Much has been debated on the issue of women's right to property and the feasibility of its governance under traditional Hindu legal regime in Bangladesh. Hindus being the minor community in Bangladesh has been in deprivation of the utility of the expected changes for last six decades which in consequences has been creating a regime of flagrant non-compliances with the universal human rights normative framework as to the twin principle of equality and non-discrimination.
Inequality in the succession, lifetime interest and deliberate seclusion of women from the line of succession are few of the significant features of prevailing practice of property rights of Hindu community in Bangladesh. It has been established through the interpretation of sacred texts and having been influenced by patriarchal system of the society. Laws governing the women's property rights still lags behind the timeline of 1947, i.e. there were no changes, be it major or minor, has been brought upon after the division of Indian Subcontinent. It has become a social exigency to reform the existing legal regime with a view to bring positive changes in conformity with the demand of time.
Right after being freed from two hundred years of colonialism, India has started advancing forward with the Hindu Code Bills, reforming major family issues like marriage, guardianship or inheritance. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 of India has placed a socially secured position of Hindu women in succeeding their ancestral property from which they were excluded before. The greatest merit of the Act is that it lays down a uniform and comprehensive system of inheritance applicable to all Hindus. The most significant effect of this law is the abolition of Hindu women's limited estate and making her absolute owner of the property and conferring unfettered power over disposal on any types of property. Difference between married and unmarried daughters has also been eliminated along with the devolution of property in joint family system. The basis of Sapinda relations has been established upon the theories of love and affection. Moreover, grounds of exclusions like disease, defect or deformity under the orthodox regime has also been relinquished.
Consequently, the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005 has furthered gender equality through making the daughters as a member of coparcenary (the small unit within joint family system regulating the core affairs relating to property) and conferring equal property rights with son in their father's property as well. Point to noteworthy here, the amending Act of 2005 has also imposed equal liabilities to that of a son upon the shoulders of daughter as well. Later on, with a view to further amendment on the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 a bill (Bill No. 17 of 2013) has been prepared and yet to be submitted to the Indian legislative apex body. Unfortunately, such major initiatives are yet to be taken by the legislative authorities of Bangladesh to improve women's property rights status prevailing under orthodox regime of Hindu law, even though Bangladesh has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Bangladesh Law Commission has put forward a list of recommendations for an inclusive amendment on the Hindu family matters under the report titled “Recommendations for reforming Hindu Family Laws” in 2012 with a view to facilitate absolute interest for hindu women through repealing limited interest. In addition, a good number of rights advocacy groups have been demanding for the enactment of uniform family code or law which would apply to all, irrespective of religious affiliation. The feasibility of this demand, from the presence of multi-religious contexts, requires close and critical examination as to their feasibility.
Irrespective of all the recommendations and demands from various rights group, the law making authorities seems to be indifferent in transforming the age old property laws which is considered as the root cause of exerting the patriarchal view in opposition to gender equality and thus depriving women from their very basic rights as enshrined under article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hence, the experiences of legal reformations brought about by the Indian legislative authorities can act like a guiding star, even though Bangladesh has yet to go a long way towards bringing the expected changes in ensuring gender justice for Hindu women.
The writer is a Senior Lecturer of Law, Eastern University.