Anguish over the Muslim-specific Enemy Property Bill

Lucknow: The political debate around the Enemy Property Amendment and Validation Bill 2010, seems to go on unabated. The last monsoon and the winter sessions of parliament witnessed uproarious scenes over the same. The Bill had however been dropped once, in the monsoon session, when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) II government had found itself cornered, as its ally Rashtriya Janta Dal President Lalu Prasad Yadav along with Samajwadi Party Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had torn the Bill into pieces. UPA II however had brought it again with some amendments, as a part of its overall game plan to deprive Muslims (whose relatives had once migrated to Pakistan) to regain their ancestral properties, had been confiscated under Custodian of Enemy Property which had been in force since. The Enemy Property Bill was passed by parliament in 1968. The bill is now under the scanner of a Standing Committee, headed by the former BJP President Venkaiah Naidu which had invited memorandums to it by 15 March. Most of the properties under this category are in Uttar Pradesh (1,468), followed by West Bengal (351), Delhi (66), Gujarat (63), Bihar (40), Goa (35), Madhya Pradesh (29) and Maharashtra (25). The exact number of such properties is 2,186.

The Muslim anguish and reason of departure from across the country and particularly from Uttar Pradesh, was brought to the notice of the concerned Standing Committee, so that the inherent dangers of the Bill be known. The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), arguably the largest organisation of Muslims was among the first to register its findings. “With respect to the ‘Enemy Property Amendment and Validation Second Bill 2010’, I wish to state that the very word ‘Enemy’ from the Bill deserves to be deleted, in very earnest, as it is already six decades since our independence and we cannot hanker on the old political fables. The very mention of the word ‘Enemy’ adds to a certain bitterness to the overall ambience, and the state can ill-afford to become an ‘Enemy State’ to India, particularly when we are a nuclear state,” suggested Syed Muhammed Ahmed, before elaborating his stance on the Bill which he had sent to the Standing Committee. Ahmed is the president of JIH (UP West and Uttrakhand).

The UPA II government which had come to power on the issue of survival of secularism, is proving deadlier for the Muslims of the country, as the Bill under UPA II would endanger Muslims interests on all counts. The most obnoxious would be the tag of ‘Enemy’.  

He commented that a citizen of India has to have all the  guarantees for his or her fundamental rights, without the struggle or have to fight for them. “But, what is now appearing is that those Muslims who have made their rightful claim over the declared Enemy Properties, are a harassed lot. This is done despite the clearance of their title to ownership by the Supreme Court. The proposed Bill is just to circumvent and clip the authority of the Supreme Court and vest unprecedented powers into the Custodian of Enemy Property. The properties in question should not be termed as Enemy Properties but at the most they can be referred as Disputed Properties,” he clarified.

“After analyzing the contents of the Bill, it can be seen that the Section 2 Sub-Section (3) is a glaring example of political manoeuvring as everything has been vested with the Central Government, which of course, would be bound by vote politics, and hence, the powers that should be invested in the Courts of the land, so that Courts when submitted with ‘rightful papers and claims’ are empowered to decide the ownership titles, unlike, the Central Government which wants to hold the baton.”

Ahmed has gone through the contents of the Bill thoroughly. He pointed out that Section 3 (5A) is like giving away to the Custodian ownership rights. “The Government, through this section, wants to usurp all Enemy Properties, thus, making the Custodian all powerful. Remember that Custodian is only a guardian to see that the ‘Enemy Properties’ are managed well and can only collect their rents. The Custodian should never be given the powers to decide on the rights to the title of any Enemy Property. The decision of title should always be vested with the Courts of the land as it is the only recourse for an individual for justice. The claim to one’s property is a part of an individual’s fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution,” he elaborated.

Moreover, he also pointed out that Section 4 speaks about invalidating the concept of Oral gift or Hiba. “This is absolutely outrageous as that would mean the infringement on the Muslim Personal Law, which has been into force since the implementation of the Muslim Personal Law Shariyat Application Act (1937) and has been upheld even by the Parliament of British India. The Britishers even did not dare make a change. Hiba is an oral gift and is absolutely a part and parcel of Islamic law and upheld by Islamic jurisprudence. Oral gift, has long been upheld as a part of Muslim law which the Bill is bent upon obliterating. The Muslims of the country would definitely protest against any such move. My whole take on the Bill is that it is a document against the ends of justice in our country and hence, must be withdrawn.”

Muhammed Sulieman, the national president of Indian National League, had also shot a letter to Naidu. He said that the ghosts of the UP Zamidari Abolition and Land Reforms Act 1952 have taken a new shape in the form of this present Bill. “The UPZALR was brought to cripple the Muslims of UP economically. Through the Act, the tillers of the land were made the owners of the land. The Hindu landowners had got their documents altered to their satisfaction, as they were supported by the system, both tacitly and unofficially, and could save their lands. The Muslim landowners blamed as “the makers of Pakistan” were demoralised and thus just sat back to see the tillers, who were almost all Hindus, become the owners of their lands-all in the name of democracy. The law was not implemented in the hill-regions of UP as Brahmin landowners would feel the pinch and UP CM was a Brahmin from the Hills – Mr. Govindballabh Pant,” he said.

He said that the concerned Bill is slated to settle many scores with Muslims. The first and foremost is to send a message that even if an individual who had never migrated to Pakistan and whose mother too did not migrate to Pakistan, and who even after fighting a legal battle for 35 years, until the Supreme Court, which had granted him title of ownership, is yet, to wait endlessly for the implementation of the SC’s order, supposedly because of the bare fact that the individual happens to belong to a minority community and is a Muslim. The government in its blindness is abolishing the role of the courts.

He also made a frontal attack on P Chidambaram, who as a counsel had once stood on behalf of the interested parties (the occupiers of “Enemy Properties”), in the SC where he could not cut ice, and is therefore, trying to satisfy his client’s interests through this Bill. “Thus the whole country of one billion is being held to ransom by a single individual. The Bill if passed would dwarf our whole parliament to the machinations of a single individual. Apart from this, the Bill is also to unleash a blatant attack on the Personal Law of Muslims in the country as it would signal an end to the provision of Oral Gift or Hiba. The Bill is also all set to make Muslim law of Succession a thing of the past, and is therefore, to be considered, as an outright annulment of our Constitution, and thereby, an announcement of the implementation of the Common Civil Code in the country something contrary to the basic spirit of our Constitution which has guaranteed Muslim Personal Law under its Article 25,” he said.  

Quoting a historic incident related to the ongoing debate on the Bill, Professor Khan Muhammed Atif, who is also a former MLA from UP, said that once during the reign of Shahjehan, there was a law that a property would be vested with the state, if no heir is left by the dead. A Hindu widow had found that her (late) husband had a son from his second wife. So, after his death, the state ordered that half of his property would go to his son and half to the state. To this the widow countered that it was right that half of the property was going to her husband’s son, but how was Shahjehan related to her husband to gobble up the other half! Shahjehan left the whole property to her.  

“The intention of the state, therefore, assumes utmost importance. The intention, today, in reference to the Bill, is bad and has been framed to confiscate any which way, Muslim properties under Custodian of Enemy Property, in the name of Pakistan or ‘Enemy’ which is nothing but a relic of the past as since four decades India has not been at war with Pakistan or with anyone else. It is a fact that all the concerned Enemy Properties in India are unexceptionally occupied by non-Muslim tenants who are running their big business houses, at a cost of throw-away rents, and hence are minting millions out of them. Such property holders are turncoats of the highest order as they change their political allegiance, to any ruling party for their personal benefits. Until yesterday, they were all big sponsors of BJP and today they have changed their loyalties to BSP in UP,” he said. He had written to Naidu too.

“The way the Sept. 30, 2010 order of the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court has supported fiction over fact and faith and myth over evidence, has already shattered the faith of every law-abiding citizen in the judicial system of the country. What is now becoming widely clear, as the background of this Bill suggests, is that the ruling party is bent upon undoing what has been awarded even by the SC. Thus, it is a clear message to every citizen of the country that SC too would be surpassed to accommodate certain interests. India which is called as the biggest democracy in the world needs to see how a law is guarded, as a pillar of democracy, or else it would go into history that in India democracy would mean only the rule of the majority community and the oath of Jan 26, 1950 which guarantees equal right to everyone would be soon blown to smithereens,” he castigated.

Saleem Peerzada, the President of Parcham Party of India, found the Bill to have been totally borrowed, in its spirit and contents, from the law makers of Israel who make such indignant laws, first to annihilate Palestinians and later to anyhow usurp their properties. “India ought to be saved from going the Israel way,” he rallied. Peerzada hails from Aligarh, UP. An official letter from him has also been sent to Naidu.

Muhammed Shareef Khan, a writer from Rampur, UP who keeps a keen eye on Muslim issues, also has written to Naidu. He claims that the Bill would mean a direct attack on Muslim Personal Law and there is bound to be a backlash on the same. “Government should instead make Custodian of Enemy Property become transparent and stop its corrupt malpractices rather than dare make changes in the established practices of Islamic law. The Bill must be withdrawn,” he reiterated.  

Owing to the pressure of Muslims from all over the country it has been learnt that the deadline for the memorandums has been increased by one more month. Lets wait and see as to what will happen once this Bill is finally placed or would it be withdrawn, in the first place, to help Congress led UPA II help salvage some political expediency.

Read also:
  1. "Enemy" Property Bill — immediate action required

  2. Enemy Property: legal short circuit

  3. Enemy Property Act: a Backgrounder

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 April 2011 on page no. 5

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