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NEWS : Bangla asset law forced Hindu exodus; and a response

Posted By Ashok V Chowgule (ashokvc@giasbm01.vsnl.net.in)
Thu, 19 Dec 96 18:41:34 EST

Title : Bangla asset law forced Hindu exodus
Author :
Publication : Telegraph
Date : December 8, 1996

A staggering 5.3 million members of the Hindu minority community in
Bangladesh immigrated to India due to the Vested Property Act in operation in
the country. the Act declares all firms, companies, and buildings owned by
Hindus to be under the custody of the government.

A recent study in the country revealed that the Enemy Property Act, imposed
by the Pakistani totalitarian regime in erstwhile East Pakistan, was named
Vested Property Act (VPA) after liberation in 1971.

The Enemy Property Act was offshoot of several legislations which became the
Enemy Property (Custody and Registration) Order after the Indo-Pak war in
1965. In 1974, the Awami League government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman renamed
the law as Vested Property Act.

The survey, called "Impact of VPA on rural Bangladesh: An exploratory study,"
was conducted by Bangladesh's University Research Corporation in Gazipur,
Pabna, Sirajganj, Barisal, Brahmanbaria and Habiganj districts.

Data was gained on the number of affected families, amount of land and other
assets lost by individuals, types of land and assets dispossessed, reasons
for and mechanism of the dispossession, the "major actors" involved and their
roles in such dispossession.

According to the study, "mass exodus of the Hindu population during the
mid-1960s and thereafter is a reality beyond doubt. Among other factors,
implementation of the Enemy Property Act contributed to this process.

The study reveals that the estimated size of such exodus between 1964 (at the
height of Pakistani rule) and 1991 (after the Bangladesh Nationalist Party
came to power) was 5.3 million or 538 persons "per day". Besides, 703 people
per day migrated to India between 1964 and 1971.

The study, the first of its kind to explore the major outcome of "anti-people
Act on Hindu minorities in rural Bangladesh," has revealed the following
facts:

The VPA affected over 46 per cent of Hindu households. The average amount of
land per household affected by the Act, was 100 decimals.

The total number of Hindu households affected by VPA would amount to
10,48,390 and the total land dispossessed would be 1.05 million acres. The
target of enlistment under VPA was mostly agricultural land followed by
homestead.

In terms of landholdings, the proportion of landless persons has increased
and that of rich farmers has decreased. Some respondents, who were rich,
small or marginal farmers in the past, own no land at present. They were
dispossessed by "manipulation" of land deeds followed by "forceful
usurpation" by others.

Due to the implementation of VPA, the economic condition of the
beneficiaries, mostly belonging to the village matbar (elders), improved.
They were politically affiliated to the party in power and about 72 per cent
of them belonged to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. "This implies that they
worked in close collaboration with the government," the study said.

The study recommended that to develop a "civil" society and improve the
condition of the religious minorities in Bangladesh, the following conditions
should be adopted:

The VPA, as an encroachment on the law of inheritance, should be abolished.

A list containing details (names, addresses, amount of land and other assets
dispossessed, etc) of those affected by VPA should be drawn up and they
should be compensated.

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