COVID-19 and Changing Family System: Evidence from India

Professor Roy@Indigenous Social Work

Family refers to a universal, permanent and pervasive institution characterized by socially approved sexual access and reproduction, common residence, domestic services and economic co-operation. The family is generally regarded as a major social institution which plays an important role in the socialization of individuals. The family is also the locus of much of an individual’s social activity. It is considered to be the primary social group that shapes our attitude, beliefs and values and essentially gives us a sense of belongingness. Despite this feature of family, there are cultural differences and variations in the family dynamics. The world is currently grappling with a pandemic that has shaken the global community. Governments all across the world have taken drastic measures to stop the transmission of the virus and save lives by enforcing strict social distancing norms and nation-wide lockdown in various phases. Yet, there is a cultural imbalance in how strictly these rules are being followed by citizens of various countries including India.
India is largely a collectivist society, with more number of people displaying high preference for the need to belong to a larger social framework in which individuals are expected to act in accordance to the greater good of one’s defined in-group or primary group. In such situations, the actions of the individual are influenced by various concepts such as the opinion of one’s family, extended family, neighbors, work group and other such wider social networks that one has some affiliation toward. It is not only cultural factors that determine how individuals and families cope during a global pandemic like COVID-19 but the economic factors are also important in helping families navigate these difficult times as at present, we are grappling with economic slowdown and a recession like situation. A developing nation like India, wherein more than 81% of its people are employed in the informal sector, has to bear the brunt of this pandemic more severely. In collectivist societies like us people rely on their primary groups for support and care and they are expected to maintain loyalty within the in- group. In these cultures, members tend to prioritize group interests over personal interests and tend to fulfill obligations of their social role in order to maintain group harmony. One of the major features of such societies is social conformity and strict adherence to social and cultural norms. This may provide the social legitimacy for the government to implement regulations to deal with a public health crisis such as Covid-19. Past pandemics have shown that the length of quarantine increases the risk for serious psychological consequences. An important, yet frequently ignored risk during a pandemic and its socially disrupting response is the potential increase of intimate partner violence (IPV). IPV is defined as physical, sexual, psychological, or economic violence that occurs between former or current intimate partners. While men can also be affected, IPV is largely a gendered phenomenon in which violence is perpetrated against women by male partners. IPV survivors describe that social isolation (i.e. from family and friends), functional isolation (e.g. when peers or support systems appear to exist but are unreliable or have alliances with the perpetrator), surveillance, and control of daily activities have a direct impact on the kind of relationship they share with their partners. Forced isolation along with economic stressors has an impact on intimate relationships. Though, intimate partner violence is considered to be a taboo or a private matter which isn’t politicized enough. Therefore I feel it can have detrimental effects on individuals, families and communities and their relations in times to come. Therefore, social worker must have greater role to deal with this issues and it has to be through indigenous ways.