Will the Indian liberal stand up please? You want to ask this question after reading the findings of the CNN-IBN-Hindustan Times State of the Nation Survey that quizzed over 15,000 Indians about their family values.
This survey puts to rest much media hype about all pervasive liberal attitudes. That may well be true of a tiny metropolitan elite obsessed with oneself, but when you look at real India, as this survey does, you get a very different picture. In this India only one-thirds manage to go beyond matriculation, only 22 per cent read a newspaper every day and only 8 per cent own any four-wheeler, tractors included.
In this India, exposure to modernity does not mean liberal values. Unlike the West, there is no generational gulf, gender divide or rural-urban split here when it comes to family values.
Consider these facts: Three-fourths of Indians, cutting across caste lines, are opposed to inter-caste marriages. Even among the most highly-educated professionals, the opponents of inter-caste marriage outnumber the supporters.
About the same proportion of Indians think that the parents, and not the boy and girl concerned, should have the final say in the decision about marriage. A majority of the youth – 59 per cent of the urban youth and 67 per cent of the rural youth – also agrees with this proposition.
The youth is a little, but only a little, more daring about dating. In this survey, 42 per cent of the urban men below 25 support the idea that unmarried boys and girls should be allowed to meet freely. But even among this most daring group the majority supports restrictions on this freedom.
Three-fourth of the people interviewed said that sons should settle with parents rather than set up a separate household. There is very little urban-rural, gender or generational difference on this question.
So, are we dealing with a traditional, conservative social order that never changes? Before you rush to this conclusion, consider this response on the question of inheritance. Five out of the six Indians who had an opinion on this subject agreed that sons and daughters should have equal share of parental property. No conservatism here.
Nor is this response driven by religiosity. If anything, those who worship regularly are a little more likely to be liberal in their family values. An educated urban Indian is more likely to pray regularly than the uneducated person in the village.
Perhaps it is best to see this unusual mix as a very Indian kind of modernity, struggling to adapt the imported symbols of modern life without giving up some of the inherited values. As they say, we are like this only.