As the Union Cabinet prepares to introduce a fresh Bill to ban the practice of instant triple talaq, Noorjehan Safia Niaz, co-founder of the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, one of the petitioners in the triple talaq case, speaks to The Indian Express about the efficacy of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 and the organisation’s fight to bring in a comprehensive law on Muslim marriage
It has been over two years that the Supreme Court outlawed triple talaq and the government brought in a Bill to criminalise instant oral divorce. How have things changed on the ground?
We started seeing the impact after the delivery of the SC judgment. After the ordinance was brought in by the government there has been a drop in the number of women reporting triple talaq. Another important change that we have seen is men coming to our centres saying that they have issues with their wives and they would like to sort out their differences. Somewhere there is an understanding creeping in that “Yeh ab nahi chalega”. We have also been seeing Qazis increasingly sending couples for arbitration rather than sending divorce notices as in the past. In 2016, the BMMA’s Mumbai chapter had received 31 complaints from women who said they had been given oral triple talaq. In 2017, when it was made illegal the number came down to six. In 2018, the number was two and till June 2019 it was one.
The central government is all set to bring in the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019. Are you happy with the provisions of the new Bill which is likely to be modelled on the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Second Ordinance, 2019?
The BMMA had welcomed the Bill and the subsequent ordinance when it was first brought in and we welcome it now as well. It may not be a perfect Bill but we welcome the first step that the government has taken. There is always the possibility of improvement and amendment. I am sure that with passage of time certain changes can be incorporated which will strengthen the Bill further. The BMMA has also drafted a Bill which we believe will enable Muslim women to achieve gender justice in personal matters. We have been asking the government to take a look at this draft as well.
What are the important features of the draft Bill that the BMMA has worked on?
We believe that the Bill we have worked on conforms to Quranic principles as well as the Constitutional principles. Our Bill speaks about the importance of arbitration and how it needs to be made a part of the law. Since instant triple talaq was criminalised, we have been seeing that men are not giving talaq in one sitting but spreading it out over three months. While this may not be against the law the women in such cases are not getting the space to talk about their side of the story. The recorded documented arbitration that needs to happen between husband and wife is not taking place. We are saying that the Talaak-e-Ahsan should be the method of divorce requiring mandatory arbitration over a 90-day period. Our draft Bill also speaks about punishing the Qazi who encourages instant triple talaq. It also talks about outlawing the practice of Halala and Muta marriages which is dissolved ipso facto after a fixed term.
There is a perception that these laws are being made to target Muslim men?
Our demand has always been that an offence punishable under this Act shall be at the instance of the aggrieved wife and nobody else can register the FIR. In India, most of the civil offences related to marriage like maintenance, child marriage, dowry, polygamy have been criminalised. Tell me which aspect of family law is not criminalised. A lot of people throw this argument against us that Hindu men rather than divorcing prefer to desert their wives. We would like even desertion in marriages to be criminalised. The argument that one-sided instant divorce should not be criminalised because desertion is not criminalised holds no water.