Two years after it was formally outlawed in India, instances of oral triple talaq complaints have come down drastically as per Muslim women’s groups. With the new Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi likely to take up the Bill to criminalise triple talaq once again in the coming Parliament session, Muslim women’s groups have asked for changes in the existing law in order to make it more effective.
A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court had struck down instant triple talaq in a complex, layered, split verdict in August 2017. The BJP government had subsequently brought in the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017, which was passed in the Lok Sabha but could not clear the Rajya Sabha.
The Modi government had then brought three ordinances to penalise the practice of triple talaq with imprisonment up to three years. The first ordinance was brought in after the Monsoon Session of Parliament in 2018, a second ordinance was issued after the Winter Session and the third was announced by the last Cabinet on February 19, just weeks ahead of the general elections.
While there is no pan India figure available in the public domain over the total number of cases registered under the new law, Muslim organisations claim that there is evidence that the number of instances of triple talaq have gone down drastically.
The Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which had played a pivotal role in the campaigns against oral triple talaq, has said that the number of complaints that it used to receive from women who were victims of triple talaq has come down substantially.
In 2016 the BMMA’s Mumbai chapter had received 31 complaints from women who had said that they had been given oral triple talaq. In 2017 when it was made illegal the number came down to six. In 2018 the number was two and till June 2019 the number was pegged at one.
“There has been a dip in the number of women who have come to us complaining that they have been given triple talaq. In that way the law seems to have been effective in putting a rein on this practice. However there are still a lot of lacunae in the existing law which need to be addressed on a priority basis for it to be more effective,” BMMA co-founder Noorjehan Safia Naiz said.
The Maharashtra Police has not made the total number of cases registered under the new rule public. But senior police officials claim that the number would not be more than 30 in the past two year.
Activists say that even though the number of single sitting oral triple talaq is coming down, there are still instances of men pronouncing talaq in a staggered manner over three months rather than in one sitting to get a divorce. This is being carried out without any arbitration being done between the two parties which is mandated even under Islamic law.
“The important aspect of having some sort of arbitration when a talaq is pronounced once is being violated. The present law has no provisions of ensuring that there should be arbitration between an estranged husband and wife. Without having this clause the law can’t be effective,” Niaz said.
Niaz also claimed that in spite of the government passing an ordinance there is a hesitancy in police officers to register a case under the new rules. “There have been instances where the police have refused to register cases saying that a formal act has not yet been cleared in the parliament,” Niaz said.
Groups like the BMMA have formulated their own draft law which they are hoping that the government uses to improve conditions of Muslim women in the country. A section of Muslim activists also feel that the existing law in its present form is not beneficial for Muslim women as triple talaq has already been deemed to be illegal by the Supreme Court.
“When the SC has already stated that the act of triple talaq in one sitting is illegal what is the use of bringing in an Act. This act criminalises a community without taking cognisance of the living struggles of Muslim women or questions of their social security. This Bill is introduced without going into any participatory process of consultation with women’s groups,” Bebaak Collective founder Hasina Khan said.
Data from the Census of India, 2011, showed that while among all religious communities, the rate of divorce was significantly lower among men than among women, the disparity was particularly stark among Muslims. So while the “refined divorce rate”, or rate of divorce per 1,000 marriages was 1.59 among Muslim men, among Muslim women, it was more than three and a half times higher — 5.63.