Women encompass almost half of the population of Bangladesh and Hindus are the largest minority, at 10.5 per cent of the population [http: //populationof2017.com/population-of-bangladesh-2017.html]. There are also tiny minorities (less than 1 per cent) of the Christians, Buddhist and animist. Grudging these two important segments of our population of their due share of rights, including land rights, is violative of the basic norms of justice. Righteousness demands that everyone enjoys equal rights in the society and every one’s right is protected by the state. An opposite arrangement, favouring the dominant groups only at the cost of the peripheral groups, amounts to manifest injustice.
As a member of global village Bangladesh also ratified various international legal instruments which also obliged us to ensure the realisation of egalitarian principle in our exercise of domestic law towards women such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966, and International Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1989. Bangladesh technically has given it’s reservation on the article 2 of CEDAW convention but this practically turned it meaningless to be a member of this convention to follow.Beside the above international compulsion, Bangladesh in its supreme law of the land also incorporated various legal commitments which guarantee equality of all and pledges equal protection of law as the fundamental right of all citizens (article 27). Article 28 concerning fundamental rights further holds that ‘the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth’. Again as fundamental right, article 42(1) note that ‘subject to restriction imposed by law, every citizen shall have the right to acquire, hold, transfer or otherwise dispose of property’. The above-mentioned legal provisions are in the sense of Amartya Sen NITI, the interpretation and application of those provisions leaves ample opportunity for being legitimately or illegitimately discriminated.
Despite various national and international commitments, Bangladeshi laws of inheritance continue to be discriminatory against women. Here the property rights of women are determined by the religious personal laws and the degrees of discrimination also varies from religion to religion. As all the agricultural lands are in private hand and most of the women in our country are pure housewives, they don’t have enough economic affluence to be land owner by purchasing of their own. For that reason, being an owner of the property by inheritance is the easiest way comparing with others.
As it is most often positively argued that Muslim women inheritance in Bangladesh is fully guided by rules of the Holy Qur’an which provided a list of fixed shareholders, among a total of 12 share holders, 8 are female, from the deceased property by way of inheritance. In spite of this truth, still there is huge discrimination against women as a daughter gets half of the son’s share and mother will get less comparing with the share of father if they have issues. On the other hand, the Hindu women will be totally excluded from inheriting her father’s property in the presence of her brother. The Buddhists in Bangladesh are also following the Dayabagha Hindu law of inheritance so their scenario is also alike the Hindu women in Bangladesh.
The inheritance of Christian in Bangladesh is governed by the Succession Act, 1925. Widow is never excluded from Christian succession. She gets one-third of the property of husband in presence of lineal descendants and half in absence of them if the deceased left some kindred. In absence of lineal descendants and kindred wife gets whole of the property and this unique role is far better favourable for women. Daughters and granddaughters get equal share along with sons, grandsons and great grandsons. This is superior in terms of equality to Muslim law provision but in absence of wife and lineal descendants, father gets the whole property to the exclusion of mother which is inferior in Muslim law.
The right to property among the indigenous women varies from communities to communities such as Santal or Oraon which follows that sons have full right of ownership to the father property [Kamal, M; Samad, M and Banu, N, 2003,” the Santal Community in Bangladesh: Problems and Prospects”, 1st ed., Research and Development Collective (RDC),Dhaka]. But the Garos, another indigenous community in greater Mymensingh district, follows that property and descent go mothers to daughters. The customary practices of Garos indicate that no man could inherit property under any circumstances. However, the inheritance processes differ from community to community, but to some extent, the right to inheritance is mysterious to delineate women’s equal power relationship in the society.
It’s better we can argue for equal arrangement of share in property of women in Bangladesh, but in my view it’s much more important to focus on it’s practical realisation.These existing unjust property rights of women in Bangladesh humiliate their role not only at home but also in the outside world. Because of having less property with huge responsibility or not having any property at all with equal responsibility comparing with their male counterparts, women are being the worst vulnerable victims of poverty. Sometimes the situation compels them to take illegal means of livelihood. This inactive role of women in property holding also affects their bargaining power in various fields like their appointments in any jobs with critical or technical in nature, determination of their wage, decision making in various family matters. Most often we observed that not only the illiterate village people but also many educated well-off parents are taking many children in the hope having a boy who can be property holder and the keeper of family name in future which also disturbed the aim of the family planning project in our country.
‘Feminisation of poverty’ is a global problem. The Global Poverty Project estimates a staggering 70 per cent of the world's poor being women. In Bangladesh, according to HIES 2010, about 28 million people are extremely poor, earning less than what is required to just meet their basic food requirements. Much of this burden falls on women.
Social practices such as early marriages, dowries, bigamy and abandonment are common among the poorest, where financial pressures often lead to the disintegration of families [source:https://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-263209]
The typical process of agrarian transformation under which labour shifts from agriculture to non-agricultural has occurred slowly and with heavy gender-bias. Because women’s property rights are often assumed through the security of the oftentimes, male, household head, some inheritance laws allocate less property to female heirs than male heirs. Ongoing adherence to male-dominated traditions of property ownership has generally meant that women cannot take advantage of the wide range of benefits associated with ownership and control of property. According to the Land Tenure Service at FAO, poverty is inversely correlated with household land ownership and direct access to land minimises women’s risk of impoverishment and improvements the physical well-being and prospects for children.
Nevertheless, it is also argued that culturally negative views towards women are responsible for not reforming those unjust property law of women in our country but some also believe that unless self-respect and sense of dignity are inculcated into women’s minds through education in general and particularly education of legal rights, inheritance law will not bring much of a change in practice.
Though we all logically expected that after the birth of an independent country from the tyranny of Pakistan, a county believing in equality in every sphere will be established but laws that advocate for women property rights are still guided here by the age-old personal laws that at the present world very often lost their justification for creating a just and righteous atmosphere for the women in our country.
The writer is a lecturer of law, Department of Law East West University and an Ex-Assistant Judge. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org