Families in India Defy Stereotypes

April 03, 2008

SFU NEWS April 3, 2008

Neelu Kang’s local students are often surprised to discover that families in India bear little resemblance to Bollywood families or to most of the other stereotypes people hold outside the country.

The visiting professor (above) from India’s Panjab University teaches Dynamics of the Indian Family in Contemporary Times, a special-topics course in SFU’s sociology/anthropology department.

Kang says every Indian family is different, depending on caste, class, religion, rural or urban background, education and occupational status. Most families are patriarchal, she says, but groups such as the Nayar in Kerala state and some tribes in northern India have matrilineal families. She says families in urban India are a blend of modernity and tradition, unlike Indo-Canadian families.

“Family in India has changed fast,” she says, “particularly in the past two decades. Indian families in Canada tend to come from a rural background and they preserve their conservative values instead of being progressive, as one would assume them to be in a new western world.

“They have adapted to the western world by wearing western outfits or speaking English, but in private life they are characterized by orthodox traditions. There is a pressure to have sons, and daughters are discriminated against — much more so than in India.” Newly arrived Indian brides in Canada are very vulnerable to violence and exploitation, Kang says. They typically have no friends or family members here for support and are completely dependent on their husbands’ families. “Often they end up isolated, exploited and subject to physical violence, especially if they are not educated.”

This is Kang’s third visit to British Columbia. She was a visiting scholar at UBC on two previous trips.