Enemy Property

There have been several news reports recently about attempts by the builder Mafia to capture properties near the Jama Masjid in Shahjehanabad (popularly, known as old Delhi) to build a 100 room hotel. Reports have also suggested the involvement of a local politician, though the politician has refuted the allegations very firmly.

This piece is not about the builder mafia or the local politician, but about another issue that has cropped up during the investigation of the attempted land grab. It has been found that the ownership of one of the properties is under dispute and a case has been going on for close to two decades.

The reports say that the disputed property belongs to the “custodian of enemy properties”. Even a cursory reading of the reports would reveal the identity of the original owners of these properties. The original owners of these properties were Muslims of Delhi.

Muslims, who had lived in Shahjehanabad for generations, some for centuries like the families of my ancestors.

In the riots that followed the partition, entire families were wiped out and no one knows what became of their properties. There were those, considered lucky because they managed to escape, leaving behind all they had, including the small hovels or large establishments where they had lived, brought up families and perhaps also dreamt of and fought for a free India. When they left they also left behind the establishments, big and small, where they had worked, earning a living through all manner of trades including the fine handicrafts that this city was famous for.

Large parts of these properties were taken over by a Caretaker created for the purpose. The Custodian was called the “Custodian of Enemy Properties”.

My piece is about this nomenclature.

This nomenclature was evolved at a time when Gandhi Ji was telling his prayers meetings that ‘Hindus and Muslims are like my two eyes’.

This nomenclature was evolved around the time when Gandhi ji cancelled one of his prayer meetings, when someone (probably a survivor of the killings in what was now Pakistan) objected to the recitation of the Qur’aan. Gandhiji had said, ‘I understand your pain, but I cannot understand your refusal to hear what the Holy book says,’ or words to that effect

This nomenclature was invented at roughly the same time when Maulana Abul Kalaam was exhorting Muslims to stay back in the land of their ancestors and Nehru was promising equal rights to all the Citizens of India.

Many of those that had left had gone in the belief that they will come back when things settle down, when passions cool down somewhat.

Could they have ever returned and reclaimed their homes, shops, workshops, factories, schools, libraries or what have you, when all this was declared enemy property and many of those that had built this city been declared enemies.

I am sure they did exactly the same in Pakistan, because all these things had been decided in great detail after due diligence, having given considerable thought to all aspects of the issue. I am sure they had carefully weighed the pros and cons before arriving at this decision. Responsible governments, as we all know, do not take hasty decisions.

They exchanged, Prisoners and (if Manto’s Toba Tek Singh is not merely a figment of his imagination) they also exchanged the inmates of insane asylums, Muslim Lunatics for Pakistan and the rest for India!

What faith do madmen follow?

Why is it that even after 62 years no one has protested at this nomenclature, why do we persist with this term?

Is it any wonder that Muslims have been denied equal opportunities in all walks of life, and even afters hundreds of communal riots since 1947 and despite scores of enquiries, each one establishing that the Muslims did not instigate them and that they suffered most and despite the culprits being identified in most enquiries, hardly anyone ever gets punished.

Where is the need, why should anyone be punished for killing the enemy?

7 thoughts on “Enemy Property”

    1. rather cryptic, this comment on my post, are my assumptions wrong, am i passing any judgement? kindly elucidate


  1. In Goa, we have the “Custodian of Evacuee Property”, – not “enemy” property.
    The Evacuee property concept is based on the international law that foreign nationals in a particular country who are citizens of another country at war with that country, and are forced to migrate/flee (or are, maybe, detained in the host country), are nevertheless entitled to the guarantee of protection of their persons and properties. Otherwise, war on the borders would result in loot and plunder and murder in the hinterland under the guise of nationalist/patriotic slogan-mongering.
    In Goa , there is a special law governing the Evacuee property enacted in 1962 after Goa’s liberation in Dec. 1961, and the land reform laws enacted subsequently in the period 1964-1976 have built-in provisions which say that the land reforms shall not apply to the Evacuee property. Now this is illogical, since the agricultural tenants (kul) and homestead tenants (mundkars) on the evacuee properties are deprived of their legitimate right to enjoy the benefit of buying the land at controlled prices (which they would have exercised freely if they had to be in non-evacuee property belonging to an Indian landlord residing anywhere in the world), on the sole ground that the land-owner of the Evacuee property is a Portuguese citizen in Portugal!


  2. What i have been able to find out is that properties left behind by those who had to migrate to pakistan in the aftermath of partition was originally placed under the “care” of a “custodian of Evacuee properties”, i also know of cases where one part of the family went to pakistan while one part stayed back and yet the entire property was taken over by the custodian and those that stayed back had to fight for a roof over their heads for years in that communally surcharged atmosphere.’ I will not be surprised if the same happened with those Hindus who chose to stay back in Pakistan.

    The custodian of Evacuee properties was changed to the custodian of evacuee properties.

    my question was even if the two countries were at war, how can the homes and hearths of those who had to flee across the borders to save their lives be turned into enemy properties. The hapless refugees from these two countries were not enemies.

    I am not familiar with the situation in the erstwhile poruguese held territories of Goa Daman and Dieu, but would think that properties held by portuguese citizens who left after the liberation of these areas would be treated differently from the properties left by erstwhile indians who had to cross the newly created borders across punjab and bengal.


  3. I am not sure if this is a helpful response but Vazira Zamindar’s book,The Long Partition discusses evacuee property fairly extensively. The closest paralell to this is the Abstentee Laws of Israel which permits the state to take over the property of “absentee” (Palestinian) citizens. Both date back to 1947-48.


  4. Mr. Hashmi’s article is self serving or, at best (if you wish to be charitable), a repetition of unsubstantiated beliefs undoubtedly deeply held by him. These are, first, that muslims in India have been deliberately discriminated against; second, that the label affixed to an agency administering property left by emigrating Muslims is reflective of the former (the fact that Muslims are deliberately discriminated). Mr. Hashmi adduces no proof to support either conjecture.

    The first is supported by a bland unsupported statement “…. and even afters hundreds of communal riots since 1947 and despite scores of enquiries, each one establishing that the Muslims did not instigate them and that they suffered most and despite the culprits being identified in most enquiries….”. This is supposition unsupported by fact. How do we actually know this? Which are these ‘scores of enquiries’ and how did they arrive at this finding and how come this hasn’t seeped into our popular conscience? Is Mr. Hashmi saying that the suffering of the innumerable Hindus’s who migrated is some how lesser than the pain of their Muslim brothers? Or, is Mr. Hashmi applying different standards to what happened in (what is today) Pakistan versus what happened in (what is today) India? I agree with Mr. Hashmi that we should apply standards that differ from those in Pakistan. After all, that is a country that eliminated (for all intents and purposes) it’s minorities – Hindu’s form 1.85% of their population. Surely, Mr. Hashmi has a sense of history and is aware of the size of the Hind population in Pakistan pre-partition. To know this and to make the statements that he does is reprehensible in the extreme and display an arrogant disregard for the feelings of another community equally impacted by these events.

    For the latter supposition, the reasoning is so unsound as to require no further elaboration. What does the name of the Custodian have to do with the lot of Muslims in India today? How could the name have impacted them? Mr. Hashmi forgets that we are an inclusive secular country where a great majority of the populace wants the minority communities to prosper. To my knowledge there is no extant legislation of act of government that detracts from this. This is in stark contradistinction to the situation in Pakistan (which is a good thing). Mr. Hashmi blithely ignores historic facts, makes unsubstantiated statements calculated to cause hurt. In this he is fifth columnist deserving of our most rabid responses.


  5. The Enemy Property Act, 1968 has been constant source of harassment for innocent persons caught in the crossfire of India -Pakistan enmity. There are instances where properties of bonafide Indian heirs have been labeled as ‘enemy property’ by the Custodian office , merely on heresay that their parents had migrated to Pakistan. Protracted Inquiries spanning decades pertaining to nationality of deceased parents and verification of documents like death certificates, extracts of land records etc have still remained inconclusive. Apparently the above said enquiries are still being conducted by the said office with no sign of finality. Strangely enough, time and again ,tacit aspersions are being cast on the bonafide citizens of the country. The government, rather than making efforts to locate the rightful heirs of the seized properties, as mandated by the landmark 2005 Supreme Court judgment, is trying to bulldoze the positive direction of the apex court by bringing the draconian amendment to the Act .The move of UPA government to keep the possession of seized properties by the custodian in perpetuity is unjustified. Further the move to deny the courts to interfere in the matter is highly unacceptable and against the spirit of modern and just democracy. Certainly, it is not correct to do so at the time when we are seeking to build Peace Bridge with our neighbour.

    Iqra Siddiqui,
    New Delhi


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