Territorial over Property

Modern Mythmaking 16 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, October 10, 2010

Humans claim ownership of a piece of land. We create the fence, burn the trees, break the rocks and declare it to be our property, build our fields and pastures and homes and industries and clubs and temples and offices over it. Who will challenge the human? Not the animal, not the plant, not the rock or the river. When we talk about human rights, we automatically assume its superiority over animal rights and plant rights.

I always think of the bullocks that pull carts and ploughs. No human being took a bull’s permission to castrate it and turn it into a bullock. Humans just assumed the right to neuter and domesticate the bull. Humans simply assumed they have the right to domesticate the wild horse and the wild ass and the wild camel. We simply uprooted forests to establish our fields and diverted rivers to provide ourselves power.

Animals do not have property. They have territory. The big cat fights other big cats for its territory. Dogs fight over territory. The alpha male claims ownership over foraging grounds. But an animal cannot bequeath its property to its children. The child has to fight for his own rights. No notion of inheritance exists in the animal kingdom. Might is right. Survival of the fittest.

But in human society, the meek have rights. The court restrain the alpha males, rules are created to share, or rather divide. Thus we have property. What is mine is mine, and not yours. Property is a manmade construct. A subjective truth, not an objective scientific truth. Property is the greatest myth of man, based on which we have intricate inheritance laws and courts to settle property dispute.

We speak of rights over land.  Who gave this right? God? Or did humans give it to each other? Or was it a conqueror who claimed the land by force and silenced the opponents or a trader who silenced opponents with gold? Come to think of it, the first owner is usually the first bully. In Vedic times, kings claimed all the lands over which their royal horse and army traversed unchallenged. European imperial forces who travelled the sea claimed lands in the name of God, queen and country. Who is the owner of Amercian lands, I wonder? Those who moved to the continent after the 15th century, or those who moved there at least a thousand years earlier. Is the one who lives longest on a piece of land its rightful owner? Nature’s rules are different from human ones.

Is there any logical way to claim that a particular piece of land belongs to a particular human being? Nature existed long before humans walked the earth, and will exist long after human society destroys itself. Of all living creatures, only humans have constructed the notion of property. So much so that today we are convinced that property is a natural phenomenon, rather than a cultural delusion.

In the Ramayana, the monkey brothers, Vali and Sugriva, fight over Kishkinda while the human brothers, Ram and Bharat, are ever-willing to give the other the property. What is animal and what is human? Fighting over territory, or laying claim over property? He who does not depend on property for identity is divine, says the Ramayana. This is why, the epic’s protagonist is at peace within his father’s city as he is in the forest.

  • sushant kumar suman

    Dear Sir,
    should I call it as a lateral thinking. great insight, many of us were wondering for it, who gave us right to claim….it is mine…
    best article.


    This is one of the best articles i have read for a long long time…Thank you Devdutt sir.

  • Aasakti or attachment with anything worldly leads to confusion and construed sense of ego. That’s why minimalism rocks. The lesser you possess the easier it is to get rid of it.

  • So RIGHT you are about the exaggerated,arrogant concepts of human rights!My discussions with my Aussie Atithees ( aboriginal artistes),on rights etc,on the way back from Elephanta, led me to opine
    I own nothing and nothing owns me BUT
    I belong to all and all belong to me
    Who is rich ? One who is not afraid to lose OR has nothing to lose !

  • Nataraja

    Such a nice and thought provoking article sir. Good interpretation of Territory over property with respect to humans n animals.

    All izz well!!!!

  • viv

    “He who does not depend on property for identity is divine”


  • ashim

    A beautiful article that articulates the major difference between property and territory.

  • Saket

    I would like to add, which may seem to be unrelated here but the way we have been industrializing in India, excavating every single ounce of metal from the our sanctuaries meant for their original inhabitants…we’ll soon destroy it all. We just blindly following the model of development from other countries, but we need to realise ours is a different country….one which has a culture and traditions of thousand years. We are pushing the animals into smaller areas..wiping out species of flora and fauna…all this because they cant push us back. If this is not a case of humans imposing their territorial rights over nature…than what is?

    • I fully endorse your views. The Forest Dept has a beautiful Sanskrit slogan displayed in all forests, whose meaning is

      ” Protect the FORESTS, they will protect YOU.”

      But in practice, we are undertaking rampant deforestation, and are, thereby, inviting our doom.

  • Man does not realize that the only land that really belongs to him is the four square yards of lands in which he is going to buried, after his demise. After some more years somebody else is buried in that very same place. Our Hindu brothers do not occupy or usurp even this four square yards of land. By burning their bodies, they get assimilated into Nature.

    Islam says that this worldly life is ephemeral, and the life after death, with the Heaven and Hell in it, is eternal. So Islam exhorts people to strive for building castles in the Hereafter, by doing good deeds in this world, by helping the hungry, the indigent, the orphan, and thus serving the Lord. Once Prophet Muhammad was going with his companions, and saw a beautiful, doom-shaped mansion constructed newly. He inquired as to whose house it was. Companions informed that it belonged to one Mr. X. That Mr. X was a very noble companion of Prophet. But after knowing about his house, Prophet never met him with the regular warmth. He was very unhappy to see the change in Prophet’s attitude towards him. He inquired from the others, and came to know that Prophet had happened to see his mansion, and was not happy with it. He understood it, and went, and defaced the house dismantling the doom. Thereafter, he found that Prophet received him with the same old warmth and affection, and he was relieved and happy.

    All great teachers of humanity dissuaded people from pursuing materialistic pursuits vigorously. Mahatma Gandhi, having returned to India, saw that majority of his countrymen and women do not have full clothing for them, and forbid full clothing for himself. This is the philosophy of our East, and we are proud of it.

    • ShivaKaradi

      Mr.Jaleel bhai,..I would rather call you respectly Sir.The way you depicted and made me understand, I am really fortunate to read this. Nice understanding. Thanks so much.ShivaKaradi

      • Respected Sri Shiva Karadi Ji,

        Thanks a million for your kind words of appreciation. Good people always appreciate good things. It is your goodness which made you appreciate the above thoughts, because the popular adage is “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.” Congrats on your goodness!
        I have assembled such similar thoughts in a small blog, which I started on first March. Our reverend friend,philosopher and guide Dr.Devdutt Patnaik ji, of whom, all of us are ardent fans, has also offered his kind blessings and wishes to it. The name of the blog is:


        I shall be highly honoured if you can care to glance though it.


        • shivakaradi

          Hello Jaleel Sir,..

          Am very much sorry, I have not checked this, because lately I logged to this site. I will surely check your blog..And if your in FB do let me know, so that I can follow you. I like being spiritual , but not religious way. I like the way you think and understand the words. Thank you bhai…ShivaKaradi

  • a l mohan

    not all hindus on their death are buried.cremation is to make one realise the temporary nature of the body and is by way of renunciation of all things materialistic.human being are by gods creation different from other living beings.not all indians own property.generalising bthhe concept of property could be erraneous.

  • ShivaKaradi

    Hello Devji,
    One of the finest articles I have read. My best of these were Issssh..Vishnu asleep, LSD, Decode of Hindu Marriage..and few more. This is more clear and eye opening to many uneducated people to own real estates and selfish business peoples. Thanks for the article. Samastha Janno Sukhinobhavanthu

  • Very interesting to read this, as a lawyer and jurist.
    I had a professor who contradicts this traditional vision of property. He was communist and a good lawyer. It leads me to read Jean-Jacques Rousseau who tried to explain how the human being begun to set property. He says that people invented this concept for not share land with other people of their groups (I summarize a lot). Later Marx took also this theory to explain the capitalist system in history.
    The question has to be raised, because as you said, the concept is not natural: how and why humankind divided the earth in property? Is there another way to organize the society ?
    The American concept of property is interesting also because when, as you noticed, the European came in the 15th century, a long time after the real locals. It appears that arriving after, made them the real owners. Why? Because the American Supreme Courts said that the locals, “the indians”, occupied merely the lands whereas the European USE the lands in agriculture and were fixed in real house . Indians were just hunting and they have not fixed house.
    This justification, even if it is build by the strong part gives us an element to understanding the western point of view. Property is different from territory because an owner uses the land.
    My reasoning asks more question that answer but I thank you for your article to show an interesting point of view. However I don’t think that saying that the land own to the nature and the animals will resolve the issue because the humankind is huge, and it transforms a lot of lands in a complex way and let, more or less, spaces for the nature (wild park for instance).