Asia

Bangladesh approves Hindu property restoration act

File picture of Hindu Durga Puja celebration in Dhaka
Image caption The Hindu community have welcomed moves to restore their property rights

The Bangladeshi parliament has passed a landmark bill that will enable the return of property seized from the country's Hindu minority.

The land was taken under a controversial law enacted in the 1960s.

It was implemented by the East Pakistan administration before Bangladesh became independent in 1971.

The law, initially known as the Enemy Property Act, allowed the authorities to take over land and buildings of Hindus who migrated to India.

Under its terms, property belonging to millions of Hindus who fled to India was confiscated.

The law came into effect in 1965 when Pakistan and India fought a brief war.

The act was renamed as the Vested Properties Act after independence.

The Vested Properties Return (Amendment) Bill 2011 now enables Hindus to reclaim their property taken over by the government and individuals.

"There are some good provisions but it doesn't go far enough to address our demand that all the properties seized or taken over until recently should be returned to their rightful owners," Supreme Court lawyer Subrata Chowdhury told the BBC.

Exodus

Hindu community leaders say that even after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 the law was still used to discriminate against them.

Human rights groups and civil society activists have long urged successive governments to repeal the act.

The governing Awami League made an electoral promise in 2008 that confiscated properties would be given back to the original owners.

Experts say that while the changes to the law are welcome, it will be impossible to return all the land because some of it was confiscated more than 40 years ago.

Most of it appears to have been taken over by Muslims with links to the main political parties.

The government says that it will soon publish a list of properties that were seized. It that any Hindus wanting to make a claim will have 90 days to do so.

It is estimated by one prominent academic that about 400 to 500 Hindu people are migrating daily from Bangladesh.

Professor Abul Barkat told the BBC that if the current rate continues, Bangladesh will no longer have a Hindu community in 25 years' time.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites