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Reform of Hindu laws

Legislative initiative moves at glacial pace


Published : 27 May 2023 02:06 AM

The government had planned to reform the colonial-era Hindu laws in a bid to eliminate gender discrimination against Hindu women in Bangladesh, but the legislative initiative is moving ahead at a glacial pace.

The government initiative to amend the Hindu laws has created divisions among reformist and orthodox members of Hindu community in the country.

Some orthodox Hindus are against the reform of the Hindu laws and giving equal rights to Hindu women. This section of Hindu people has been saying that the issue of Hindu family law should be resolved through religious provisions. They called upon the government not to table a bill in this regard in the Parliament.

An organisation named Bangladesh Jatiyo Hindu Mohajote formed a human chain in front of the National Press Club in the capital on Friday protesting against the move to reform the Hindu laws. 

“The law reform issue should not be neglected by treating the vested quarter of Hindu people as a part,” said Pulack Ghatack, general secretary at the Bangladesh Hindu Law Reform Council. 

Talking to the Bangladesh Post on Friday, he said that the demand of a large section of Hindu people in the country should be realised as soon as possible. Just as Hindu women have been given rights in India, Nepal and Mauritius, the same should be done in Bangladesh. Discrimination and deprivation against Hindu women will not end without reforms in the law, he added. 

“Depriving a half of a population to inherit parental property, just because they are women, is inhuman and anti-constitutional,” said Pulak Ghatak. 

However, it is alleged that the section of Hindu people, who are opposing in Hindu law reform, is trying to suppress the rights of Hindu women by spreading rumours

Bangladesh Hindu Law Reform Council accused the vested quarter of spreading communally provocative rumours through social networking sites, particularly Facebook and messenger groups. 

The platform held a press conference at the National Press Club in the capital on Friday protesting the spread of rumours. Their press conference was held at the time when the Hindu Mohajote was holding their human chain in front of the National Press Club. 

“A vested interest group is trying to prevent the rights of Hindu women at any cost in the name of religion. However, the demand of taking away someone’s rights can never be democratic and legal,” it was said in the press conference. 

Prof. Dr. Mayna Talukdar, president of the Bangladesh Hindu Law Reform Council; read out the written statement at the press conference. 

In the written statement, he said, “Since the inception of the platform, we have been receiving support and love from victims of discriminatory Hindu laws and conscientious members of the society. However, we have become the enemy of a group of fundamentalists that have emerged in Hindu society.”

Leaders of the Bangladesh Hindu Law Reform Council alleged at the press conference that there was a conspiracy to create fear and situation in the minds of minorities by spreading rumours.

Pulack Ghatack, general secretary of the platform; Subhas Saha, vice-president of the organisation; Bhanu Lal Das, a former deputy inspector general (DIG) of police; Pulok Raha, treasurer of the Bangladesh Hindu Law Reform Council; were also present at the press conference. 

Pulack Ghatack alleged that women of the organisation are also being threatened, intimidated and harassed through abusive language, false propaganda and indecent comments on online platforms. He strongly criticised the people who are spreading rumours and using abusive language.  

In the written statement, it was alleged that ugly words about the personal life of some women who are not associated with the organisation in any way were spread on the internet. There is an obscene campaign by photoshopping their pictures. 

It was also alleged that the vicious gang was carrying out illegal programmes on the streets by declaring to protect the rights of Hindu and Buddhist women. Leaders of the Bangladesh Hindu Law Reform Council demanded the government, police and all agencies concerned to take legal action in this regard. 

Referring to Hindu laws in neighbouring Hindu-majority countries, it was said that while Hindu laws in that countries do not discriminate gender, the existing Hindu family law in Bangladesh excludes the women, the persons with disabilities (both male and female), the terminally ill persons (both male and female) and gender-diverse communities from inheriting property. They are being discriminated against inhumanly.  

The organisation repeated its six demands to the state, which highlighted the amendments to the existing Hindu laws in Bangladesh. The demands include equal property rights for women, disabled and gender diverse populations, abolition of polygamy for men despite having wives, provision for divorce in cases of special needs, recognition of the guardianship of women like men over children, women should also be given the right to adopt children and the right to adopt daughters, and marriage registration should be made compulsory. 

Meanwhile, the High Court recently issued a rule raising the question that why the government’s failure to allow Hindu women the rights to guardianship, inheritance, and marriage registration could not be deemed unlawful.

Leaders of the Bangladesh Hindu Law Reform Council applauded the High Court’s rule.

Talking to the Bangladesh Post, Pulack Ghatack, general secretary at the Bangladesh Hindu Law Reform Council, said that to allow men to marry as many as they wish without allowing their wives to get divorce is inhumane. Divorce right is a necessity both for men and women, when situations demand. Women will bear and rear children, but they will not have guardianship recognition on their kids is inhumane as well. Marriage registration is pertinent to insure all other rights under a marital system, he added. 

He further said that the country’s constitution does not allow the state to deprive anybody on the ground of gender identity. But inhumane and anti-constitutional rightlessness is prevailing for Hindu women in the country. There is no scope to deny rightful demands of women and LGBTQ population belonging to Hindu, Buddhists and all other indigenous groups. “I welcome the High Court’s ruling and hope for early disposal of the writ petition filed in this regard,” he said. 

The Hindu women of Bangladesh have no rights to their ancestral property. They are also deprived of their husband’s property. India had brought change in this regard through enactment of the ‘Hindu Succession Act, 1956’. The law was updated in 2005 and 2007. 

As per the existing laws of Bangladesh, the Hindu women are deprived of inheritance in comparison to their male counterparts. 

Against this backdrop, the Law Commission submitted a report in 2012 with the proposal of ensuring equal rights for men and women of the Hindu community to their ancestral property. The government was moving towards reforming the law as per the Law Commission’s report. 

The draft ‘Hindu Succession Act’ was prepared by a national level coalition named ‘Hindu Ain Pronoyoney Nagorik Udyog’. The country’s first Hindu woman judge Justice Krishna Debnath had played a vital role in preparing the draft.