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.