Amid heated protests from the Opposition, including a walkout, and a determined defence by the government, the amended Triple Talaq Bill, which mandates imprisonment for violators, was passed in the Lok Sabha Thursday.
While the Opposition described provisions in the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill as
“unconstitutional” and demanded that it be referred to a select committee, the government argued that the legislation aimed to empower and ensure justice for Muslim women.
Bill set to face hurdle in Rajya Sabha
The latest version of the Triple Talaq Bill will supersede an earlier draft passed in Lok Sabha and pending in the Rajya Sabha. The amended Bill now needs to be passed by Parliament within 42 days. However, the Bill is expected to face resistance in the Rajya Sabha where the ruling dispensation does not enjoy a majority and with AIADMK MPs signalling their opposition by joining a walkout.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who brought the amended Bill that seeks imprisonment for Muslim men who resort to the practice of instant divorce, asked the Opposition not to weigh it “on the scales of politics” as it was about “humanity and justice”. Prasad also rejected the Opposition’s demand to send the legislation to a Parliamentary panel, saying most of the suggestions from MPs were incorporated in the amended Bill.
However, echoing the Opposition’s objections, Leader of Congress in the House, Mallikarjun Kharge, demanded that it be referred to a joint select committee of the two Houses for greater scrutiny. The Congress, and MPs of the AIADMK, also staged a walkout protesting against the government’s decision not to refer the Bill to a select committee.
In August, the government had brought amendments to the Bill after conceding to some of the Opposition’s demands to ringfence the proposed law against misuse. It cleared provisions that complaints in cases of triple talaq can only be filed by the victim (wife) or her blood relations, and that a magistrate can grant bail with certain terms and conditions.
On Thursday, Prasad also said that the Bill has made the offence compoundable, meaning that the case can be withdrawn if the man and his estranged wife reach a compromise. He said the Parliament had unanimously supported laws aimed at giving justice to women, including one prescribing death in cases of rape of girls under 12 years old.
The Minister said that 477 cases of Triple Talaq have been reported since January 2017 and cited a case where such a divorce was conducted over WhatsApp. After the House met at 2 pm following an adjournment to take up the Bill, RSP’s N K Premachandran moved a statutory resolution opposing an ordinance issued earlier, which the Bill seeks to replace, saying the Bill is bad in law as it seeks to criminalise a “civil wrong”.
“No justification in issuing the ordinance, it is purely passed with political motives and an eye on 2019 elections… It proposes criminalising a civil wrong. It is not there in Hindu law or Christian law, then why only in Muslim law?” he asked.
Premachandran said the government’s “intention is suspect” as “they are the same people who were opposing (the entry of women of menstrual age into) Sabarimala”. Leading the Congress push against the Bill, Sushmita Dev said that “this law is not about empowering a Muslim women, it is about penalising a Muslim man”.
Many Opposition MPs, including AIMIM’s Asaddudin Owaisi, questioned the government, which had cited the Supreme Court judgment to ban Triple Talaq, and pointed to the apex court’s judgment on the entry women in Sabarimala. “If your faith is your faith, then my faith should also be my faith. Your intentions are not clean… You can bring your own law, but we will not forfeit our religion,” Owaisi said.
Countering that line, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi said the two issues were different. “Our country has spoken about uniform civil code, not uniform religious code,” Lekhi said. The House also witnessed heated exchanges when CPM’s Mohammed Salim referred to previous remarks made by RSS leaders on minorities. “You treat Muslim men as second class citizens, and you are talking about justice for Muslim women? Crocodile tears are being shed on behalf of Muslim women… The Supreme Court order does not put it in the category of a crime… The judgment of the SC is being forcefully passed by the government to push its political Hindutva agenda,” Salim said.
NCP’s Supriya Sule asked why the government had taken an ordinance route, and demanded the introduction of legislation for women empowerment, including criminalising of marital rape and reservation for women in Parliament.
Shiv Sena’s Arvind Ganpat supported the Bill but took a swipe at the government, reminding them of their other promises, including a law to construct the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, a Uniform Civil Code and scrapping of Article 370 related to Jammu and Kashmir.