Channel 4’s “The Family” this season are following a Sikh family compromising of parents (Sarbjit & Arvinder), 2 adult sons, Tindy and Sunny (who is married to) Shay (the daugher in law), daughter, Kaki, and son in law, Jeet & toddler Bhavi all living under one roof (the latter couple temporarily living there as Kaki is heavily pregnant with their second child).
Many traits inherent in this Asian family seem familiar and wouldnt necessarily be out of place in the average asian family from the Indian subcontinent, be they Sikh, Hindu or Muslim. These are similarities which span across the spectrum, irrespective of religious leanings. A classic example being father Arvind who is oblivious to the dynamics of the kitchen and often beckons his wife without actually using her name. Instead he chooses to yell “where’s my tea!” “I want food” or “you eat like a pig” when he wants her attention. Sarbjit lovingly retorts back, when she isnt half dozing away infront of the TV or grunting at Arvinder’s requests. The boys, aside from son-in-law Jeet, are rarely seen to venture into the kitchen either.
But aside from these stereotypes, the family addresses some issues which are pertinent amongst the Asian society, bringing them to the forefront. Shay, their resident daughter in law, has been estranged from her mother who disowned her for wanting to marry Sunny – he was considered unsuitable due to caste differences. This is being outcast/disowned.
Intolerance in marriage amongst the Asian community stems from issues such as compatibility, status, reputation and progressive gain. Many marriages are viewed from the lens of maintaining and preserving certain traits which are inherent and apparent within various castes and/or tribes. Some of this caste system has sprung from ancestrial occupations, with labourers, farmers seen as low due to being manual workers, engaging in menial tasks in comparison to landlords and intellectuals who were viewed to be loftier, desirable and often idealised.
Some caste differences are upon the insistence of having certain traits or family values which are upheld. Many of those who have caste marriages will admit it would be “easier” to fit in as they would “be similar” to “my own family”.
Preservation of caste is taken seriously and in some families is vehemently adhered to. There is family acceptance of anyone not towing the line would be outcase and disowned – which is what Jeet admitted he would do in a heartbeat should his daughter ever go against his wishes in the way Shay had done; nothing is above the family’s code and standards by which its members live according to.
A number of things which can lead to being disowned aside (and including) marrying outwith your caste/tribe are: marrying someone of another race and/or religious background, not agreeing to wed the person you were betrothed to since just after birth, pregnant out of wedlock or even choosing your own spouse. Although girls are systematically subjected moreso to these “rules”, the boys are not immune (although this is debatable as a family’s honour is usually tied to the behaviour of their women so this noose around their neck is often tighter)
Although the “decision” to disown a child is often took to be unanimous, it is often decided and acted upon by the patriarch of the home – this could be the father, uncle or brother (older or younger). Very rarely are mother’s so instinctively willing to disown their child, but as patriarchial family structures go – Asian families are very much organised under this male authoritarian rule. After which the outcasted individual is treated as being dead, but often the dead are (sometimes) remembered and spoken of fondly, the disowned cease to exist – almost as if they had never been born.
Some of these ways of thinking are phasing out amongst the new generation however there is little doubt of it disappearing completely whilst the notions of “preserving” ideals of caste, tribe and race exist.