The contentious Triple Talaq Bill criminalising instant divorce by Muslim men was passed in the Lok Sabha amid a heated debate followed by an Opposition walkout on Thursday. While the government projected the Bill as a question of “Insaaniyat aur Insaaf“, the Opposition accused the government of indulging in vote bank politics and demanded that the Bill is referred to a joint select committee.
The case dates back to 2016 when the Supreme Court had sought assistance from the then Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi on pleas challenging the constitutional validity of “triple talaq”, “nikah halala” and “polygamy”, to assess whether Muslim women face gender discrimination in cases of divorce.
Opposing the practice of triple talaq, the Centre told the top court that there is a need to re-look at these practices on grounds of gender equality and secularism. The Supreme Court later announced the setting up of a five-judge constitutional bench to hear and deliberate on the challenges against the practice of ‘triple talaq, nikah halala’ and polygamy.
The issue gained political momentum on March 2017 when the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) told the Supreme Court that the issue of triple talaq falls outside the judiciary’s realm and that these issues should not be touched by the court.
However, on August 22 this year, the Supreme Court set aside the decade-old practice of instant triple talaq saying it was violative of Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The bench comprising of five judges, headed by Chief Justice J. S. Khehar, had reserved its verdict on 18 May, six days after the hearing began on 11 May. The court’s ruling was restricted to the constitutional validity of triple talaq and did not include issues like polygamy and nikah halala under the Muslim personal law.
In September, the Narendra Modi government had proposed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill in the Parliament and sought to make triple talaq a punishable offence under the law.
At first, the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha but it failed to secure a majority in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill was postponed till the winter session of Parliament. Following this, an ordinance was issued by the government after the Bill failed to get cleared in Rajya Sabha amid protests by the Opposition. The Bill was re-introduced yesterday as an ordinance is valid only for six months since its promulgation.
What the latest amendments say?
The Bill seeks to make triple talaq a criminal offence, with a jail term of up to three years for the husband.
Sticking to the Opposition’s recommendation, the government has also introduced three new amendments to ensure the law is not misused. Under the law, only an aggrieved woman or a close relative can file a police complaint against her husband. Also, she can drop the case if a couple reaches a compromise. Besides these, the magistrate can release the husband on bail after hearing the wife.
Under the Bill, the women will be entitled to financial assistance from the husband.
What the government said:
Quoting various reports, laws and research findings, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad emphasised the need to put an end to the suffering of Muslim women who have been at the receiving end of instant talaq for several years.
“More than 20 Islamic countries have banned the practice, then why not us? India is a secular country, then why are we objecting to it? If Islamic countries can make it a law, then why not us?” he said.
On the Opposition’s demand to refer the Bill to a select committee, the minister said, “No one had objected to the death penalty avoided to child rapists, citing what is going to happen to the accused’s family. Then why are people objecting to the triple talaq Bill?”
Brushing aside concerns that the Bill was targetted at a particular community, the minister gave examples of laws relating to dowry and domestic violence among others. “Under the dowry prohibition act, the husband and the mother-in-law can be imprisoned and charged with a non-bailable and cognisable offence. This applies to everyone, irrespective of one’s religion. The one who encourages dowry is also jailed for a minimum period of six months under similar charges,” he said.
Ravi Shankar added, “How come no objections are raised against punishment involved in domestic violence cases?
The minister also asked the Opposition why there was no fuss over the Bill when it was tabled in the House on December 17. “How come no one asked for it to be referred to a joint select committee? The Congress keeps changing its stance on the issue,” he said.
Suggesting that there is a political conspiracy behind the protests against the Bill, he said, “There is a political conspiracy behind this case and not about providing justice to women. The Bill neither targets any community nor does it attract vote bank.”
While stating that “the House raises its dignity if it decides to work in favour of women”, Ravi Shankar said, “Deterrence is important to contain any such activity or any other illegal activity.”
BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi also joined the minister to slam the Opposition’s protest and asserted that the issue was not about “he vs she” but of human rights violation. “No one from the Opposition is speaking about the fact that we are giving the right to divorce to a man, they are just talking about civil law into criminality,” the BJP leader says. Quoting from the Quran on the dissolution of marriage, Lekhi said, “The people who are arguing against this Bill should remember, no women wants to get divorced – I say this as a woman. We think that marriage is for life. We speak about marriage, not of divorce.”
Irrespective of faith, women inherently do not want to divorce without a cause, Lekhi claimed. “They want to lead a happy married life with their family. Be it a Christian, Hindu and Muslim, women mostly want to save their marriage. Men, on the other hand, have been seen to divorce women over most trivial cases,” she says. Hence, men cannot be given supreme right to summarily divorce his wife and abandon her, Lekhi said.
Union minister Smriti Irani pointed out that even the Islamic jurisprudence termed triple talaq as criminal. “If 1986 had the required power, then in 1986 Shah Bano wouldn’t have felt the need to knock on the SC’s door. People who say marriage is a contract then it (the contract) has to be ended on equal terms,” she said.
The leader clarified that the Bill was introduced with the intention of providing justice and does not have any political motives.
What the Opposition said:
Opposing the triple talaq Bill vociferously, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi questioned the reason behind the government criminalising triple talaq while supporting decriminalisation of homosexuality and adultery law.
“When the Sabarimala judgment was delivered (by Supreme Court), then you speak about faith. Don’t Muslims have their faith? Your faith is faith, but my faith is not faith? Is this not a violation of culture? Is this not a violation of Article 29 of Constitution (cultural and educational rights, protection of interests of minorities)? The intention of the government is not clean,” Owaisi said, referring to the Sabarimala verdict allowing entry of women of menstruating age into the temple, which led to protests by pro-Hindu outfits, backed by the BJP and the Sangh in Kerala.
Owaisi added, “I want to ask the government, what was your compulsion? The SC has decriminalised homosexuality. You are criminalising triple talaq… Why is this being done? Because it will be used against us (Muslim community)…. The sexual minorities (LGBT) have been given the choice. Why should not religious minority be given the choice?… This is not for justice of Muslims.”
The AIMIM leader also claimed that a person is awarded two years of imprisonment in hit-and-run cases and asked why was a Muslim being awarded three years of jail in case of triple talaq. “If he is sent for three years in jail, then how will he earn to provide an allowance to his wife and children?” he asked.
Congress MP from Silchar (Assam) Sushmita Dev alleged that the principal focus of the Bill was not to empower Muslim women but to penalise Muslim men. “In the name of empowerment, the government has given nothing but a criminal case to women…the real purpose of the Bill was not to empower Muslim women but to ‘penalise’ Muslim men,” she said.