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Man is a social animal. Probably, the relations between the individual and the society are defined on the basis of this premise. But this assumption does not seem to have been put to test till date. However, frequently occurring cracks in the social relationships and intentional and sometimes seemingly willful violation of social norms tend to put a question mark on this basic premise of social existence. If man is indeed a social animal, why he has started enjoying breaking the social norms/relations? Why the society is persistently failing to keep the individual members committed to the social norms, laws and customs? Can it be explained away by dubbing it as ‘generation gap’ only? Is the individual for the society or vice versa? Is it justified to break the social norms just for individual gratification? Simple yes/ no answers may not satisfactorily answer these questions! Keeping in mind the ever-increasing demand for individual freedom, it has become imperative to evaluate and redefine some of these norms. But most stakeholders have opted to overlook the problem. Educated and so called enlightened people often turn to legal solutions for every problem. Of late, it has been felt that even the governments are keen to impose law only, overlooking the social aspects. But is it logical and justified? Mostly this approach has created additional problems.
An important difference of human beings from other animals is their emotions and faculty to have feelings like love, hate, pride, esteem, sacrifice, happiness; sadness etc. Can an individual devoid of all such feeling be called human? Unfortunately, legal systems encourage decisions on facts and not feelings. Divorce is a legal solution if the spouses do not enjoy cordial relations. But is it a solution to the problem? This legal right was available even fifty years ago but it was rarely enforced. The partners compromised their individual freedom and surrendered their legal rights for the welfare of the children. It is possible that some individuals did suffer on account of this arrangement but mostly, the children benefitted and were saved from facing the consequences of broken families. But these days number of divorces has increased manifold. This certainly has a great negative impact on the children. Despite the fact that they may not suffer financially because of the working mothers, they certainly suffer psychologically. This proves a great hindrance in balanced development of their personality, resulting in sores on the body social which later on have to be removed by using legal scalpel at a great cost to the society. Could it not be prevented?
Family is the basic unit of the society. It is the responsibility of the family to take care of the children so that they become responsible members of the society. The institution of marriage was designed to give social legitimacy to the children and fix accountability of their welfare. When legal issues were raised, law recognized this same age old arrangement in almost every society. But now the demand for individual freedom has reached a pass when man-woman can live and have conjugal relations legally, even without getting married. Law has even started recognizing children born out of a wed-lock. But the society has failed to provide legitimacy to such children. Consequently, barring the children of high society, such children often suffer a lot.
In good old days, welfare of the children was limited to providing food and protection till they attained adulthood and became independent. But this concept has undergone considerable change overtime. Now the welfare includes high cost of (even by taking loans) their education and meeting their demands for expensive (and sometimes unnecessary) consumer items. This has become a social responsibility of the parents. Legally, under section 125 of Cr. Pc, the children can demand maintenance allowance from their parents. This section does not define the “needs” but we have not heard of any child invoking this provision. Most parents seem to fulfill their responsibilities, even beyond their means. Mostly this law for maintenance has been invoked by the suffering wives who are staying separate from their husbands. While we don’t have any instances of children using this legal remedy, of late, the number of parents invoking this provision has certainly increased. Obviously, while parents are fulfilling their social responsibilities, children are running away from theirs. Even if the parents invoke this legal provision, is the duty over after paying the maintenance allowance? What about their emotional needs in the old and vulnerable age?
Till a few years back, marriage of the children used to be the responsibility of the parents; and children accepted whatever the parents did in this regard. In retrospect, the success rate of these “arranged” marriages was almost cent percent. But the economic and technological development, especially in communication technology, has blown such a wind of individual freedom in our society that children are no more willing to follow the parental diktats in this regard. Now, they not only want to select partner of their choice, but also want to enforce their will on the parents. Sometimes, parents find it difficult to go by the inter-caste, inter-region or inter-religion alliances, but these rebellious children are not willing to listen anything in this regard. Law does not consider this type of rebellion as illegal. In fact law treats it as the right of the children. Most educated and legal experts recognize and reinforce this legal position only as can be seen from the courts directing the governments to provide protection to such runaway couples. The question arises as to what should the parents do? Do they have any role/ choice in all this or should they accept it as their fait accompli? Should they abandon/ compromise the philosophy and values for which they strived throughout their lives? Certainly there is no legal compulsion for this but this ”sacrifice”/understanding is often expected of them in the name of the happiness of the children. Why? Because they not only gave birth to the children but also fulfilled their every need even by cutting into their own needs! Because, they themselves empowered the children to take their own decisions and to challenge their parental authority! But why these children and other votaries of individual freedom fail to realize as to what would have happened to this much hyped freedom had the parents also decided to enjoy themselves overlooking the needs of the children? Alas! They are not willing to give a thought to rights/needs/emotions of the parents! Courts are also blindly supporting the cause of freedom of children only. Nevertheless, they all want that the parents should not disown the children despite all this. Why?
The decisions of Khap panchayats in Haryana and cases of honor killings at other places clearly demonstrate that social development has failed to keep pace with legal development. But condemning this as “honor” killings only is, probably, over simplification of the problem. NO KILLINGS CAN BE JUSTIFIED, LEAST OF ALL ONE’S OWN CHILDREN! But in what way abandoning the parents, who took care of the children throughout their life, to sulk within at the fag end of their life is a lesser crime than a murder? Many times one or both parents die of the shock on account of such decisions of the children, but no law treats such deaths as murder. Often they become victims of blood pressure, depression or other such lifelong ailments and suffer till the end. Is not the expectation of accepting the situation silently an emotional blackmail and equivalent to taking advantage of their old age and vulnerability? Which human rights declaration allows such blackmail? Enforcing such one sided laws is bound to create more problems and cannot be justified in any way. Indian society is already burning in this fire and an immediate solution is needed.
The failure of purely legal provisions in solving the social problems is amply demonstrated in blatant misuse of anti dowry laws. Dowry is a social problem for which all of us are equally responsible. Anti- dowry act was enacted to solve the problem, but the scourge of dowry was not eliminated ; instead, misuse of this law gave rise to another reprehensible problem of ‘reverse dowry’. Unscrupulous parents of some girls have made the life of innocent grooms and their parents a living hell by abusing section 498A of the act. The failure of female feticide act also stares us in the eyes. It is clear that law is not a panacea for all ills.
The problem is not only very serious but tedious also. No easy options are visible. In a developing country like India, where inequity is the way of life, law needs to keep balance with the society and social norms. Often laws are made as knee-jerk reaction, which are misused in the absence of appropriate and adequate checks and balances. It needs to be appreciated that these social norms and customs have played an important and positive role in the development of society since ages. There is no reason to doubt that they can continue to play a very constructive and positive role even in the changing environment. What is needed is to acknowledge their existence and strengthen them to cope with the new pressures. Governments, unfortunately, have no time for such nuances. The responsibility has to be owned by wise people and the intelligentsia of the society. NGOs can play an important role in this effort.
(The author is a retired banker, trainer and social activist and can be reached at : firstname.lastname@example.org)