How Land & Inheritance Disputes impact South Asian Families

Land disputes are common in South Asia, but they are often discussed behind closed doors. Let’s explore the consequences of such cases.

How Land & Inheritance Disputes impact South Asian Families - F

"I never thought we were the type of brothers to care."

In South Asia, the concept of land holds profound cultural, social, and economic significance.

Passed down through generations, land symbolises legacy, security, and familial ties.

However, beneath its sentimental value lies a complex web of disputes, particularly surrounding inheritance and ownership.

These disputes, driven by gender biases, migration, and changing socio-economic dynamics, often tear apart South Asian families.

Let’s explore how these disputes impact South Asian families, with insights from community members and implications for the future.

Family Land Disputes

How Land & Inheritance Disputes impact South Asian FamiliesIn South Asia, family land disputes are all too common, transcending class, religion, and ethnicity boundaries.

According to a study by the World Bank, land disputes affect approximately 7 out of 10 families in rural areas across the region.

These conflicts arise due to ambiguities in land ownership, lack of proper documentation, and competing claims within extended families.

In many South Asian societies, land is traditionally inherited patrilineally, meaning it is passed down from father to son, excluding daughters from rightful inheritance.

This gender disparity is deeply entrenched in cultural norms and legal frameworks.

According to a report by UN Women, only 13% of agricultural landholders in South Asia are women, reflecting the systemic bias against female land ownership.

Priya Sahota*, a 41-year-old woman, found herself entangled in a protracted land dispute following her father’s passing.

Growing up, Priya had always assumed she would inherit her family’s ancestral land, as her father had promised.

However, when he died intestate, chaos ensued within the family.

“My father always assured me that I would have a share. But after he passed away, my brothers claimed sole ownership,” Priya recounts.

Despite her efforts to challenge the injustice, Priya faced insurmountable obstacles due to societal norms and legal loopholes.

“Even though I knew I was entitled to my share, the system was stacked against me,” she laments.

The dispute not only strained relations within Priya’s family but also took a toll on her emotional well-being.

“It’s not just about the land. Being denied my inheritance made me feel invisible,” she reflects.

Gender Differences & Inheritance

How Land & Inheritance Disputes impact South Asian Families (2)The unequal distribution of land inheritance exacerbates gender disparities within South Asian families.

Daughters are often marginalised, receiving smaller shares or no land at all compared to their male counterparts.

This not only perpetuates economic dependency but also reinforces gender inequality across generations.

Despite efforts to reform inheritance laws, traditional customs and societal expectations continue to impede women’s access to land.

For instance, in India, although the Hindu Succession Act of 2005 granted daughters equal rights to ancestral property, cultural norms and patriarchal attitudes often override legal provisions, leading to continued discrimination in land inheritance.

Aisha Khan, a 29-year-old woman, finds herself worried about potential conflicts within her family over the issue of land inheritance.

“I’m well aware that being a daughter means I will likely get less than my brother,” Aisha admits.

“The land itself doesn’t mean much to me, but it’s the sentiment behind it. Knowing that, as a daughter, I’m seen as less can make you feel insignificant.

“And I know that the tension over the land will create a sense of superiority in my brother, and it’ll be up to me to deal with it. Of course, our relationship will change.

“The dynamic between sons and daughters in a Pakistani household is still quite backward, so I can’t imagine people siding with me or understanding my feelings.

“I know for a fact it would be brushed off as if this is just how things go.”

Impact on Family Dynamics

How Land & Inheritance Disputes impact South Asian Families (3)The ramifications of land disputes extend far beyond legal battles and property boundaries, deeply affecting family relationships and cohesion.

Bitter feuds over land ownership can tear families apart, breeding resentment, mistrust, and animosity among relatives.

According to a survey conducted by the International Land Coalition, nearly 60% of land-related disputes in South Asia result in family estrangement or breakdown.

Moreover, migration patterns exacerbate existing tensions within South Asian families.

As young members migrate to urban centres or overseas in search of better opportunities, ancestral land management becomes increasingly contentious.

Absentee landlords often struggle to maintain control over their properties, leading to further fragmentation of family ties and exacerbating land disputes.

Rajesh Mehta*, a 53-year-old businessman, experienced firsthand the impact of a prolonged land dispute on his family.

“When we were growing up, our family land was a source of security. But when my parents passed away, it was all a mess,” Rajesh recounts.

“Me and my brothers all had our own idea of how the land should be divided, and none of us were willing to compromise.”

As the dispute dragged on for years, tensions within the family reached a breaking point.

According to Rajesh, the emotional toll of the dispute was exacerbated by the physical distance between family members.

“With two of my brothers living abroad and me managing my business in another city, it was hard to properly talk about the land issue so we grew apart,” he explains.

“We’re essentially strangers now, which is ironic because we used to laugh and joke about families who were really invested in the land.

“I never thought we were the type of brothers to care.”

Bribery & Forged Signatures

How Land & Inheritance Disputes impact South Asian Families (4)In India, bribery is a pervasive problem that affects all levels of the land administration system.

Officials responsible for maintaining land records and issuing property titles are often bribed to alter documents or fast-track procedures.

Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks India 85th out of 180 countries, highlighting systemic corruption.

High-ranking officials and politicians manipulated land records and acquired apartments through forged documents and bribery in the Adarsh Housing Society scam in Mumbai.

People often use forged signatures to manipulate land ownership records.

In Pakistan, developers forged documents to acquire land illegally in the Bahria Town Karachi project.

Investigations revealed that they forged several signatures of supposed landowners to transfer property titles, leading to widespread protests and legal battles.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan eventually intervened, ruling against the illegal land acquisitions and ordering a substantial fine on Bahria Town.

In Bangladesh, the problem of forged signatures and bribery in land disputes is equally alarming.

The Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, which resulted in over 1,100 deaths, brought to light the rampant corruption in land transactions.

Investigations revealed that the land on which the building was constructed had been acquired through forged documents and bribes to local officials.

This tragedy underscored the dire consequences of corruption in land administration.

Notable Cases

How Land & Inheritance Disputes impact South Asian Families (5)Family land and inheritance disputes in South Asia often lead to long legal battles and significant social impacts.

Several notable cases highlight the intensity of these conflicts.

A high-profile case involves the Birla family, one of India’s most prominent business dynasties.

Since Priyamvada Birla died in 2004, the family has fought over her will, which left the estate to R.S. Lodha, a close associate, excluding other family members.

This case has seen multiple rounds of litigation, with allegations of forged documents and manipulation.

The infamous feud between Mukesh and Anil Ambani, sons of Reliance Industries founder Dhirubhai Ambani, is another significant example.

After their father’s death without a clear succession plan, the brothers bitterly disputed control of the family empire.

Their mother eventually mediated the conflict, resulting in the division of the company’s assets.

Another notable case is the Nawab of Pataudi estate dispute.

Following the death of former cricket captain and Nawab of Pataudi, Mansoor Ali Khan, in 2011, his widow, Sharmila Tagore, and their three children disputed the inheritance of the Pataudi Palace.

The complexities of Islamic inheritance laws and the significant value of the estate made the case a subject of public interest.

In Bollywood, the Dutt family dispute after the death of actor Sunil Dutt serves as another example.

A legal battle ensued between his children, Sanjay and Priya Dutt, over the division of his property.

Sanjay Dutt accused his sister of attempting to usurp his share of the inheritance.

The Khanna family dispute also drew significant media attention.

After Bollywood actor Rajesh Khanna died in 2012, his live-in partner Anita Advani claimed a share of his property, sparking a legal battle with his estranged wife, Dimple Kapadia, and their daughters.

In Pakistan, Punjab province’s Inamdar family dispute over agricultural land is a notable example.

Following the patriarch’s death, his sons engaged in a prolonged legal battle over the distribution of the property.

The conflict escalated to the point where physical violence occurred, and the case dragged on in the courts for over a decade.

A Deadly Reality

How Land & Inheritance Disputes impact South Asian Families (6)Land disputes in South Asia often lead to severe violence and tragic outcomes.

A 2020 incident in Punjab, India, highlights this brutal reality.

Indravir Singh killed his grandfather, Jagroop Singh, over a disagreement about family land distribution.

Jagroop, a retired officer with two sons in the Indian Army, intended to allocate land to his brother’s grandsons, Indravir and Satvir Singh.

Jagroop wanted to give the family land to Indravir and Satvir. However, Indravir did not like the idea because he wanted the land for himself.

Dissatisfied, Indravir attacked Jagroop with an axe on February 17, 2020.

In Haryana, Sonu Kumar, with his cousin Rahul, killed his father over a property dispute, burying the body in the courtyard. Both were later apprehended and confessed.

Land disputes also affect diasporic communities.

In Birmingham, UK, Hashim Khan was stabbed to death, and four others were injured following a dispute over land in Pakistan.

The incident occurred on August 23, 2019. A 32-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Khan’s family mourned his loss, describing him as a loving husband, father, brother, and friend.

The Way Forward

How Land & Inheritance Disputes impact South Asian Families (7)Addressing the complex issue of land and inheritance disputes in South Asian families requires a multi-faceted approach.

Parties often start with mediation to reach a mutually agreeable solution, sometimes with a mediator’s help.

If mediation fails, parties may file a civil suit, where the court hears both sides and decides based on the evidence.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods, like arbitration and conciliation, involve an arbitrator or conciliator to resolve disputes outside the court system.

Specific property laws, such as the Transfer of Property Act, the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, and the Land Acquisition Act, offer tailored relief and procedures for property disputes.

The impact of land and inheritance disputes on South Asian families is profound and far-reaching.

Deeply ingrained social norms, gender biases, and economic disparities perpetuate conflict and division.

Concerted efforts are needed to address these issues and promote equality and harmony in South Asian families.

Ravinder is a Content Editor with a strong passion for fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. When she's not writing, you'll find her scrolling through TikTok.

*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.

  • What's New



  • Polls

    Do you prefer Desi or Non-Desi food?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...
  • Share to...