A HIGH-LEVEL committee set up by the Central government to review the status of women in India has sought a ban on the practice of oral, unilateral and triple talaq or divorce, as well as polygamy.
The assessment of family laws, examined by The Indian Express, is part of a voluminous report submitted last year by the panel appointed by the previous UPA government. The report has not been released in the public domain.
On Monday, the Supreme Court, while hearing a plea on the divorce norms, directed the Centre to produce the report within six weeks. The apex court was hearing a plea by a Muslim woman from Uttarakhand against her triple talaq.
The report backs the demand for the ban on the grounds that such talaq renders “wives extremely vulnerable and insecure regarding their marital status”.
The panel has not only recommended specific amendments to the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939 but also suggested introducing provisions to provide for interim maintenance.
The report states that payment of maintenance to the wife and children must be made mandatory in the event of separation or divorce.
While the landmark Supreme Court Judgment of 1985 in the Shah Bano case recognised the Muslim woman’s right to maintenance, it was never codified in the Muslim personal law.
The report states: “All judges should be made aware of the manner in which the SC has interpreted the Muslim Law and has safeguarded the rights of Muslim women.”
It cites the examples of Shamin Ara vs State of UP where the apex court laid down strict Quranic injunctions for pronouncing talaq and the Shabana Bano vs Imran Khan case where it upheld the right to receive maintenance under section 125 of CRPC until the husband pays his wife lump-sum maintenance.
“Such progressive judgments are not known to all judges and magistrates adjudicating over the rights of Muslim women, hence due to ignorance of law many Muslim women are denied of their rights,” states the report. It also suggests changing many of the gender-discriminatory provisions under the Hindu and Christian laws.
“I have not seen the report, but any suggestion to ban triple talaq or polygamy is not acceptable to us. This will mean direct interference of the government in religious affairs as Sharia (Islamic law) is based on the Quran and Hadith, and its jurisprudence is strong as far as Islam is concerned. This would be against the Constitutional right to freedom of religion,” said Kamal Faruqui, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board that has been made a party to the Supreme Court petition.
The petition was filed by Shayara Bano who claimed that her husband gave her triple talaq after subjecting her to cruelty during the course of their marriage.
The petition states that instantaneous triple talaq has no foundation in the Quran and many Islamic nations such as Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have banned or restricted such practices. It also points out that the personal laws of Hindus, Christians and Parsis have evolved over the years so as to prohibit the practice while Muslim women continue to be denied equal protection under law and from discrimination on the basis of their gender and religion.
The 14-member committee was constituted by the Ministry of Woman and Child Development under the UPA government in February 2012. It was reconstituted in May 2013 under its present chairperson Pam Rajput, founder director of Centre for Women’s Studies, Panjab University.