A sometimes puzzling aspect of Indian culture is the absence of what we call in the West, individualism---the belief that human actions are determined by and take place for the benefit of the individual. That is, the individual interests of mature adolescents and adults usually take precedence over responsibilities to extended families. The individualism of economic theory holds that each citizen should be allowed freedom in the exercise of his business pursuits and any financial rewards are his to dispose of as he pleases. The equivalent belief in the Indian experience to this powerful western doctrine might be labeled familialism. For example, in India, marriages are not arranged between individual men and women but between families.
The familialism of India is solidly rooted in family, that is, persons related by blood and marriage as parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and cousins---a lineage system generations deep. The family in India is a group much larger and much stronger than the filial bonding known as families of the West. In India the family interests take precedence over the interests (desires and choices) of each family member. Individual initiatives which are dedicated to and clearly benefit the entire family group may be tolerated or encouraged.
Individualism may be over emphasized in the explanations of human behavior outside of India. On the other hand, it is difficult to over emphasize the importance of familialism as a determinant of human behavior in India. This generalization holds both in India and Kerala within India. The individualism of the West seems to need a doctrinal statement while familialism is so inherent throughout the culture of India that no such assertion is needed.
(Directory) March 20, 2000