A man must have a codeThere have been a series of court cases going on for the last 70 years in my family. The court cases are mostly about a tiny bit of land (less than 2 acres) and share in use of a well. The dispute for land was between my grandmother and her husband’s kin (my grandfather died when my dad was a toddler) i.e. my grandfather’s cousins.
My grandmother is now deceased, my dad is in his late 70s and one of the two cousins she was feuding with has been dead for the past few years. However the dispute is still going on in courts! My grandmother’s defence is that she should have got her husband’s share of the landed property for herself and her son as she does not get any from her father as she is a daughter. She wants this land for herself and her son i.e. my father. The cousins do not want to give to her, her husband’s share of land as they want to hog it all or as she is a female and the land should go to males ; Of course my dad is a male but he was a toddler and they did not want to give land to a toddler.
This case has dragged on for several decades and lead to a lot of animosity, fights and even physical assaults on my grandmother and father. And this is not unique. If one travels over Indian villages, one can see millions of such court cases and land grabbing all over the country. The courts of India are filled with variations of basically the same case. And sometimes the fight is for lands as small as quarter of an acre.
Some interesting behaviours I observed as I watched these goings since childhood, include the weird code of conduct followed by my family.
My dad would go to the village to oversee agricultural work on our land. He would take me with him at times and as a child, I was made to stay in the house of the cousins against whom my father & grandmother had filed a case in court...the property dispute I mentioned earlier!
I was treated very well by this family and the women cooked special food for me as I was ‘from the city’! My dad had me stay in their house as they would have been ‘insulted’ if I had stayed in other relatives houses…Insulted as they were the closest relatives, while the others in the village were distantly related or not of our caste.
My dad would not talk to his cousins but drop me at their house and go off to finish the various things he had to do in the various government offices. He would pick me up in the evening, while returning to the city. Again, there was no talk between him and the adults of that family.
When I got married, my dad invited these cousins of his to my wedding. I am sure it was a gruff invitation (my dad did not mail the invite but went personally so as to not offend them). One of the two cousins attended my wedding and he left without talking much to my parents. Similarly, my parents were invited to their children’s weddings and they attended, dutifully. There was little or no talk between my parents and the hosts!
I can go on and on about the code of conduct they followed while dealing with 'enemies' but I guess you got the sense of it.
Another major behaviour was the fact that these cousins looked after my grandmother when she was in the village after she had fought with her son, my father. My dad was livid that 'his enemies' were caring for his mother and there was nothing he could do about it! She refused to come back to stay with my dad!
When I tell these stories to my Canadian friends, they find these behaviours too weird to comprehend but it seems to make sense to me! The enmity is feudal and so long drawn out that there is no anger left now on both sides. Also, my dad bought more land in another village which has likely made him happy; Yet he is unwilling to let go of this piece as it is ‘ancestral’ and he wants it for his children. None of his children i.e. us, want this agricultural land as we are all daughters, with no interest in agriculture or living in the village. Two of us are in the city and two of us are abroad and have no time at all to spend in this village and on the land.
My dad himself was earning more in a month in his city job, than what he would get in one year’s yield from that scrap of land.Yet he does not want to let go of it. This is something you will see in India…. the almost biological love, some men have for their ancestral land or house . This land which is practically worthless and a headache for the pragmatic, seems to have an iron grip on those who are sentimental and romantic.
Currently, I am begging my dad to sell of his lands but he refuses. I know very well that when we need to sell, we will be selling at less than what they are worth as the buyers will know, we do not want to sit on the land for a better price...we simply do not have the time. But that is a different story.
You may be wondering why I titled this article as ‘A man has a code’. I was reading recently about the murders over property in Bangalore and Hyderabad. I am referring to murders of young children by their own uncles and relatives. I was so distressed to read this and wondered what sort of greed & brutality has seized people today. Imagine an uncle killing his brother’s son so that the property will revert to him. Imagine a little 9 year old girl being killed by her dad’s first wife so that the property stays with the sons of the first wife!
Growing up, I was pretty traumatized by the constant fights about the land between my grandmother and father. He wanted to give up on the land as he was so busy with his job while she pushed him to go to court and fight for it. I was so sick of this land dispute but today when I see what is happening in Bangalore …people murdering their own kith and kin for property, I think, my relatives were not so bad at all! They at least had a code!
Why did I write this piece?
The words, ‘A man must have a code’ in the television series, The Wire inspired me.