Published : Tuesday, 22 September, 2020 at 12:00 AM Count : 1037
Ahasan Uddin Bhuiyan
Recent verdict from the High Court on Hindu widows' rights to own deceased husband's both cultivable and non-cultivable properties is undoubtedly a justice against age-long legal discriminatory norm--prevailed among the Hindus in Bangladesh. It's not less important than Raja Ram Mohon Roy's successful attempt to pass the Act Banning Shatidaahin, 1829 or Ishwar Chandra BidyaSagar's push for the Widow Remarriage Act, 1856. Jyotindranath Mondal had filed case with the court of an assistant judge in Khulna against Gouri Dasi, the widow of Jyotindranath's elder brother Avimannu Mondal. He filed the case because the land had been recorded in the name of Gouri after Avimannu died in 1996.
The lower court went with traditions and stated that widows have rights only to the homesteads and not to the agricultural properties. Gouri challenged the verdict and Khulna's joint district judge delivered judgment in 2004 saying that Gouri has the right to the agricultural land of her late husband. The High Court overruled Jyotindranath's appeal. To pronounce the historic ruling, the court interpreted the Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act, 1937 along with a judgement of India Federal Court given in 1941 and all the changes took place in Bangladesh after 1972.
Before the verdict hitherto, widows get husband's property inherently but on condition of having no son. Thereby, they own the promissory right over the whole property but for her life term only. Grossly they have no authority to sell apart from graving necessity, they can sell minimum portion. Now, widows in Bangladesh have the right to live with dignity.
The Court's verdict however, is not the end. The government is yet to enact the law in agreement with the Court's observations and instructions. Most importantly, execution of the law and create awareness among all folks will be the key challenge for the government. Previous experiences tell us about the importance of awareness campaign for a newly formulated law.
We all know that the Hindu Marriage Registration Act was passed in Bangladesh in 2012 but still ninety percent Hindu marriages in the country goes unregistered and it's just because of laxity of execution and publicity of the law.
Widows' access to property, by all means, is unquestionably a revolutionary achievement but still many a miles to go here in Bangladesh to break the patriarchal chain, prevailed in the second largest religious community in Bangladesh. Current situation of Hindu women's financial independence and property rights in Bangladesh is a far cry from the state of their Indian counterparts and even from the Muslim and Christian women in Bangladesh. Islam and Christianity guarantee inheritance rights of women but Dayabhaga Hindu law in Bangladesh hardly safeguards women's alimony, martial property and patrimony.
There is no scope for divorce in Hindu laws in Bangladesh as well. As a result many Hindu women compromise with lifelong domestic violence and even in some cases have to cost their lives. It hinders the remarriage process of a woman in separation as well.
Hindu women have no identity by means of property ownership at all. A daughter is not the heir of her father's possessions, a wife has succession to her husband's assets if she give birth at least a son; a mother also gain assets of son but under the condition that such properties cannot be treated as stridhana. It implies that a Hindu woman in Bangladesh goes through an ever-dependent lifecycle.
The denial of a daughter's right to own her father's property is provisioned to compensate with the dower. The Vedic prescription of dower is still prevailing in country and Hindu Community leaders (male-dominated and preachers of patriarchy) are hardly ready to welcome the amendment to 'mythical rules' of property distribution. A father burdened with the responsibility of giving marriage a daughter only can feel the curse of dower. A huge number of domestic killing or suicidal cases take place annually due to failure of meet-up the alimony by the bride's family to the groom.
The heinous practice spread among the Muslim communities in the country severely. Government however, has become successful to control the extent of claiming dowry and domestic violence related to greed among Muslims in the country enacting and enforcing laws. Though it is still one of the major social problems in the country, but the number of the case has decreased at a significant rate. But irony of fate that there has no such provision to save Hindu women here.
India has brought significant changes in the Hindu personal law to ensure equity and social safety to ensure human rights irrespective of the gender identity. The Hindu Succession Act was passed in 1956, which established provisions that the property of a male Hindu devolves in equal shares among son, daughter, widow and mother. The Act thereby abolished the limited estate for female heirs. The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 to amend the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 ensures that marriages can be ended by mutual consent before expiry of the cooling period of six months. If India can, why can't we?
The Elimination of all kinds of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) aims to eradicate all sorts of discrimination against women all over the world and establish their dignity. Bangladesh ratified it in 1984. But absence of legal framework to ensure property rights of a larger community is surely contradictory with the CEDAW. Article 28 (1) of the Constitution of the People Republic of Bangladesh has ensured equal rights for all citizens irrespective to religion, sex, race, caste etc. Article 28 (2) urged to secure equal rights of women with men, while the following clause of the same article guaranteed similar treatment for persons with disabilities and liabilities.
The state is still lingered to establish the constitutional rights of Hindu women in the country and the most vibrant mouthpiece of the community Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council itself works as pressure group to persevere masculinity in disguise of persisting mores. It'll be best to strike the iron when it is hot. So, all activists, civil society members, scholars and policy makers should take the situation of Hindu women in the country into account to ensure the actual flow of development. The writer is an Observer journalist and Law student