On 7 January 2016, the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, promulgated an ordinance amending the Enemy Property Act of 1968. The Enemy Property Validation and Amendment Bill, 2016 is currently under consideration by parliament. The act was originally promulgated in 1968 after India’s 1965 war with Pakistan. Along with the Enemy Property Act, the bill amends the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971. It replaced the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2016, which was scheduled to lapse in April 2016. On 13 August, the president promulgated the ordinance for a fourth time.
During the wars of 1962—with China—and the 1965 and 1971 conflicts with Pakistan, the government designated certain properties belonging to citizens of these as “enemy properties.” When the war with China broke out in 1962, the government had issued an enemy property registration order. In 1968, the order was replaced by the enemy property act. According to the act, “enemy property” could include properties of persons who are believed to be a citizens of a state classified as an enemy state by to the Indian government. The government vested these properties in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India, an office instituted under it. The 1968 Act regulates these enemy properties, and lists the powers of the custodian. Apart from managing the property, the custodian can declare any property to be enemy property and seize it, and order the sale of the property. Lastly, in court cases filed by the individuals to reclaim the property, it is the custodian who opposes the property’s return. The current ordinance expands the definition of “enemies” to include the legal heirs of those declared enemies—even if the heirs are citizens of India, or of another country that is not an enemy.
But many of the people affected by this law are, in fact, victims—of fate, their destiny, Partition and now, government action. Is the law meant to provide justice or to identify enemies of the state? The spirit of this law is to take over the property of the alleged enemies of the state, but in reality, it is a means to brand certain individuals as “enemies,” and to use their claim to property as a proof of their “enemy” status.