Hindu women in Bangladesh are going to enter a new era as the government is moving forward to ensure equal rights of women to their ancestral property. The enactment of a fresh law will open a new chapter in the history of Hindu women in Bangladesh.
The draft of the ‘Hindu Succession Act, 2021,’ has been prepared and it is likely to see the light of the day soon. “We are actively working for the law. The draft is now in the Law Ministry for further initiative. We hope that it will take effect soon after the necessary process,” Aroma Dutta, a member of the Hindu community and an MP from women reserved seats, told the Bangladesh Post on Sunday.
The Hindu women have no rights to their ancestral property. They are also deprived of their husband’s property. India had brought significant change in the Hindu women’s rights to property through enactment of the ‘Hindu Succession Act, 1956’. The law was updated in 2005. Now the property of a male Hindu devolves in equal shares between son, daughter, widow and mother.
As per the existing laws of Bangladesh including the ‘Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, 1937’, the women are still deprived of inheritance in comparison to their male counterparts. They are still subjected to the old inheritance law formulated in the British era. All daughters of a man are not equally eligible to inherit. Unmarried daughters and married daughters with sons can inherit, while childless widowed daughters or daughters having no sons or with no possibility of having sons are excluded. However, property achieved by Hindu women can be inherited by their male successors.
“India left British law of 1937 nine years after their independence and amended their 1956 law in 2005 which granted equal inheritance rights to the women, while Bangladeshi Hindu women have been stuck in the 84-year-old law. It is discriminatory. Most property laws in Bangladesh are discriminatory,” said a lawyer.
Champakoli Paul, a female member of Hindu community at Srimangal upazila in Moulvibazar, said that as a result of discrimination, the Hindu women suffered in the family and the society. She said that they were optimistic of the government’s proper and necessary steps to ensure equal inheritance rights of Hindu women. Law should also cover the Buddhist women as they are also deprived of properties of their parents and husbands, she added.
Many members of the community had become vocal so that the Hindu women’s rights to property are established. Against this backdrop, the Bangladesh government took the initiative to reform the Hindu laws. The Law Commission submitted a report in 2012 with several epoch-making proposals, including equal rights for men and women to their ancestral property. Some Hindu groups had reacted sharply to the proposals and strongly opposed the government’s move. As a result, the move has been hampered.
Nina Goswami, senior deputy director of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), said that many use guile and propaganda to deprive women as well as their sisters. “The apprehension can be prevented through inclusion of a provision that a Hindu woman will be deprived of her rights to property if she marries a follower of another religion,” she added.
Aroma Dutta, MP, said, “There was a strong opposition to this law. The traditionalists were the main obstacle. We have convinced them. A few number of narrow-minded people of the community are not in favour of reforming the Hindu inheritance laws. The little opposition is not now major obstacle to the way of the law. The government is ready to enact the law. It is now a matter of time,” she said.
She said that the country’s first Hindu woman judge Justice Krishna Debnath has played a vital role to prepare the draft.
According to the Constitution, the State can’t discriminate based on gender or religion. On the other hand, as a member of the international community and signatory to various international conventions, including the CEDAW, Bangladesh is bound to eradicate all types of discriminations. But the Hindu women are still being discriminated through some classic legislation and religious custom. Bangladesh is under obligation to reform Hindu laws soon to eradicate the discriminations, said Advocate Kamruzaman, a lawyer of Dhaka.
The draft of the ‘Hindu Succession Act’ was prepared by a national level coalition named ‘Hindu Ain Pronoyoney Nagorik Udyog’. In the draft, alongside sons and daughters, the rights of inheritors belonging to the ‘third gender’ has also been included.
On September 2 in 2020, the High Court in a verdict said that Hindu widows are entitled to shares in all the properties of their husbands. In line with the verdict, Hindu widows’ rights to inherit their husbands’ assets was established after 83 years.
On September 21 in 2020, Supreme Court lawyer Tanoy Kumar Saha sent a legal notice to the authorities concerned, seeking the government’s move to formulate law to ensure equal rights of Hindu and Buddhist women.