Amid Opposition protests over Bills being pushed through Parliament without proper legislative scrutiny, the government Thursday succeeded in getting the triple talaq Bill cleared by Lok Sabha. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2019 that makes the practice of instant triple talaq a penal offence, and for which ordinances were issued three times, was cleared by the House with 303 votes in favour and 82 opposed.
The last Lok Sabha too had passed the Bill which remained pending in Rajya Sabha where the NDA does not have majority.
On Thursday too, the Congress demanded that the Bill be sent to a Standing Committee. The Opposition maintained that the Bill “lacks bonafide intention, is with a political motive to harass Muslims and violates fundamental rights”.
BJP ally JD (U) too expressed strong reservations against the Bill, saying it will lead to lack of trust in society. It walked out of the House before the vote — so did the Trinamool Congress. Stating that his party does not support the Bill, JD(U)’s Rajiv Ranjan Singh told Lok Sabha that the government should do all that is necessary to create “awareness among the people of this community”.
EDITORIAL | It takes two
The JD (U)’s stand and the clear position of the Opposition will again make it difficult for the BJP to push the Bill through Rajya Sabha.
Defending the Bill, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad pointed out that despite the Supreme Court striking down the practice of instant triple talaq as illegal and unconstitutional, several hundred cases have been reported. He said there have been 345 such incidents across the country after the Supreme Court order in August 2017.
He asked members “not to look at the Bill through the eyes of politics or religion… it’s an issue of justice and humanity. Don’t see it through the glass of customs, rituals, religion, politics… it’s an issue of justice, honour and respect for women.”
Quoting 19th-century scholar Ameer Ali’s book, Prasad said when the Prophet was told that a man had abandoned his wife via triple talaq, he was enraged and made that person take back his wife. “No one is above the Prophet. The Prophet himself did not approve of triple talaq,” he said.
“When Hindus and Muslims are jailed under dowry law or Domestic Violence Act, no one objects. What is the objection in penalising the practice,” he said, adding, “penal law is a deterrence.”
Taking on the Congress, Prasad said that since 1955 when amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act was passed to make child marriage an offence; when dowry was made a criminal offence by law in 1961; and when adultery and domestic violence were criminalised under IPC sections 498 and 498A, they were all done by successive Congress governments.
“You didn’t seem to object then. I congratulate you as those were your governments that passed these laws. Then in 1986, although I used to think Rajiv Gandhi was a progressive man, your legs trembled when it came to criminalising triple talaq despite a Supreme Court judgment,” he said, referring to the Shah Bano case.
“We may get less votes from the Muslim community, but we carry out sab ka saath, sab ka vishwas. This law is to give Muslim women a shield of protection your governments never did,” he said.
Regarding contentions raised by several Opposition MPs that the Bill was an infringement on personal law of Muslims, Prasad said that for the government, the only “stakeholders” were lakhs of Muslim women who were the victims. “A Muslim woman told me, after the government criminalised triple talaq, that it is Eid and August 15 rolled into one,” he said.
Objecting to the government’s move to push the Bill with the majority it has in Lok Sabha, RSP leader N K Premachandran said: “Continuous promulgation of Ordinances, one after another, is lacking bona fide. It is with a political motive — to target a particular community. This is a specified targeted agenda of the BJP-led government.”
Mohammad Jawed of the Congress alleged that the intent of the government was not clean and it wanted to sideline the Muslim community. “I request the Minister to send the Bill to the Standing Committee for review and think of laws for separated women of all communities, and not only Muslims,” he said.
The debate that went on for almost six hours witnessed high drama when SP’s Mohammad Azam Khan made objectionable remarks about BJP’s Rama Devi who was chairing the proceedings when he was speaking. When Khan made certain observations, Rama Devi asked Khan to address the chair and not look at other members. At this, the SP member made remarks that led to an uproar.
An angry Ravi Shankar Prasad wanted the SP MP to apologise to the chair. When Rama Devi turned to Khan, he said he meant no disrespect and she was like a “dear sister”. Speaker Om Birla rushed in to take charge and return normalcy to the House.
Despite the uproar, the government managed to pass the Bill given the majority the ruling party enjoys. The Opposition slammed the government for not bringing in Bills according to rules and procedure. Pointing out that the rules “say very clearly” no Bill should be included for introduction in the list of business until copies are made available to MPs at least two days earlier, Shashi Tharoor of the Congress said: “This government has got a very bad habit of rushing Bills through without enough time for the MPs to have a look at them.”
Referring to the Inter-state River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill 2019, DMK leader T R Baalu said: “The Central government is just bringing everything overnight without consulting the state governments. We do not know anything. They are just bulldozing everything day in, day out. We only know about them in the morning when we go through the Parliamentary papers. How can you allow all these things?”.
As the entire Opposition got together on this issue, Speaker Om Birla promised that he would ensure that from the next session, members get two days to study Bills before they are introduced.