By Bhupendra Kumar Bhattacharyya
REPORTS have been received that the Bangladesh government has re introduced the infamous Vested Property Act and started giving settlement of the confiscated Hindu properties to the Muslims. The properties in question originally belonged to the undivided Hindu joint families (now separated owing to the country'sPartition) and had been in possession of the Hindus in Bangladesh till recently. The Hindu properties were first confiscated by the Pakistan Government under the Enemy Property Act. On liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971, a number of Muslim intellectuals urged the government to abrogate this black law. Prominent Awami League stalwarts like Nazrul Islam, Ijazuddin Ahmed and Brigadier Osmani also pleaded for the repeal of the Act. But it was of no avail and the Bangladesh Government retained it by changing the nomenclature from the Enemy Property Act to the Vested Property Act.
According to available information, the Hindu properties measuring 1.64 million acres of land and valued at Taka 60,000 crores in Bangladesh currency have been confiscated first by the Pakistan Government and subsequently by the Bangladesh Government under the two Acts. Even Debottar land (land gifted to gods and goddesses for the maintenance of temples) and Brahmottar land (land gifted to Brahmins by well to do persons) have also been confiscated under these Acts over the years. In some areas burning ghat land has been confiscated as well.
The Vested Property Act had been operating harshly against the Hindus in Bangladesh bringing in its wake economic ruin to a large number of them. According to a study undertaken in Bangladesh a few years ago, about 50 lakh Hindus or 10 lakh Hindu families had been “adversely affected by the law. The chief of the study team and general secretary of the Bangladesh Economic Association, Dr Abdul Barkat, had said that 95 per cent of the Hindus, whose properties were confiscated, were in Bangladesh. Only 5 per cent left for India.”
Instead of returning/restoring the confiscated properties to the Hindus, the Khaleda Zia government, as a part of its Hindu bashing policy, has already started giving settlement of these properties to the Muslims. The sole objective behind it is to denude Bangladesh of its dwindling Hindu population, which is now 7 per cent as compared to 29.17 per cent of the total population of former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), at the time of the country'sPartition in August 1947.
On September 4, 2000, the Bangladesh Government headed by Sheikh Hasina decided to return the confiscated properties to the Hindus. On April 8, 2001, the Bangladesh Parliament accordingly repealed the Vested Property Act by passing the Vested Property Return Bill, 2001 unanimously. It was a great relief to the Hindus. Prominent Muslim writers, intellectuals and human rights activists of Bangladesh welcomed the decision. Dr Kamal Hussain, the eminent jurist and the first Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, while hailing the decision, said it was “overdue for a long time”.
Instead of returning/restoring the confiscated properties to the Hindus, the Khaleda Zia government, as a part of its Hindu-bashing policy, has already started giving settlement of these properties to the Muslims. The sole objective behind it is to denude Bangladesh of its dwindling Hindu population, which is now 7 per cent as compared to 29.17 per cent of the total population of former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), at the time of the country'sPartition in August 1947. In this connection it needs to be mentioned here that Frank Pallone—a prominent Congress man of America and founder of the India Caucus in course of his recent speech in the House, said: “Since the BNP took power in 2001, Hindus have been a disappearing minority in Bangladesh at the hands of Bangladeshi forces, who have employed human rights abuses, atrocities and ethno religious cleansing tools.” He further added that the “Islamic extremists have routinely dispossessed Hindus, and for that matter Christians and Buddhists, of their ancestral properties and land, burned down their houses and desecrated and razed temples, which has resulted in forcing many to flee as refugees. This campaign of minority cleansing in progress in Bangladesh must be stopped.”
The situation is grave and the Government of India should not remain a mute spectator as hitherto and tell the Bangladesh Government in the language it understands to return the confiscated properties to its heirs/successors or successors in interest, so that the Hindus and other minorities can live there in peace, with dignity and honour.