A day after the Winter session of Parliament ended in a stalemate over the triple talaq Bill in the Rajya Sabha, the government on Saturday said it was willing to “consider any reasonable and constructive suggestions from the Congress party or any other party”. However, the suggestion cannot be one that is “designed to kill the soul of the Bill”, Union Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad told The Sunday Express.
Prasad also appealed to Congress Parliamentary Party leader Sonia Gandhi to become the “facilitator” for the “historic and transformative change” without playing “vote bank politics”. He said: “It’s a golden opportunity for her (Sonia Gandhi) to undo the sins of her husband.”
“The government is willing to consider any reasonable and constructive suggestions from anyone or Congress party with an open mind. But if the suggestion means that we should de-criminalise the instant divorce, it will not be acceptable,” Prasad said.
“The Congress needs to understand that from Shah Bano to Shayara Bano, much water has flown and it was a historic opportunity for them to atone for the sin they committed in 1986, when even the meagre maintenance amount of Rs 125 given to Shah Bano by the Supreme Court was overturned by the Congress government with (former Prime Minister) Rajiv Gandhi commanding full majority in the Lok Sabha,” Prasad said.
The minister added that the Congress’s suggestion to form a corpus for victims of triple talaq would not be acceptable because it would be discriminatory. “It amounts to incentivising the deviant husband to commit triple talaq with impunity and then telling the wife to go and beg before the government. In a secular country like India, how can you give a corpus only for women victims of one community? That will be discriminatory. The Congress party should understand what kind of an argument it makes,”he said, adding that Asaduddin Owaisi of the MIM had also made the same demand in the Lok Sabha.
“Let me ask a question to the Congress. Is it under the grip of deeply fundamental and conservative elements of the Muslim society for vote bank? Gender justice has no importance at all for them?” he asked. The Winter session of Parliament concluded on Friday with the fate of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, which seeks to criminalise instant triple talaq, remaining in limbo. The matter of ring-fencing penal provisions in the Bill has become the bone of contention between the ruling BJP and the Opposition. The proposed law, passed by the Lok Sabha, makes talaq-e-biddat or instant triple talaq a “cognizable and non-bailable offence” and has provisions of “imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and fine” for any Muslim man who divorces his wife by uttering talaq three times in quick succession. It also provides for subsistence allowance to Muslim women and custody of minor children as “may be determined by the magistrate”.
Although the main Opposition Congress backed the Bill in the Lok Sabha, the party insisted that it be referred to a Select Committee, arguing that criminalisation of instant triple talaq would be inappropriate. The BJP has alleged that the Congress had adopted “double standards” on the Bill.
Prasad added that the government, however, would not accept any suggestion that would change the Bill drastically. “No suggestion designed to kill the soul of this bill will not be acceptable. Also, we will not accept continued humiliating of triple talaq victims. It is Narendra Modi government not Rajiv Gandhi government that buckles under pressure,” the minister said.
The Supreme Court had in 1985 ordered that divorced Shah Bano be given alimony by her former husband, but the judgment was opposed by Muslim clerics. The then Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi had overturned the court’s ruling, a move criticised as minority appeasement.
“I would like to appeal to Sonia Gandhi, will she become a facilitator of this historic and transforming change or would she let what happened during Shah Bano — a vote bank politics — dominate the Congress?” Prasad asked.
The minister argued the BJP-led government had gone ahead with the Bill as hundreds of Muslim women, including victims of triple talaq, had met him and others. “They asked me, ‘Why is there a three-year sentencing, why not more? You need to understand our and pain and agony’. Let me make it clear, the proposed punishment is a deterrent.”
Prasad maintained that the government wanted a debate because it would have given an opportunity for it to explain its position. “Also, the Congress could tell the nation why there was complete support for the Bill in the Lok Sabha and against it in the Rajya Sabha. After all, its a three-and-a-half clause bill. It does not need rocket science.”
The minister alleged that the Congress’s demand for referring it to a Select Committee was an excuse to delay the bill. “It was raised as an alibi to delay the Bill. Day after day, in spite of the Supreme Court judgment (that had declared the practice as void) Muslim women are humiliated with triple talaq.”