a fertile ground for the Christian workers to do just this.