Indian couple sue son for not giving him grandchild

NEW DELHI — After spending their life savings to train their son as a pilot in the United States, Sanjeev Ranjan Prasad and sadhana P...


NEW DELHI — After spending their life savings to train their son as a pilot in the United States, Sanjeev Ranjan Prasad and sadhana Prasad financed his lavish wedding in India, as well as a luxury car and honeymoon abroad.

They assumed that their investments would eventually pay off, in the form of a grandchild. But over time, they say, the newlyweds showed little interest in producing one.

After anxiously waiting for six years, they decided to file a complaint.

They are demanding that their son and daughter-in-law have a grandchild within a year or pay $650,000 in damages. A first hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Monday in a court in northern India.

“I feel very sorry for them because I am also an Indian and I can understand their pain,” said the couple’s lawyer, Arvind Srivastava. “It’s an Indian parent thing.”

All over the world, of course, people of a certain age are pressured by their parents to have babies. But guilty trips rarely, if ever, result in civil lawsuits.

Even if the case goes nowhere, which experts say is entirely possible, it has already tapped into a wider debate in India about what children owe their parents – from a both legal and spiritual.

In the Hindu faith, as in other traditions, children have a duty to repay a moral debt to their parents by caring for them in their old age. Having grandchildren is also considered necessary to perpetuate a family’s lineage and help its parents achieve enlightenment.

“Parents take care of their children when they are young and they look forward to the care and services of their adult children, especially their sons, in return for all the personal, material and social sacrifices they have made for raise them and contribute to their lives. success,” said Annapurna Pandey, an anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has studied religion and social issues in India.

But as India’s population ages – the country now has around 140 million people aged 60 or over, second only to China – more and more young adults are moving into the middle class and living independently of their parents. The result is a growing feeling among older Indians that children are not fulfilling their filial duties, Prof Pandey said.

These duties are enshrined to some extent in the legal code of India, a secular republic with a Hindu majority. A 1956 law made adult children responsible for the maintenance of their parents; a 2007 Parents and Elderly ‘Maintenance and Welfare’ Act states that children who fail to do so can be fined or imprisoned for up to three months .

The Prasad case is an extreme example of an Indian couple trying to collect a moral debt from a child, but it is rooted in the same “cultural logic” that inspired those laws, Prof Pandey said.

“The bottom line here is that there’s a lot of moral suasion, and the state is very supportive of older people in terms of children’s obligations to their parents,” she said.

Prasad’s case was filed this month in a district court in the northern city of Haridwar, not under the 2007 law, but for “mental harassment”.

The Prasads say that in addition to spending their savings on their son’s $65,000 driver training program and his expenses in the United States, they supported him for another two years and paid for his Audi, his wedding at the hotel in 2016 and his honeymoon in Thailand.

The parents, who live in a wealthy enclave in Haridwar, said they were initially patient with their son and daughter-in-law due to the lack of offspring.

“Even after two years, they never thought about having children and we left the decision up to them,” Mr. Prasad, 61, a retired civil servant, said in a brief telephone interview.

But the Prasads eventually became so discouraged they would be ashamed every time they saw elderly people dropping off their grandchildren at a bus stop, said Mr Srivastava, the couple’s lawyer. The court filing accuses their son and his wife, who live in the southern city of Hyderabad, of neglecting their “duty to give the pleasure of having either a grandson or a granddaughter”.

Mr. Prasad’s son and his wife could not be reached for comment.

The case did headlines in national newspapers and sparked a debate about how much control parents should have over their children’s life choices.

Raavi Birbal, a lawyer in India, said the suit is unlikely to go far as his arguments violate rights enshrined in India’s constitution, including the right to liberty.

“This is actually a very rare case,” Ms Birbal said. “That’s why he’s been in the limelight so much. But, ultimately, it’s the couple’s choice to have a child, not their parents’.”

Hari Bhushan Yadav, 52, a shopkeeper in Haridwar, said locals discussed the case with great interest over tea outside his shop and older people tended to sympathize with complainants.

“In old age you want to play with your grandchild,” he said. “What’s wrong with giving them one?”

Sameer Yasir reported from New Delhi and Mike Ives from Seoul. Hari Kumar contributed report.

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