The Vested Property Act

The sorrowful tale of how the 12 million Hindus of Bangladesh are officially classed as enemies

The Vested Property Act first appeared in 1965, when Bangladesh was part of Pakistan. It was at that time called the "Enemy Property Act." In that year, war broke out between India and Pakistan. The law was directed primarily against the property of the Hindus who had temporarily fled to India in fear of their lives. The state was enabled to take their property into custody, with the rationale that a Hindu who went to India was an enemy.

After the Bangladeshi War of Independence (1971) it was expected that the law would be repealed. India, far from being an enemy of Bangladesh, enjoyed excellent relations with the newly born state. However, all that happened was that the act was renamed the Vested Property Act. Hence, on paper, according to this law, India was actually still an enemy of Bangladesh. Even worse, whereas previously the state was only the custodian of the confiscated property, an amendment was passed in 1976, which made the state the outright owner of the property, which it could redistribute. This was a cruel and callous move by the state. As a result of it millions of Bangladeshis who had fled to India from the Pakistani's Army's holocaust in which 1-3 million people were slain*, in the prelude to the 1971 war, could no longer return and reclaim their ancestral homes in the newly found state of Bangladesh. It was a political move, which forced the refugees to stay in India, thus conveniently offloading millions of people (of whom 80% were Hindu*), and acquire huge amounts of property.

More so, the new amendment to the law encouraged a new long and slow repression of Hindus, particularly at the behest of hardline Islamic clerics who wanted an infidel-free Bangladesh, and greedy politicians, who could redistribute confiscated property amongst themselves. All that needed to be done to acquire Hindu owned property was to forcibly evict the Hindus, through violence, and make them flee. As per the Vested Property Act it was easy for the local government to gain ownership and redistribute the property at will. Because politicians found it particularly easy to gain from this act, it was very difficult to repeal, even when the relatively progressive Awami League was in power. Due to this, the property vested between 1976 and 1991 was far greater than previously, when Bangladesh was East Pakistan. The law has been put to particular devastating effect against homes owned by women, as these were easier targets. It was estimated in the year 2000, that the land taken from Hindus in this manner totalled to 2.1 million acres, which would at current prices be worth $22,873 million (USA), accounting for some 40% of Hindu households of the country.

This systematic process is continuing till today, with particularly renewed vigour, after a new Bangladeshi coalition government came to power in October 2001. It included the ultra hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party, who were staunch supporters of the fallen Taliban regime of Afghanistan (who used to make Hindus wear yellow armbands to distinguish themselves) and who have held many pro-Bin Ladin rallies. This is all terrible news for the Hindus of Bangladesh whose population has already dwindled from over 25% to less than 9% today.

Much of the details of the long and painful story of how this law has been used against religious minorities in Bangladesh would not have been chronicled had it not been for a team of scholars led by a Professor of Economics at Dhaka University, Dr Abdul Barkat. The work began first in 1995, and a preliminary study was published in 1997. A more detailed account was published recently. Dr Barkat informed an interviewer that he had recently received threats on his life for conducting this study. We thank Dr Barkat for his water-shed study, highlighting one of the most systematic constitutional oppressions in modern history.

We demand the removal of the oppressive Vested Property Act, which has no reason to exist except for the brutal repression of Bangladeshi Hindus, which has gone on unopposed for too many years, and call on others to support us in trying to emancipate their suffering.

Please help support us and join in our struggle to help put an end to this silent repression

* The estimated deaths of victims of the repression of the Pakistani army in the period of the 9 months prior to the outbreak of the 3rd Indo-Pak war is generally vary from 2 - 3 million, and the lowest estimated figure is 1 million. A serious and detailed study of this genocide has never been carried out, which is very unfortunate considering the extent of the severe toll on human life.

*The Pakistani Slaughter That Nixon Ignored , Syndicated Column by Sydney Schanberg, New York Times, May 3, 1994. Bangladesh A Country Study, Ed. J.Heitzman & R.L.Worden, 2nd Ed, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, Publisher U.S. Army, 1989, pp.250,255

*Crisis in South Asia - A report by Senator Edward Kennedy to the Subcommittee investigating the Problem of Refugees and Their Settlement, Submitted to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, November 1, 1971, U.S. Govt. Press, pp.6-7.

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