Rajya Sabha failed to decide Wednesday if the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Bill — which criminalises triple talaq — should be referred to a select committee. After deputy chairman P J Kurien’s order to clear the lobbies for a vote, BJP members crowded the aisles and shouted, while there was order on the Opposition benches. Kurien eventually adjourned the House for the day.
The visitors’ gallery was lined by women in burqas and the treasury benches by shouting, gesticulating ministers.
Earlier, Leader of the House Arun Jaitley used the rule book to argue that amendments moved by Anand Sharma (Congress) and Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (Trinamool) for sending the bill to a select committee were not admissible as procedure had not been followed; besides, the committee proposed by Sharma had no BJP member. “In Tuesday’s BAC (business advisory committee) meeting when the matter of referring the bill to a select committee was discussed, the government had not agreed to it. That is why BJP names were not on the list,” Roy explained after the House had been adjourned.
However, Kurien ruled that both amendments had been allowed by chairman Venkaiah Naidu.
Jaitley quoted from a Supreme Court judgment on instant triple talaq to stress the urgency of the bill. When Kapil Sibal (Congress) pointed out that Jaitley had quoted from a minority judgment and he was privy to the details as he had represented the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in the case, ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, Piyush Goyal and Smriti Irani were on their feet. Law Minister Prasad’s voice could be heard over the din: “He represented personal law board he should not be allowed to speak on the bill as there is a conflict of interest.” Irani said: “You sit against the rights of Muslim women. With what conscience do you sit in this House?”
Prasad did not get an opportunity to speak on the bill. No sooner had he introduced it than Roy moved his amendment, followed by Anand Sharma. When Prasad said he had not made his speech, Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said a minister can speak before introducing a bill, not after. Kurien ruled that out as a mere technicality.
Prasad began, “Mahilaon ki izzat, khwateinon ki…” but his voice was drowned. At one point he accused the Opposition of deliberately blocking the bill. Azad said the Opposition is keen that a good bill is passed, but the BJP’s anti-Dalit stance had to be highlighted. As Kurien threatened to adjourn, Azad said: “Don’t adjourn, let’s have division.” It was a full House thanks to a BJP whip and the Opposition’s determination to see a vote through — the plan was to ensure a headcount 25 more than on the Treasury benches.
His speech blocked, Prasad said: “Why is the Congress party having double standards? Does the Congress stand for the rights of women? I would like to know this.” Sharma challenged the government to bring the Women’s Reservation Bill if it is as committed to women’s welfare as it claims to be.
When the House assembled after lunch, it was adjourned after protests from BSP members who wanted business to be suspended to discuss violence against Dalits.
As Muslim women headed out of the visitors’ gallery, most refused to speak. Except one, Farzana, who said: “You saw what happened. The Opposition disrupted.” She identified herself as an “executive member” of BJP.