By Poojil Tiwari
Last week, Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad introduced the ‘The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage)’ Bill in the Lok Sabha. More popularly known as the ‘Triple Talaq’ Bill, it seeks to “protect the rights of married Muslim women and to prohibit divorce by pronouncing talaq by their husband.” The bill, which has been passed in the Lok Sabha now awaits the decision of the Rajya Sabha.
Product of a long-standing battle
The larger idea operating behind banning triple talaq is the idea of gender-equality and gender-justice for Muslim women and the restoration of their fundamental rights. The fight against triple talaq in India was started by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), who welcomed the bill. The BMMA is one of the principal organisations pitching for reform in the Muslim Personal Law, which includes their long-standing demand for banning the practice of triple talaq. The primary body objecting the ban on triple talaq is the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which has criticised the government for furthering their own communalist agenda and tabling the bill without consulting Islamic bodies such as itself. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Zakia Soman, a co-founder of the BMMA said, “None of the Quranic guidelines of discussion, arbitration, witnesses, specified time period or even a genuine attempt to resolve differences is being followed. In such circumstances, the question of alimony or the rights of children doesn’t arise.” There exists no doubt about the fact that the triple talaq is only a part of the larger problem of illiteracy and disempowerment that plagues the Muslim woman. However, what cannot be denied is that constitutional outlawing of the practice provides the Muslim woman with a legal stronghold in a scenario wherein she is denied her voice and rights.
The need for legislative action
Prior to the bill, the most significant judgement with regard to triple talaq in the country had been the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Shayara Bano vs Union of India case, in which the SC had deemed the practice as unconstitutional. The practice has already been banned by many countries, including Pakistan. What is interesting to note is that despite the judgement having the validity of the law in the country, the government felt the need to introduce a bill for the same. In its Statement of Objects and Reasons, the government has outlined the need for a legislative deterrent as the Supreme Court judgement has not been successful in bringing down the number of divorces under talaq-e-biddat. “In order to prevent the continued harassment being meted out to the hapless married Muslim women due to talaq-e-biddat, urgent suitable legislation is necessary to give some relief to them.”
Restoring rights as primary rationale
In addition to declaring the practice of triple talaq as “void and illegal”, the bill also safeguards the rights of Muslim Women and makes provisions for a stable future for them. The bill defines talaq as “talaq-e-biddat or any other similar form of talaq having the effect of instantaneous and irrevocable divorce pronounced by a Muslim husband”. In addition to making triple talaq a non-bailable offence under the Code of Criminal Procedure, the bill also fixes the punishment at imprisonment which may extend up to three years and fine. Furthermore, the bill gives the Muslim wife the custody of the minor children in a scenario where the husband attempts to divorce his wife via triple talaq. It also entitles the wife to an allowance for herself and the dependent children under the jurisdiction of a Magistrate. However, the wording of the bill remains abstract, at best, specifically with regard to the concept of “subsistence allowance”.
A comprehensive solution to all problems?
While the Triple Talaq Bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha, the hasty manner in which the bill was passed has been unanimously criticised. The lack of research with regard to the bill is extremely problematic. The government has not conducted any official surveys about the number of divorces that happen by the triple talaq method. The claims made in its Statement of Objects and Reasons are also not substantiated by any official numbers. Furthermore, major provisions of the bill are problematic in and of themselves. Under the bill, the offence of talaq-e-biddat has not been made compoundable. This means that there exists no provision for the charges against the accused to be dropped. This essentially leaves no scope for reconciliation between the two parties. Thus, this does not solve an essential problem that had been laid down by the government—that of Triple Talaq being an “age-old practice of the capricious and whimsical method of divorce, by some Muslim men, leaving no room for reconciliation.”
While the BJP has encouraged the Congress to not raise any objections with regards to passing the bill, the fact remains that bill is riddled with issues. What is now required is an extensive deliberation over the bill in the Upper House and redraft of major sections in order for it to be an effective legislation.
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