Conceding one of the main demands of Opposition parties to ringfence the proposed law on instant triple talaq against misuse, the Union Cabinet Thursday approved inclusion of provisions that the complaint in such a case can only be filed by the victim (wife) or blood relations, and that a magistrate can grant bail with terms and conditions.
Under the amendments cleared, a magistrate will have powers to grant bail. The woman can approach the magistrate to seek subsistence allowance for herself and her minor children, and can also seek custody of her minor children from the magistrate who will take a final call on the matter.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, introduced after the landmark 3-2 verdict of the Supreme Court which set aside the centuries-old practice of talaq-e-biddat or instant triple talaq in which Muslim men divorce their wives by uttering talaq three times in quick succession, has cleared Lok Sabha and is pending in Rajya Sabha where the government lacks numbers.
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The government will bring the amendments to Rajya Sabha on Friday, the last day of the monsoon session.
When the winter session of Parliament drew to a close in January this year, the fate of the Bill hung in the balance. The matter of ringfencing penal provisions in the Bill emerged as the central issue for some give-and-take to break the stalemate between the ruling BJP and the Opposition over the Bill.
After the session concluded, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, offered to agree to the penal provisions in the Bill, provided it was insulated from outside interference and had a mechanism for subsistence allowance.
Announcing the changes approved Thursday by the Cabinet, Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government did not want “anyone to misuse the law while ensuring that justice is done”.
“The Union Cabinet has approved amendments in the law relating to triple talaq. We have proposed three changes. FIR will become cognizable only if the complaint is filed by the victim, wife, blood relations, or relations by marriage. If any outside agency or neighbour is initiating this process, it will not be registered,” Prasad told reporters.
“It has been made compoundable, that is, if the wife and husband desire to settle differences, then the magistrate can compound the offence on appropriate terms and conditions. Magistrate can grant bail after hearing the wife,” he said.
The minister rejected arguments that the husband cannot be sent to jail since he will not be able to provide subsistence to the divorced wife and children if he is in prison. “If a husband is convicted in a dowry case or domestic violence case also, he will go to jail. So why are such issues raised only in triple talaq? Congress should clarify if it is sticking to vote-bank politics,” he said.
Maintaining that the government did not make the changes under pressure from anyone, he said the decisions were taken in the interest of the people.
To Sonia Gandhi, Prasad said: “You are not just the Congress leader, you are a national leader too. You keep talking about the legacy of your family… Would you stand for justice, honour and respect for women? Or would you continue to oppose the Bill?”. He took a swipe at BSP chief Mayawati and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, saying votebank politics is more important for them.
Prasad pointed out that there were 389 cases of instant triple talaq in 2017, and 229 of these were between January and November. There were 94 such cases after the Bill was introduced.