Four months after the Supreme Court set aside the centuries-old practice of talaq-e-biddat or instant triple talaq, Lok Sabha Thursday passed The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, outlawing talaq-e-biddat. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad hailed the passage of the Bill, saying “we are making history today”.
The proposed law, which makes talaq-e-biddat a “cognizable and non-bailable offence”, has provisions of “imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and fine” for any Muslim man who divorces his wife by uttering talaq three times in quick succession. It also provides for “subsistence allowance” to Muslim women and custody of minor children as “may be determined by the magistrate”.
Opposition parties like the RJD, AIMIM, BJD, IUML and AIADMK objected when the Bill was being introduced in the House. But the Opposition parties did not rally together at the time the Bill was taken up for voting at the end of the discussion. The Congress did not even give notice to oppose introduction of the Bill and the Trinamool Congress did not participate in the discussion.
AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi, who alleged “vested interests” behind the legislation, said it was an attempt to demonise Muslim men. The Bill, he maintained, violated fundamental rights. Owaisi said while the Bill talks only about Muslim women being abandoned, the government should also worry about “20 lakh abandoned women of all religions, including our bhabhi in Gujarat”.
The only point on which the Opposition showed a semblance of unity was in its demand for sending the Bill to a standing committee for wider consultation. That, however, was turned down by the government which ensured that the Bill, only listed for introduction, was discussed and cleared through a voice vote. Prasad said the government views the Bill not through the lens of “siyasat” (politics) but “insaniyat” (humanity). Introducing the Bill, he told those opposing it that “yeh kanoon na kisi puja ka hai, na prarthana ka hai, na ibadat ka hai, na majhab ka hai, yeh kanoon naari nyay, naari garima aur naari samman ka hai” (this is not a law for any prayer or religion but it is for justice to women, their dignity and respect).
During the discussion, Opposition members asked the government why it was in a hurry to rush the legislation without proper consultation among stakeholders. Some questioned the government’s intention over criminalising the practice of triple talaq while others pointed out how could a man in jail provide subsistence allowance. Still others warned of the potential for misuse of the law, saying it could break marriages.
Responding to the debate, Prasad countered the Opposition’s objections. He said the government had to come out with the Bill since triple talaq continued to be in practice despite being outlawed by the Supreme Court in August. “We were expecting that after this judgment, triple talaq cases would come down and situation would improve… but… about 300 triple talaq cases happened in 2017 and 100 were reported after the Supreme Court’s judgment,” he said, adding that there was one report of a woman being given triple talaq merely because she woke up late in the morning.
On the Opposition’s criticism of the criminalisation provision, Prasad there was the practical need to provide a redressal mechanism for aggrieved victims of illegal divorces to give effect to the Supreme Court order. Following the verdict, several women victims of illegal divorces, he said, went to police to complain but were turned away. “Police said they have no powers… Should we have asked these women to frame and display the SC order in their rooms? We want police and courts to give justice to these women,” he said.
He sought to allay apprehensions that the legislation was a veiled attempt to wade into Muslim personal law. “We do not want to interfere in the Sharia. This Bill is on talaq-e-biddat… the issue is not of religion, faith, puja, the issue is of gender justice, equality and dignity… there is no common civil code in this.”
The government drafted the Bill after the Supreme Court, in a landmark 3-2 verdict on August 22, set aside the practice of talaq-e-biddat. Three of five judges on the Constitution Bench — Justices Rohinton F Nariman, Uday U Lalit and Kurian Joseph — called the practice un-Islamic and “arbitrary” and disagreed with the view that triple talaq was an integral part of religious practice.
But the minority ruling of then Chief Justice of India J S Khehar and Justice S Abdul Nazeer, while underlining the primacy of Muslim personal law, said the practice enjoyed constitutional protection and was beyond the scope of judicial scrutiny. They were of the view that Parliament should consider an “appropriate” law to deal with the issue of talaq-e-biddat.