Prasad dream
Nandhu Kumar / PEXELS

Toiling away in the imperial capital taught me two abiding and everlasting lessons:

Life is full of surprises.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

A recent story out of India ticked all the boxes: a stranger-than-fiction surprise. You just can’t make this stuff up.

A well-to-do retired couple from Haridwar, India, is very unhappy. What’s not to like up in Haridwar, Uttarakhand state, bordering the Himalayas? Folks say the mountain views are gorgeous. But scenery is not the uppermost concern of Sanjeev and Sadhana Prasad. Family is.

For years Mr and Mrs Prasad have been bankrolling their only child, Shrey Sagar Prasad. They arranged Sagar’s marriage and were ecstatic when he finally tied the knot at age 29. They paid for his extravagant wedding and high-dollar honeymoon to Thailand. That was six years ago.

Then they also gave him an $80,000 Audi to tool around in and paid $65,000 for pilot training in the US. Further, they have shelled out for the lad and his bride to have various and sundry other goodies that are well beyond reach of the average working stiff. 

Nothing surprising there. Folks with money often spoil their children.

But this has been going on for the better part of a decade. And six years after the wedding, young Mr Prasad and his bride have no children, thus no grandchildren for Sanjeev and Sadhana. Sadly, no surprise there either. Children have a persistent habit of intruding on lavish lifestyles. They cost money, require constant attention and are prone to spontaneity, impetuosity and extemporaneous pronouncements. What a pain.

Perhaps the elder Mr and Mrs Prasad know all about that. But after underwriting their son and daughter-in-law’s lavish comings and goings, they want a return on their “investment.” Where’s the grandchild?

Good question. I’m sure there is a reasonable answer. Perhaps the younger Mr and Mrs Prasad are unable to have children or simply do not want them.

Unmet expectations

The surprise: Mr and Mrs Prasad have gone to court. They are suing their adult child, the now-thirty-five-year-old Sagar and his bride for “mental harassment.” On what grounds? Indian familial customs. They aver that their son, their only child, is obligated to care for them in old age, and that such “care” includes continuing the family line. And after six years, their son and daughter-in-law have not done so.

The elder Prasad’s lawyer, Arvind Srivastava, says this about his clients:

“I feel very sorry for them because I am also an Indian and I can understand their pain. This is an Indian parent thing.

They raised him, educated him, made him capable, made him a pilot — which was expensive. They see people in their neighborhood playing with their grandchildren and feel like they should also have one.

They said they didn’t marry (their son and daughter-in-law) off so that they can live alone… So they said that in the next year, either give us a grandchild or give us compensation.”

Plaintiff Mr Prasad spells it out:

“The main issue is that at this age we need a grandchild, but these people have an attitude that they don’t think about us. We got him married in the hope we would have the pleasure of becoming grandparents. It had been six years since their marriage. It feels as if despite everything we have nothing.

We want a grandson or a granddaughter within a year or compensation, because I have spent my life’s earnings on my son’s education. We are not getting love and affection from where we want it the most. I feel very unlucky.”

“These people?” Sounds like the Prasads need to sit down and talk things out. Maybe a mediator would help.

Filial piety

University of California Santa Cruz anthropologist Annapurna Pandey is quite familiar with Indian customs:

“Parents take care of their children when they’re young, and they look forward to their adult children’s care and service, especially their sons, in return for all the personal, material and social sacrifices they have made in raising them and contributing to their success.

Bottom line here is there is a lot of moral pressure, and the state very much supports the elderly in terms of children’s obligation to their parents.”

The Prasad lawsuit was filed because the expectations of the parents have not been fulfilled. And those parental expectations are based on traditional customs and mores of Indian society. The Prasads claim they have spent their life savings on raising their son and supporting his lifestyle as a married man. They are requesting a one-year deadline for their son and daughter-in-law to produce a grandchild or pay them 50 million rupees, about US$641,000.  

In many societies, including India, it is considered repayment of a “moral debt” to parents to not only care for them in old age but also to sire grandchildren and perpetuate the family line. As The New York Times reports:

Those duties are enshrined, to some degree, in the legal code of India, a secular republic with a Hindu majority. A 1956 law made adult children responsible for supporting their parents; a 2007 law on the “maintenance and welfare” of parents and seniors says that children who fail to do so can be fined or imprisoned for up to three months.

The Prasad lawsuit does not allege violation of the 1956 or 2007 statutes. Rather, it alleges “mental harassment” because after bankrolling their son and his wife, there are no grandchildren. 

Angst

The Prasad family are Hindu, and in traditional Hinduism, carrying on the family line is viewed as a path to enlightenment, especially for grandparents. By 2021 India’s overall fertility rate had declined to below-replacement 2.0. Hindus are 79% of the population, and their fertility is 20% below that of India’s Muslims, who make up 15%. Both falling fertility as well as the Hindu-Muslim fertility differential has created considerable angst among older Hindus.

The Prasad case is celebrity gossip across the subcontinent. Seen as a family squabble among the rich and (now) famous, many view son Sagar as a spoiled brat and blame the parents for that. While there is little public sympathy for the “plight” of these rich folks, their lawsuit resonates with many elderly Indians who are frustrated that younger folks are having fewer and fewer children.

In the less affluent times before globalism, secularism and what we call “modernity,” most societies were rooted in religious faith. From that faith there was a social consensus that children had a duty to care for their parents in old age. Yes, once upon a time what we know as “family values” were simply a way of life. Codification in law was barely necessary.

It doesn’t look like the elder Prasads can prevail in court. However, their lawsuit is something of a shot heard round the world. Elite though they are, their filing has raised an issue that is on the minds of many and often considered too “delicate” to discuss. But as long as human nature is not totally expunged from our media-addled psyche, “What will happen to our family?” will be a rightful and persistent question.   

Not having children is not illegal in India or elsewhere. However, there are rumblings that the Chinese government is considering measures to somehow compel people to procreate. Stay tuned.

Louis T. March

Louis T. March has a background in government, business and philanthropy. A former talk show host, author and public speaker, he is a dedicated student of history and genealogy. Louis lives with his family...