For the second day, there was a standoff in Rajya Sabha Thursday over the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill which seeks to outlaw talaq-e-biddat or instant triple talaq and punish offenders. With the winter session ending Friday, any progress on the Bill appears dim.
While the Opposition stuck to its demand that the Bill be referred to a select committee, the government, sources said, made an attempt to secure Congress support but did not eventually accept its proposal to break the deadlock.
Sources said Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Vijay Goel met Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad three-four days ago, seeking Congress support for the passage of the Bill that had sailed through Lok Sabha on December 28.
Azad pointed out his party’s reservation over the provision in the Bill for a three-year jail term for any Muslim man who divorces his wife by uttering talaq three times in quick succession. He was said to have told Prasad that putting the bread-winner of a family in jail would not just be injustice to his family, but also to the woman and her children as they would be left to fend for themselves without financial support during that period.
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 via instant triple talaq. It also provides for “subsistence allowance” to Muslim women and custody of minor children as “may be determined by the magistrate”.
The Law Minister, sources said, was told that the Congress would be ready to support the Bill, even with the criminal clause, if the government takes upon itself the responsibility of financially supporting all such Muslim women whose husbands are in jail for pronouncing instant triple talaq.
Sources said the Law Minister did not agree to the proposal.
In fact, Azad reiterated his suggestion in the House Thursday: “Till the time a woman’s husband is in jail who is going to pay for the family maintenance? The government should have a provision that till the time the husband is incarcerated, the government should pay the women subsistence allowance. Let them do this, and we will support the Bill. But there is no such provision.”
The Congress, which has been demanding removal of the criminal provisions in the Bill, stuck to its demand for referral of the Bill to a select committee.
On Wednesday night, hours after the Opposition stalled the debate in Rajya Sabha and demanded that the Bill be sent to the select committee, the government made another attempt to reach out to the Opposition. An attempt was also made to wean away TDP and AIADMK members, Opposition leaders claimed.
Sources said the government Wednesday night conveyed to the Opposition that it was ready to send the Bill to the select committee provided they agreed to a three-hour discussion in the House.
The Opposition refused to budge from its stand that the Bill must go through the process of legislative scrutiny. “There was no question of agreeing to such a proposal… whichever way you look at it, the numbers are overwhelmingly in our favour,” one Opposition leader said.
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien said the BJP stood “exposed” after it listed the Bill second on the list of legislations to be taken up Thursday. “It is now clear how serious they are about women’s issues. They want to discuss GST first. They stand exposed,” O’Brien said.