Inequality in Property Rights for Hindu Women in Bangladesh

Repoter : News Room
Published: 31 March, 2024 12:44 pm

Salma Aktar Priyo: In Bangladesh, the struggle for gender equality intertwines with the intricacies of religious and legal systems, notably in the realm of inheritance rights for Hindu women. Despite constitutional mandates for gender parity, entrenched Hindu laws perpetuate disparities in property inheritance. Show progress underscore broader challenges in confronting patriarchal norms. This article explores historical, legal, and societal factors impacting Hindu women’s inheritance rights, advocating for urgent legislative reforms to uphold justice and equality.

The constitution upholds equality between men and women, yet Hindu women continue to face inequality in inheritance rights. Unlike their Muslim and Christian counterparts, Hindu daughters are excluded from parental property due to outdated Hindu laws, which persist despite widespread public support for change. Efforts from both governmental and non-governmental organizations have failed to catalyze significant social movements toward rectifying this injustice.

In Hindu law, women lack equal property rights; they receive maintenance. Upon death, property goes entirely to surviving sons, leaving daughters dependent on their presence. If sons, grandsons, great-grandsons, or a wife survive, daughters inherit nothing. Unmarried daughters have priority, but widowed or barren daughters receive nothing. The Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act of 1937 grants widows a share equal to one son. Sisters never inherit their brother’s property.

The Hindu Succession Act of 1937 severely restricts daughters’ rights to inherit paternal property, perpetuating gender disparities in inheritance laws. Despite widespread recognition of the need for reform, including recommendations from the Bangladesh Law Commission in 2012, no substantive action has been taken to amend these archaic laws. The persistence of colonial-era Hindu laws, compounded by socio-political factors and religious differences, has impeded progress in ensuring equal property rights for Hindu women in Bangladesh.

Historically, initiatives led by reformists like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Vivekananda have challenged oppressive Hindu practices, such as Sati and widow remarriage prohibitions, yet the reform of inheritance laws has lagged behind. The Hindu Succession Act of 1956, while providing some provisions for equal inheritance rights, still falls short of addressing the systemic discrimination faced by Hindu daughters.

Professor Hiren Nath Biswas, chairman of the National Hindu Society Reform Committee, calls for reforming Hindu personal laws in Bangladesh, advocating for equal rights for sons and daughters and opposing dowry. Shahin Anam, from Manusher Jonno Foundation, echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the need for legal reforms to ensure women’s full property rights across religious communities. Both stress the importance of gender equality and women’s rights in society.

Bangladesh’s Law Minister, Anisul Haque, highlights the need for consensus in legal reforms, especially in family laws, to ensure unity and justice. He emphasizes dialogue and compromise among parties before government action and underscores the importance of neutrality and fairness. While refraining from a direct response on ongoing legal reforms, Haque advocates for careful consideration and impartiality in decision-making amidst proposals from various organizations and the Law Commission of Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, Hindu women often face property rights disparities. One such case involved Priya, whose father’s property went entirely to her brothers upon his demise. Despite contributing to the family, she was excluded from inheritance due to traditional norms. Priya’s struggle exemplifies the pressing need for legal reforms to ensure equitable property rights for Hindu women, fostering economic empowerment and social justice.

In contrast, neighboring countries like India and Nepal have enacted reforms to grant Hindu women equal inheritance rights, highlighting the stagnation of progress in Bangladesh. The reluctance to amend Hindu laws reflects a broader reluctance to confront entrenched patriarchal norms and prioritize gender equality in inheritance rights.

Moving forward, concerted efforts are needed from policymakers, legal experts, and civil society to enact legislative reforms that ensure equal inheritance rights for Hindu women in Bangladesh. Addressing this long-standing injustice is essential for promoting gender equality and upholding fundamental human rights for all citizens, irrespective of religious affiliation.

In conclusion, the persistence of gender disparities in Hindu women’s inheritance rights in Bangladesh underscores the urgent need for legal reforms aligned with constitutional principles of equality. Despite widespread support and recommendations, progress remains stagnant due to reluctance in confronting patriarchal norms. Concerted efforts from policymakers, legal experts, and civil society are crucial to ensure women’s rights and promote social justice. Enacting meaningful reforms can propel Bangladesh towards a more inclusive society where equal rights prevail.

Writer is a Student, Department of law, World University of Bangladesh.