An Unconventional Man of Will

The rich pass on their property to their children and the poor their poverty and that’s how poverty and economic inequality are reproduced one generation after the next
 Yoginder Sikand Bangalore

You don’t need to have carefully studied Friedrich Engels’ classic ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ to understand how the patriarchal family and the system of family-based inheritance is at the root of economic inequality globally and is geared to perpetuate it—which is what much of the book, hailed as essential reading for senior social science students, is essentially about. The rich pass on their property to their children and the poor their poverty and that’s how poverty and economic inequality are reproduced one generation after the next.

Most societies lay down elaborate rules for the inheritance of property, and in almost all cases these are designed in such a way as to ensure that property continues to be passed down within the narrow family circle. I don’t know many folks who’ve actually agonized about how unfair this really is and about how it continues to reinforce intolerable economic inequality. Most of us seem to accept this system as ‘natural’ and ‘good’. Many folks not only wish to pass on their property to their children upon their deaths (they won’t dream of anyone else getting even a penny of it!) but actually spend almost all their adult lives slogging to earn and save up for their progeny. A woman I know has more than enough money for the proverbial seven generations after her to live comfortably but yet continues to work 18 hours a day because, she says, she needs to plan for a ‘proper’ and ‘happy’ marriage of her daughter (who’s hardly eight now) one day!

Now, that’s a ridiculous waste of a life, if you ask me! The irony of it all is that this woman is herself into her second marriage and is already sick to the teeth with it and pining for a third, hoping in this way to meet the ‘ideal husband’ of her dreams! She simply refuses to understand when I tell her that by torturing herself slogging it out in order to earn and pass on a fortune to her daughter when she dies she isn’t doing the girl any good at all. The girl’s already miserably spoilt with all the comfort she’s got used to—just the other day the little thing was bragging to me about how she’s going to inherit crores from her mother soon!

Not everyone’s as bizarre, of course, and there are, I suppose, more than just a few people who think differently. It was by chance that I bumped into Prakash the other day, and you won’t believe what a joy it was. We got chatting, and in a short while he shared with me some intimate secrets, as if we were long-lost friends. His father, he said, had died some years ago. He had left no will, although he was an enormously rich man. The day after his death civil war broke out in his home, with Prakash’s mother and siblings, who had till then seemed a fairly united bunch, each claiming the father’s property. Prakash wisely kept himself out, refusing to get involved.

‘It was disgusting. You should have seen them bark at each other! The man’s ashes had gone scarcely cold and these people had already turned into enemies,’ Prakash continued. ‘From that day onwards, that family ceased to exist. I am the only one who talks to every one of them, but they refuse to have anything to do with each other.’

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