What is your personal rating of your father-in-law? Every relationship through (lawful) marriage up to the second degree gets a suffix ‘in-law’. Among other relatives for a man, the father-in-law occupies a unique position. He is for ever visualized as a person to whom all and sundry demands could be placed! He treats you as ‘mapillai’, by which expression you enjoy several privileges; It is even a bye-word for being fashionable (‘dress like mapillai’); enables you to play tantrums ( ‘mapllai murukku’) and even complain freely about his daughter, what you can’t do directly to your wife!
In the pre-independence days, when English judges presided over High courts and subtle principles of Hindu law were expounded through judicial pronouncements by reference to original Sanskrit texts, lawyers had to strain every sinew to help judges lay down the correct law. A story attributed to Rajah Iyer, a doyen among lawyers, was: He was explaining the position of various legal heirs and their respective entitlements to a Hindu father’s estate before an English Judge. The judge, who was ill at ease in following the trail of arguments, asked in a matter-of –fact tone, ‘Tell us, Mr.Rajah Iyer, what is the share of the son-in-law in the father (in-law)’s estate? Taken aback by the naïve interjection, Mr.Rajah Iyer regained his composure in a trice and told the judge of what the law did not actually accord to the son-in-law but what he was accustomed to, in practice, ‘My lord, a son-in-law gets all the property that he could lay his hands on; not merely after death, but even during the life of the father-in-law!’
The customary Hindu law, while it placed fetters on the right of a Karta to make gifts of joint family property, makes an exception to reasonable settlement of properties to his daughter at the time of marriage. Going by the virtual possibility of husband’s control over his wife’s property, it places the resources of the father-in-law in the hands of the son-in-law soon after marriage. It is not merely the right exercised over the father-in-law’s bounties by a male through his wife that is real, but even a pre-nuptial arrangement by way of gift by the father-in-law to the prospective bride before marriage has been upheld by judicial innovation by terming it not as a gift but a transaction supported by consideration of marriage. While a father-in-law may reward both the son-in-law and daughter-in-law, it is the female’s property that makes possible for a father-in-law to figure as one of the heirs, as ‘heir to the husband’ under section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act. To a male Hindu dying intestate, pitifully, a father-in-law has no scope whatever to figure as a heir. A widow of the pre-deceased son is however a heir to the father-in-law.
The wealth of jokes on every type of individual and for every occasion does not make fun of the father-in-law. English jokes on mother-in-law depict her as a person that plants herself in the house of the son-in-law, drains his resources, but never returns to her husband’s house. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law tussles are proverbial but you have never heard of any slur through any joke or adage about a father-in-law, have you? Yahoo, which hosts a website soliciting answers to difficult questions, raises the question, why there are no jokes on father- in- law, on a same degree of concern as coping with enigmatic issues like, why you press a TV remote control button hard, when you know the battery is weak or why banks collect extra charges, when they know there are ‘no sufficiency of funds’!
The status of father-in-law, as a heir, vis- a- vis the property of a female, though a distinct possibility, in terms of inter- personal relationships, he does not enjoy always the exalted position through the eyes of a daughter-in-law in all types of situations. A father-in-law is also normally paraded along with the mother- in- law and the husband, in dowry prohibition cases. Matrimonial misdemeanour cases also sully the image of the father-in-law, who otherwise deserves a high pedestal of respect. Imrana’s travails and the alleged fatwa issued by Darul Ulooma Deoband for the violence committed on her by directing her marriage to the perpetrator of the wrong, are best forgotten as rare aberrations of human conduct that are not repeated ever. The common perception is, however, still a high degree of veneration for the daughter-in-law to the father-in-law.
All things considered, a father-in-law is a wonderful human being in the extended family. The vacation has not ended. Have you not visited your father-in-law yet; or, if you are a father-in-law, have you not pampered your son-in-law?