The government accused the Congress Thursday of taking a confusing stand on the bill to criminalise triple talaq and asked it to move beyond “kintu, parantu” and stand up for the rights of women suffering due to triple talaq. The Congress had not opposed the bill but wanted it sent to a standing committee. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that as many as 22 Islamic nations had chosen to regulate triple talaq with penal provisions but India had been dragging its feet. “I would like to put this question in front of the House. Islamic nations have regulated triple talaq. India is a secular country, a republic.
If in our country tyranny is being unleashed on women through triple talaq, should we stay quiet? It’s a big question that the House must answer,” Prasad said while introducing the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill. The bill was eventually passed by Lok Sabha despite Opposition members objecting to criminalisation of what they said was a civil matter and absence of provisions for maintenance of the divorced wife in the Bill.
Prasad said, “I find the Congress stand on this bill to be quite confusing. You are supporting the bill but also have many ifs and buts. Don’t get caught up in doubt. Stand with us if you support the bill.” Calling the bill a historic one, Prasad urged everyone to rise above party politics and support the bill. “I appeal to this House and the biggest panchayat that please do not see this bill from the prism of politics,” he said, adding it should neither be confined within the walls of political parties, nor should it be looked as vote bank politics.
The Opposition, which was pushing for wider consultation on the bill and called for dropping of criminal provisions for pronouncement of triple talaq, came in for severest criticism from Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar. Akbar quoted from the Qur’an to show how the holy book had given equal rights to women and how its spirit was scuttled by the clergy who were being supported by some members from the opposition.
Akbar said Jawaharlal Nehru did not consider freedom his biggest achievement but the Hindu Code Bill. He said when a journalist asked him why he did not do so for Muslims, Nehru said the time was not right. “History is asking when will this right time come… Indira could have done it. She was a woman, had majority in the house. But all she achieved was the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in 1973,” Akbar said.
He went on to attack and question the credibility of AIMPLB. “Whoever quotes them, I want to ask who has elected them. Who has made them representatives of the Muslim community. They have become a false voice of 18 crore Muslims,” Akbar said. He also attacked Congress for the position it took in the Shah Bano case of 1985. “For Rs 127 maintenance, you condemned the whole country,” Akbar said. He objected to cries of “Islam khatre mein hai” and said, “Nothing is in danger except the dominance of some Muslim men.”
Several parties, including AIMIM, Muslim League and even AIADMK, accused the government of having a communal agenda behind the Bill. Prasad, however, said that for the government it was not a political Bill. “We are not looking at it through the prism of a votebank. We are looking at it through the prism of humanity,” Prasad said. He said that though the Supreme Court had outlawed the practice of triple talaq in August, the government had to come up with the Bill as triple talaq continued to be used. “We were expecting that after this judgment, triple talaq cases would come down and situation would improve… about 300 triple talaq cases happened in 2017 and 100 were reported after the Supreme Court’s judgment,” Prasad said recounting a news report from Rampur in UP where a woman had allegedly been divorced through triple talaq because she woke up late.
In reply to the debate, he said the bill had been necessitated because the government had learnt that several women who had approached police stations after the SC verdict were turned away. “The police said it had no powers… Should we have asked these women to hang the SC order in their rooms… we want police and court to give justice to these women (victims of triple talaq),” Prasad said. Several countries particularly Islamic nations including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Indonesia, Malaysia and Tunisia have regulated this.