Thoughts of close-knit, trust-filled family bonds are often nothing but ancient memories for some Indian families. The culprit? Land. Acres and acres of Punjabi property create a wedge between families that is as unbreakable as Earth they are fighting over. Family days filled with laughter and warm cha are replaced with lies, bitter feuds and lengthy legal battles.
The story is quite similar for many first-generation immigrants coming from Punjab to India in the 1960’s: Punjabi men working long hours in labour jobs to overcome financial hardship and create stability for their families. While they racked in cash on the work grind, they also accumulated large sums of money without lifting a finger: from their land.
Any given twenty acre of farmland that was purchased in Punjab in the 1960’s at the cost of about $47,000 in one of India’s prime agricultural areas is now estimated to be worth 10 times that. Let that sink in for a moment. These families see $47,000 turning into almost half a million dollars. With many families purchasing larger areas of land or land in more prominent places, land in Punjab can easily now be worth well over a million dollars.
The fantasy would be that families would be overjoyed with the idea of each member receiving some extra money. The reality: the feuds begin. With some families, this means the beginning of back-door-deals, manipulations, bribes and cut-throat tactics take over the family land.
We asked 80 families to anonymously answer questions about their family history. Over 50% admit they have had at least one disagreement over land with a family member. 11% reveal that they stopped speaking to a member of their family due to a property dispute.
This means that for every 10 Indian members you see walking down the street, at least one of them has stopped speaking to their brother, cousin, father because of property in India.
This is an astounding finding even for the most pessimistic reader.
What these families need to do is understand the absurdity in cutting family ties for money and prosperity. We found that generations upon generations of children are forced not to speak to one another due to a disagreement on dividing up pieces of land. Weddings are missed, funerals are overlooked, cousins never meet, all because of pettiness and greed.
The disagreements go much further than verbal disputes. We see case after case of family members attacking and murdering each other over property. 45-year-old Bhupidner Singh was shot multiple times by his own brother, Narinder Singh, over property disagreements; a clash between Baljinder Kaur and her two sisters-in-law over 27 acres of land resulted in the brutal death of 46-year-old Harinder Singh Sran; 70-year-old Damman Singh was chopped to death by his own son, Talwinder Singh, and his servants over the distribution of his 16-acre property.
Those in the middle of these disputes must ask themselves: are the disputes and land more important than family?
Families continue to become tarnished; generations upon generations of children are forced to never speak. What do we suggest you do at the onset of any of these problems
1.) Hire a mediator, not a lawyer: In cases where a third party is absolutely necessary, do not hire a lawyer. Hire a mediator who will sit down with both parties and act as a single unbiased decision maker for the families
2.) Look at the long-term: The elderly Punjabi members we spoke to talked greatly about regretting being a part of petty fights but not realizing it until much later “I’d rather have my brother be at my funeral than be across from me at my court dates”
3.) When it Doubt, Equal out: If there is ever and disagreement about who “deserves” more land within a family, the absolute best thing to do is to divide it equally.