NEW DELHI — After spending their savings to train their son as a pilot in the United States, Sanjeev Ranjan Prasad and Sadhana Prasad financed his lavish wedding in India, along with a luxury car and a honeymoon abroad.
They assumed that their investments would eventually pay off, in the form of a grandchild. But as time went on, they said, the not-so-newlyweds showed little interest in producing one.
After anxiously waiting six years, they decided to file a lawsuit.
They demand that their son and daughter-in-law father 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. “This is an Indian aging.”
All over the world, people of a certain age are naturally under pressure from their parents to have babies. But the guilt rarely, if ever, translates into civil lawsuits.
Even if the case goes nowhere, which experts say is clearly possible, it has already sparked a wider debate within India about what children owe their parents – both from a legal and spiritual point of view.
‘A lot of moral pressure’
In the Hindu faith, as in other traditions, children have a duty to repay a moral debt owed to their parents by taking care of them in their old age. Having grandchildren is also seen as necessary to continue a family’s lineage and help the parents achieve enlightenment.
“Parents care for their children when they are young, and they look forward to the care and service of their adult children, especially their sons, in return for all the personal, material and social sacrifices they have made to raise and support them. contribute to their 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 about 140 million people aged 60 or older, second only to China — more younger adults are entering the middle class and living independently of their parents. The result is a growing awareness among older Indians that children are not fulfilling their childish duties, Professor Pandey said.
Those duties are to some extent enshrined in the code of law of India, a secular Hindu-majority republic. A 1956 law made adult children responsible for their parents’ maintenance; a 2007 law on the “maintenance and welfare” of parents and seniors says that children who fail to do so could face a fine or jail term of up to three months.
The Prasad case is an extreme example of an Indian couple trying to reclaim a moral debt from a child, but it’s rooted in the same “cultural logic” that underpinned those laws, Professor Pandey said.
“The bottom line is that there is a lot of moral pressure and the state is very supportive of the elderly in the duty of children to their parents,” she said.
The Prasad case was filed this month in a district court in the northern city of Haridwar – not under the 2007 law, but on ‘mental harassment’ charges.
The Prasads say they not only spent their savings on their son’s $65,000 pilot training program and his expenses in the United States, but also supported and paid for his Audi for another two years, his hotel wedding in 2016 and his honeymoon in Thailand.
The parents, who live in a wealthy enclave of Haridwar, have 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 of having children and we left the decision to them,” Prasad, 61, a retired government official, said in a brief telephone interview.
But the Prasads eventually became so despondent that they would be embarrassed to see older people drop off their grandchildren at a bus stop, said Srivastava, the couple’s lawyer. The court accuses their son and his wife, who live in the southern city of Hyderabad, of neglecting their “duty to give the pleasure of having a grandson or a granddaughter”.
Mr Prasad’s son and his wife could not be reached for comment.
The case made 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 lawsuit was unlikely to go far because the 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 it’s so in the spotlight. But in the end, it’s the couple’s choice to have a child, not their parents.”
Hari Bhushan Yadav, 52, a shopkeeper in Haridwar, said residents had discussed the matter with great interest over tea outside his shop, and older people tended to sympathize with the plaintiffs.
“In old age you want to play with your grandchild,” he said. “What’s the harm in giving them one?”
Sameer Yasir reported from New Delhi and Mike Ives from Seoul. Hari Kumara reporting contributed.