55 Years of the Vested Property Act in Bangladesh and the situation of the Hindus

Bangladesh, Enemy Property ACT, Vested Property Act, Hindus, Hinduism, land grabbing, persecution

Bangladesh’s Enemy Property or Vested Property Act is a black law, instrumental-only in the persecution of the religious minority communities, mainly Hindus. The law was enacted originally by the Pakistani military regime in 1965 but has been amended by successive post-independent governments of Bangladesh. Its evil effects are oppressive to religious minorities, especially the Hindu population whose human rights are violated by this law.

The law also violates the following sections of the Bangladesh Constitution:

 Article 11: Democracy and human rights

 Article 13: Principles of ownership

 Article 27: Equality before law; and

 Article 28: Discrimination on grounds of religion, creed, and caste

Abusing this law, the government has seized almost three million acres of Hindu land (US States Department statistics) and leased them to Muslims. Indeed, the very application of the term ‘enemy’ to a ‘collective minority’ is a violation of democratic principles. In April 2001, the then government passed an Act ending the tenure of the repressive law. But in October 2002, the newly elected government passed an amendment to that bill, which virtually shelved the return of the confiscated properties to the real owners. There is hardly any Hindu family that has not been affected either directly or indirectly by the Enemy Property turned Vested Property Act. The number of affected members is increasing daily due the non-stop abuse of this law. Moreover, the whole process of handling the vested lands has created huge corruption in the country.

This law is worse than apartheid! It should have been repealed long ago. 20 million minority citizens of Bangladesh have been waiting anxiously for the last 55 years to see the end of this law, but it remains on the statute book because the huge vested properties have created an entrenched vested interest! The government and society must give a big push to repeal it completely, else Bangladesh cannot claim to be a civilized nation. The law is a curse for the country and our motherland should be free of this curse.

Timeline of the Enemy Property Act

1965: Government of Pakistan passed an executive order titled “Enemy Property (Custody and Regulation) Order II of 1965” under the provisions of Emergency powers and the “Defense of Pakistan Rules” on Sept. 9, 1965.

1968: The Supreme Court of Pakistan considered it a pure political issue asked the Government of Pakistan to explain viewpoint on the said Act in 1968 [21 DLR (SC) page 20].

1969: Government of Pakistan promulgated a new Ordinance, the Enemy Property (Continuance of Emergency Provision) Ordinance 1969 (Ordinance No. I of 1969). Field Marshall Ayub Khan handed over power to Pakistan Army Chief General Yahya Khan who promulgated Martial Law on 25 March 1969 and cancelled the then constitution of Pakistan on April 1, 1969. Notwithstanding cancellation of the constitution, to continue the Enemy Property Ordinance, a new Ordinance was incorporated retro-effective from March 25, 1969, which kept alive the most discriminatory law against Hindus till the formal declaration of Bangladesh on March 26, 1971.

1971: Independence was declared on March 26, 1971, and the proclamation of independence and formation of a provisional government of Bangladesh took place on April 10, 1971 in Mujibnagar, the temporary capital of the new country. The same day, the “Laws of Continuance Enforcement Order, 1971” was promulgated to keep in force all Pakistani laws in force in the then East Pakistan till March 25, 1971. Thus, Ordinance No. I of 1969, which was inconsistent with the spirit of the proclamation of independence of Bangladesh, remained alive in the new-born nation.

1972: Immediately after the war was over, the Government of Bangladesh on March 26, 1972, enforced the “Vesting of Property and Assets Order, 1972” through Order No. 29 of 1972.

1974: This order brought together the properties left behind by Pakistanis in Bangladesh and the erstwhile enemy properties of Pakistan in a single category. Then, on March 23, 1974, the Government of Bangladesh passed the Enemy Property (Continuance of) Emergency Provisions (Repeal) Act, Act XLV of 1974, repealing Ordinance I of 1969. But despite repealing Ordinance I of 1969, all enemy properties and firms vested with the Custodian of Enemy Property in the then East Pakistan remained vested in the Government of Bangladesh as “vested property.” At the same time, the Government of Bangladesh enacted the “Vested and Non-resident Property (Administration) Act” (Act XLVI of 1974).

1976: To help plots to grab Hindu lands by Muslims, in November 1976 the Government of Bangladesh repealed previous Act No. XLVI of 1974 by Ordinance XCII of 1976 with retrospective effect from the date of the enactment amended of Act XCIII of 1976.

1977-1990: Military dictator Gen. Zia-ur Rahman and later Gen. H.M. Ershad made the situation worse. Although Gen. Ershad declared that no new property would be declared as vested property and that properties already enlisted as vested would no longer be disposed of, the opposite happened. During these two Generals’ tenure, the abuse of this law made hundreds of thousands of Hindus homeless; they were forced to migrate to India, causing a major decline of minority population in Bangladesh.

1991: Bangladesh Nationalist Party won the election of 1991 and throughout its tenure until mid-1996 did not touch the Vested Property Act, which remained on the statute book as it was.

2001: The Government led by the Awami League took five years to place and pass a bill in parliament on April 11, 2001, the “Restoration of Vested Property Act, 2001” (Act No. 16 of 2001) near the end of its tenure. But the Act did not much help provide solutions to affected Hindus and made some issues more complicated because of inherent defects.

2002: In the October 2001 election, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led 4-party coalition formed the government, including Islamist elements. This government passed an amendment bill in parliament to the “Restoration of Vested Property Act 2001” on Nov. 26, 2002, which virtually shelved the return of confiscated properties to Hindus. This amendment allows Government unlimited time to return vested properties which are to remain under the control of Deputy Commissioners until a tribunal settles ownership. The amendment gives Deputy Commissioners the right to lease such properties until they are returned to their owners.

2009: The government was trying to reform the law, but the victim religious minorities want the law repealed completely and effectively.

No reform: repeal enemy property

On Sept. 5, 2009, Sangbad, a national daily published from Dhaka, wrote in its editorial ‘No reform, Repeal Enemy Property’. The newspaper questioned the rationale of the Enemy Property Act being reformed, argued, ‘we are doubtful about promises made by the government’ and wrote, ‘we expect that government should completely repeal the unconstitutional Vested Property Law instead of revision. This will free the affected people from harassment and deprival.’

2009-2017: Awami League came to power again. After marathon discussion and controversy, it passed “Vested Property Return (2nd amendment) Act 2013” and it was published in the government gazette on 10 October 2013 (46 number law of 2013). From 10 July 2013 to 30 September 2014 government of Bangladesh had published four gazette notification on this law, those are: 30 Sept 2014/ vested property return (2nd amendment) Act; 14 September 2014/ vested property return special appeal tribunal establishment gazette; 02 February 2014/ vested property return special appeal tribunal gazette and 10 October 2013/ vested property return tribunal gazette notification.

2020: One may think the government is keen to solve the problem, but it is 2020, not a single property was released to its owner and doubt prevails that, will it happen ever?

Bangladesh Minority Rights: Vision 2021

Bangladesh’s government declared ‘Vision 2021’ by which time the country would be a digital nation. Where will religious minorities stand then? In 2021, Bangladesh will be 50 years old. With the growth of the country, will minorities also grow? If the trend of last five decades continues and the Enemy Property Act also continues, minorities will have no hope. So, how does the Enemy Property Act fit in with a Digital Bangladesh?

Appeal

We appeal on behalf of the religious minorities, tribal and indigenous people of Bangladesh to the whole world community including political parties and government of Bangladesh, to come forward to uphold the basic rights and dignity of one of the most destitute populations (around 20 million) and save the Hindus from the atrocities of a black law called the “Enemy/ Property Act” which turned into the “Vested Property Act”. This is the moral responsibility of the world community to save people with a rich civilization and cultural heritage from being made extinct.

Sitangshu Guha is a freelance journalist & human rights activist; his email is guhasb@gmail.com; Birendra Nath Adhikari contributed to the story. The views are of authors only and does not reflect opinion of CurrenTriggers.com. 

References:

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: The Vested Property Act is a controversial law in Bangladesh that allows the Government to confiscate property from individuals it deems as an enemy of the state. Before the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, it was known as the Enemy Property Act and is still referred to as such in common parlance. The act is criticized as a tool for appropriating the lands of the minority population.

An inquiry into causes and consequences of deprivation of Hindu minorities in Bangladesh through the Vested Property Act by Professor Abul Barakat.

Deprivation of Hindu Community in Bangladesh: Living with Vested Property by Professor Abul Barakat.

USA State Department/ USCIRF: According to Professor (Dhaka University) Dr. Abul Barakat’s book ‘Deprivation od Bangladesh Hindu Community and Living with Enemy Property’ Hindus lost 2.6 million acres of land and property, which cost (in 2007) about 40 billion US Dollars (310668000 crores Taka). Present values in 2020 maybe $100Billions!

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