There may be a long wait ahead before the Supreme Court expresses its views on the Constitutional legitimacy of triple talaq and polygamy in the Muslim community. The next hearing on the matter, which involves Muslim women petitioners, religious organisations, rights groups and the government, was slated to be held on October 18. But the hearing is now expected to be deferred indefinitely owing to the setting up of a seven judge-bench that would commence adjudication on a batch of Constitution matters on the same day.
The seven-judge bench will be headed by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur, who also leads the bench that has been hearing petitions on the validity of triple talaq and polygamy. The notification for setting up the seven-judge bench was issued on the website of the Supreme Court on September 24. The petitions on triple talaq were last heard by the CJI-led bench on September 6, when the central government was given four weeks to convey its stand on the Constitutional validity of these practices.
According to the list of business issued by the court registry, the CJI-led bench shall hear the other cases only if the Constitution bench cannot sit for some reason. In the last two months, a nine-judge bench, headed by the CJI, had examined the validity of state legislation on entry tax. These hearings are rarely deferred since larger benches are set up only after a detailed arrangement and scheduling of cases by all the judges on the bench.
Besides, the court’s Diwali holidays are scheduled from October 29 to November 4, apart from other public holidays in November and December, and weekend offs. Then there are the Christmas and New Year holidays from December 19 to January 1. On January 3, 2017, CJI Thakur is expected to retire, and this would lead to the constitution of a new bench to examine the matter.
Even on working weeks, Mondays and Fridays are fixed for miscellaneous matters and hence, detailed arguments in this batch of cases are unlikely to take place. Submitting its affidavit on October 7, the Union Law Ministry argued that polygamy and triple talaq should be done away with, asserting that these practices “cannot be regarded as essential or integral part of the religion”.
The government stated that the absence of reforms in the community in the last 65 years have left Muslim women “extremely vulnerable, both socially as well as financially”, and maintained that triple talaq and polygamy impacted a woman’s status and her right to live with confidence and dignity.
In August, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), in its reply to the petitions, had defended the validity of triple talaq, saying that if the practice is discontinued, a man could murder or burn his wife alive to get rid of her.
”If there develops serious discord between the couple, and the husband does not at all want to live with her, the legal compulsions of time-consuming separation proceedings and expenses may deter him from taking the legal course. In such instances, he may resort to illegal, criminal ways of murdering or burning her alive,” the AIMPLB’s affidavit had stated.