The article was first published in DNA on 27th of June, 2019.

At the Asian Athletics Championship held in April this year, India’s Gomathi Marimuthu won the 800m race. Her family didn’t have money for the training. How did she do it? Her father ate cattle feed so that she could train herself. Her family and the hardships they went through won her the gold medal.

This is India, built on a strong foundation of the family system. This article is an attempt to understand the roots of the Indian civilisational continuity, which are to be found in the family system. It explores the real meaning of family and its role in making a stable and prosperous society.

With the growing struggle for individual freedom and rights, the importance of the family as an institution is decreasing. At this time, when the world is struggling for a stable society and peace of mind, figures show that divorce rates are increasing, there are more single parents than ever and old-age homes are growing exponentially. Increasing urbanisation and technology have atomised the family.

 In the past few years, the role of the members of a family has changed drastically. The strong emphasis on equality as sameness has reduced the respect for heterogeneity, leading to more issues and challenges for an individual. The cocoon of identity is limiting;  it gives us freedom but restricts our growth.

Indian culture has always created the consonance between the nurturing of the individual, the values of the family and the needs of society. It is a living testimony that individual progress and collective evolution are not in conflict. Rather, they facilitate each other.

There are different frameworks for looking at society. Few schools of thought approach it from the perspective of an individual, some others from the lens of the community, while the Indian framework attempts to learn from and informed by nature.

If we draw an analogy between society and the human body, for the latter, the cell is the basic unit as it fulfils all the functions, from digestion to breathing, just like the human body as a whole does.

Similarly, in the design of society, all of its aspects can be easily mirrored in the family, be it cultural, social or political. Just as in nature, in the body, different organs contribute by performing their function towards the effective running of the body as a whole.

This relationship is neither transactional nor one-sided, as the organs themselves benefit from the overall functioning of the body. It is an organic fusion based on individual parts doing their job, or dharma. Family structure is also imagined this way with every member doing their job according to their svabhava (nature) and gaining from the whole.

Our pursuit, therefore, is harmonious integration. Why do we need families? Family facilitates societal growth while taking care of the individual. It keeps the culture alive and promotes the economic prosperity of the society. The family celebrates life by performing various rituals during different phases, from birth to death. We may find them useless, but they develop our sensitivity, empathy and social consciousness.

These practices keep society emotionally connected and strong.

For a person to move beyond the ego, we have to be sympathetic to the other person. Creating your own space and your rights may lead to a freer individual, but always leads to an unstable society.

 Family teaches us to move beyond oneself and be compassionate towards other people’s needs. That is the first step to building a stable society. In creating this balance, it takes care of the aspirations of every individual by providing them with an ideal environment for nurturing, distribution of work and responsibilities, providing economic safety nets and immeasurable support in times of need.

The family contributes to the larger goal of doing Seva. It grows when it works for society, otherwise, individuals in the family grow, creating dissonance within the family.

Bhimsen and Amarjit Narang sold their house so that Gagan could learn shooting, unaware that he would one day qualify for the Olympics. Heroic acts of a family go into making heroes out of individuals. In a family, we emphasise refinement rather than survival. The family is the need of the individual, society, nature and every other existence.