August 6, 2001
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Moon wants to revive the Indian joint family

Hindol Sengupta in New Delhi

It's all in the family, believes world famous South Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon.

And his disciples are now in India to teach the virtues of living with your parents, grandparents and all your first, second and third cousins in the land of the joint family.

The message of the 81-year-old Moon is to use harmonious families as building blocks for a better world. This is the mantra that his organisation, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, spreads around the globe and has now brought to India.

This is happening at a time when experts say the system of several generations living together under the same roof is dying a slow and not-very-pleasant death, leaving millions of aged persons in the country more vulnerable than before.

"Reverend Moon teaches us to live together, not to divorce, maintain complete fidelity towards our partners, sacrifice to raise our children properly and keep purity until marriage," said Ursula MacLackland, FFWPU regional co-director for South Asia. "These concepts were once ingrained in India."

Not any more. The traditional Indian mentality used to attach a lot of value to concepts like complete obedience and respect towards parents and elders -- the divine example being the Hindu god-incarnate Ram who spent 14 years in exile on the orders of his father and wishes of his stepmother. Ideas like remaining a virgin till marriage and the elderly as the head of the family have also been treasured.

But in the past two decades that has begun changing. The incidence of premarital sex and divorce is on the rise, and so is the neglect of the elderly, especially in urban areas. "Industrialisation, westernisation, urbanisation and migration have considerably changed the value systems and structure of families [in India], the natural support system," explains S S Sandhu, director general of HelpAge India, an NGO working for the elderly.

More than 70 million of India's more than one billion people fall in the elderly bracket -- above 60 years of age. Forty per cent of these live below the poverty line, often duped and neglected by their children.

"The joint family system acts as a natural support for the elderly as they are economically, financially and psychologically supported by the family," said Sandhu.

With that gone, India's aged have little to fall back on. "What an elderly person needs is security, health care, emotional support and shelter, which are grossly inadequate here," said Sandhu.

The saddest part is that the elderly can't even live alone. India has no elaborate network of public-funded old-age care, nursing or public health and the government's National Policy on Older Persons has remained largely on paper.

"The welfare of the aged has been accorded low priority by the government and voluntary agencies. This is so because elderly persons are generally considered a spent force who have outlived their utility to society," Sandhu added.

The neglect and disdain could change if FFWPU workers have their way.

"It's time India went back to its glorious, beautiful ideal of loving families living together," said MacLackland's husband David, also an FFWPU worker.

And the workers are travelling across India to spread the message.

In a recent message, read out at a New Delhi meeting by David, Moon said: "The time has come for India to awaken once again. It is time for the country as a whole to create a new movement to build true parents, true families."

In 1950, Moon emerged from a North Korean concentration camp, where he had been thrown for preaching Christianity. Since then his organisation has made him a global spiritual leader and a multi-billionaire who owns, among other businesses, the United Press International news agency.

Indo-Asian News Service

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