A new law which prevents adult children from claiming their parents’ property
There has been some brouhaha lately about the news that daughters-in-law cannot lay claim to their in-law’s house, according to an order passed by the Bombay High Court…unless her husband too owns the same.
In perhaps the first order to define ‘shared household’ under the Domestic Violence Act, the Bombay HC has held that a daughter-in-law can’t claim any legal right of residence in a house belonging exclusively to her mother-in-law.
Well, if people cannot claim a house which does not belong to them, it sounds logical to me. In fact, this is not the first time that such an order has been passed. About nine years ago a similar judgment passed by the Bombay City Civil court, although in different circumstances. It had been ruled that:
since the wife is a mere family member, she has no direct control over her father-in-law’s property, and he can ask her to vacate the premises in the event of a dispute.
And during this judgment, a previous judgment was cited where the Supreme Court had restricted the daughter-in-law of a 79-year old lady from entering her house.
The owner decides…and naturally!
The laws of the land also state that the owner of any self-earned property can do whatever they like with their property…only the spouse can stake a claim. Sounds fair to me.
If willed, they can take it back!
In fact a new bill (The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill) passed by parliament this month which says that Senior Citizens can actually take back any property that has been given to their children. This is one of the most remarkable judgments passed by the Indian government. It goes to show how much we as a nation revere our old.
(Update: One of my readers, Ankur informed me about a new development today which I had missed. The Supreme Court has said that parents cannot take back property that has been already given to their children. This was reported today, and the SC has overturned it’s earlier order).
A message to young couples
To my mind, I think this judgment sends a clear message to those who are dependent on their parents’ property. And also to women who are deluded into thinking that they have a house just because they live with their in-laws. I think this sort of judgment is good because it will make young people attempt to secure their own future by buying their own house. And most people who are earning can afford to buy a room somewhere! The problem is that they don’t want to lower their standards.
Young Indians often depend on their parents for shelter
Many young Indian adults do not buy their own house, expecting as they do to inherit. There is a symbiotic relationship between parents and children in Indian society and a certain amount of quid pro quo is expected. This may sound very cold hearted but it is a fact that the son and daughter-in-law are expected to look after their old parents and in return they can expect to get the property and other wealth. This is usually not talked about (although I know of a family where it has been discussed openly). If for some reason this arrangement does not work out, or there is a falling-out, then parents might not want to will their house/wealth to their grown-up children. The fault may lie with either party…either in-laws expecting too much from their son and/or daughter-in-law or the son/daughter-in-law not fulfilling their obligations. And nowadays this falling out is happening more often than it did earlier…
But buying one’s own house might drive a wedge between the parents and the son, as in some cases the elderly see the purchase as a ‘threat.’
But are the elderly being neglected in India today?
Well, that depends on what how you would define neglect. Let us restrict ourselves to physical looking after as that is what the law seeks to address. Both the Bill and the HC judgment are to prevent grown-up children from taking advantage of their parents…either to force them provide shelter and maintenance and to stop them from taking over their parents’ house.
To my mind, that sort of thing does not happen very often (though such incidents may be on the rise) and I have written about that here. If one takes it percentage wise, I would say a majority of young Indians look after their parents. I have argued that as child abuse by parents is rampant in India, it’s not surprising that a certain percentage of these children grow up and abuse their parents in turn. Not all abused kids turn on their parents. Far more kids are abused by their parents than vice versa. Also, children who have grown up without seeing values of decency and humanity in their own homes also tend to turn on their parents.
Please note that I am not making judgments of right or wrong here…I am just stating what I think happens and I am certainly not an expert.
The good old days
In the old days everyone lived together, and elderly people, even if distantly related tended to gravitate towards the more wealthy relatives and they spend the rest of their lives there. It was taken for granted that widows, single women or even male members who were not earning could live in the same house and perhaps contribute in some other way. Today with smaller houses, greater mobility (which disrupts the life of the elderly) and nuclear families, life has changed so much that many elderly people prefer to live separately if they have the wherewithal.
So are laws to protect the elderly a good thing?
Well, I personally think such laws will simply hasten the demise of our strong parent/children bonds. The parents will always have a legal right to be in their son’s home or in a house rented/bought by their grown-up child (right to maintenance) but it will never be the other way round. It’s a good thing, because as I said earlier, young adults will ensure that they become independent.
Adults who want to abuse their parents will do it anyway and those adults who look after their parents will wonder if their parents think they are doing it out of ‘duty’ or because of the law. And as for that judgment about daughters-in-law not having a legal right to their in-law’s home I think it’s really sad for those women who are abandoned by their husbands.
(Photo taken by me on the streets of Mumbai)
Related Reading: Old people in India are respected, but children are not