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A passionate debate has emerged over the government’s stand to oppose the practice of “triple talaq” with some leading women politicians seeking its abolition, even as Muslim bodies accused the ruling dispensation of waging a “war” on their personal law. Though most of the women leaders avoided direct comments on the Centre’s affidavit or sought to dissect it, they were strongly critical of the prevalent practice of dissolving marriage through ‘triple talaq’. Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla, who was the Minority Affairs Minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet before being appointed to the gubernatorial post, refrained from giving her opinion on the Centre’s stand, but, on a personal level, said an “un-Islamic” interpretation was being given to the practice of ‘triple talaq’.
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Senior CPI(M) leader and former MP Subhashini Ali also opposed the practice of triple talaq and polygamy, seeking abolition. Their views came in the backdrop of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) taking a stand to oppose the Centre’s affidavit, which said the practice of triple talaq, ‘nikah halala’ and polygamy among Muslims needed a relook on grounds like gender equality and secularism.
The AIMPLB and other Muslim bodies said they would boycott the Law Commission’s proceedings in the matter and accused the Modi government of waging a “war” against their personal laws. They also said a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) will “kill” India’s pluralism. The controversy arose after the Law Commission recently sought feedback from the public on whether the practice of triple talaq should be abolished and whether a uniform civil code be made optional.
Making no direct comment on the Centre’s affidavit, Heptulla said those who say ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’ in one go were not interpreting Islam correctly and “have no right to bring a bad name to religion as they are giving it an un-Islamic interpretation”. While Ali found fault with the “unilateral system of divorce by men” and advocated that the Muslim clerics must “change their approach”, social activist Shabnam Hashmi categorically said “this practice (triple talaq) should be abolished.”
Without getting drawn into the Centre’s affidavit, Hashmi said the concept of one-time triple talaq does not exist in Islam and there is no mention of “gender inequality” in any religion or religious texts.
“Triple talaq should be abolished, it is as simple as that. No such practice is followed in any civilised society,” she asserted.
While Heptulla, Ali and Hashmi agreed to air their views on triple talaq, Aparupa Poddar, Trinamool Congress MP from Arambagh in West Bengal and is married to a Muslim, refused to be drawn into the debate leaving it for the party to take a stand on the Centre’s decision. Her party leaders also refused to take questions on the issue. Congress spokesperson Shobha Oza has said the matter of ‘triple talaq’ should be left to the Supreme Court to decide, but expressed her opposition to the “imposition” of a Uniform Civil Code.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said the issue should be left to religious leaders. “The issue of uniform civil code should be left to religious leaders. On the issues of country and humanity everyone should be united,” he said recently. Finding fault with the system of unilateral divorce by men, Ali, a CPI(M) Politburo member, termed it “wrong” and said women should have equal rights and the Muslim clerics must “change their approach”.
“I don’t have a problem with the Centre’s affidavit on the issue. Unilateral divorce is wrong. This right which is given only to men is wrong. Equality should be there and Muslim clerics must change their approach. I am not an expert on this issue, I am just saying that they are not in conformity with system of justice,” she added.
In reply to a series of questions on the matter, Heptulla said the practice of ‘triple talaq’ is being wrongly interpreted as the concept of one time ‘triple talaq’ does not exist in Islam. Heptulla said most of the Islamic countries have “correctly interpreted” Islam, and Quran and Prophet Mohammad say that those who do injustice to humans are not following the religion properly.
“Those who are misusing Islam and not treating women equally are wrong. I believe in what I say. Even a woman, on certain conditions of cruelty, injustice and other reasons, can seek dissolution of marriage but nobody speaks about it,” she said.
“Triple talaq cannot be given in one sitting. It has to be done in three sittings over three months and after following an arbitration process. The way they are interpreting it, is not Islamic and is not true. Mostly all Muslim countries, including our neighbour Pakistan, have accepted it,” Heptulla said, adding that Islam is not a religion of inequality.
For the first time in India’s constitutional history, the Centre on October 7 had opposed in the Supreme Court the practice of triple talaq, ‘nikah halala’ and polygamy among Muslims and favoured a relook on grounds like gender equality and secularism. The Ministry of Law and Justice, in its affidavit, had referred to constitutional principles like gender equality, secularism, international covenants, religious practices and marital law prevalent in various Islamic countries to drive home the point that the practice of triple talaq and polygamy needed to be adjudicated upon afresh by the apex court.
Regarding abolition of the practice of polygamy in Islam as has been done in Hinduism, Heptulla said that people should think about it and any injustice to women in the name of Islam is “not correct”. On being asked if ‘triple talaq’ is being misinterpreted, Hashmi said even if its not misinterpreted, gender inequality is not found in any religion or religious text.
Referring to the recent affidavit filed by AIMPLB on the issue in the Supreme Court, Hashmi said it was “most horrendous and the apex court should take suo motu action against them” as it shows that they think from “very patriarchal mindset which is shameful”.
The AIMPLB, in its counter affidavit filed in the apex court, had said that personal laws of a community cannot be “re-written” in the name of social reforms. The board had said that the issue relating to Muslim practices of polygamy, triple talaq (talaq-e-bidat) and nikah halala are matters of “legislative policy” and cannot be interfered with. The Law Commission’s decision to invite views on the contentious Uniform Civil Code has drawn criticism from the AIMPLB and other Muslim organisations which said they will boycott it and accused the Modi government of waging a “war” against the community. While the government accused the AIMPLB of ‘politicking’ on the issue, Congress and Samajwadi Party have said it should not be imposed.