Unable to build consensus among political parties in Rajya Sabha on the Bill criminalising the practice of instant triple talaq, the Union Cabinet Wednesday decided to take the ordinance route to outlaw the practice. It was signed by President Ram Nath Kovind hours later.
Briefing reporters on the ordinance, Union Minister for Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “There was an overpowering urgency and a compelling necessity to bring the ordinance as the practice continued unabated despite the Supreme Court order last year.”
In a landmark 3-2 verdict in August 2017, a five-judge Constitution Bench set aside the centuries-old practice of instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat in which Muslim men divorce their wives by uttering talaq three times in quick succession. Three of the five judges called the practice un-Islamic and “arbitrary” and disagreed with the view that triple talaq was an integral part of religious practice.
Prasad said the government managed to get the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 passed in Lok Sabha in December 2017 “but it got stuck in Rajya Sabha” where the ruling alliance does not have a majority.
The ordinance makes instant triple talaq illegal and void and will land the husband in jail for three years. To do away with fears of misuse of the law, certain safeguards have been included such as the addition of a provision of bail for the accused before trial. These amendments were cleared by the Cabinet on August 29.
Prasad said “the issue of triple talaq has nothing to do with faith, or mode of worship or religion… it is a pure issue of gender justice, gender dignity and gender equality”. The lack of any law, he said, prevents police from coming to the help of the victims of the practice.
He provided details of the “core components” of the ordinance:
* An offence will only be cognizable when the “victim wife” or her relatives by blood or marriage file an FIR.
* The offence is “compoundable” — this means that there can be a compromise but only on the insistence of the wife, and the magistrate will have to determine the terms and conditions.
* The offender can be granted bail by a magistrate “but only after hearing the victim wife” because this is a private dispute between the husband and the wife, and the wife must be heard when bail is granted.
* Additionally, the “victim wife” will get custody of minor children and will be entitled to receive maintenance from the husband for herself and the children, as decided by a magistrate.
Prasad said “we tried a lot to take along the Congress” and, on the Prime Minister’s direction, he and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar went to meet Congress leaders.
“I requested Ghulam Nabi Azad at least five times for time,” he said, but he “kept saying he will talk to the higher ups and get back”. Had the Congress party, he said, “asked that the Prime Minister should come and meet” UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, or that he (Prasad) should have done it, the government would have considered it.
While he maintained that the government is “consciously and deliberately keeping this Bill away from any political divide”, Prasad attacked Sonia Gandhi. “It is my serious charge, with full sense of responsibility, that a distinguished woman leader is the ultimate leader of the Congress party, yet such a barbaric, inhuman triple talaq curse was not allowed to be ended by Parliamentary law because of ambiguity… of the Congress party for pure vote-bank politics,” he said.
To Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee, he said “this ordinance has been brought in the nation’s interest… for justice to the women of the nation. I appeal to you, rise above the confines of vote-bank, for (the sake of) humanity and justice”.
Prasad said there were 430 instances of triple talaq between January 2017 and September 13 this year. Of these, 229 instances took place before the Supreme Court judgment on August 22, 2017. Since the judgment, he said, 201 cases of triple talaq have come to the knowledge of the government.
The numbers, he said, show that “instances of triple talaq continue unabated” though the Supreme Court has “annulled it” and a Bill is pending in Parliament. He said these numbers reflect only the cases that have come to the knowledge of the government, and the real numbers could be higher, even “double”.
He said 22 Islamic countries have “regulated” the practice triple talaq, but “in a secular country like India, protected by fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15 an 21, gender justice was given a complete go-by because of blatant vote-bank politics”.
Asked if Opposition parties have welcomed the move, Prasad said if they are serious and earnest, “let them publicly say, that when we go back to Parliament, when the session commences, they will support it”. He said the government will “appreciate their support on the floor of the House, not before television channels”.