THE TELEGRAPH, CALCUTTA
29 December 2017
J. P. YADAV New Delhi
Cover Image: Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Law Minister, introduced the bill on instant "Triple Talaq" in the Lok Sabha.
The Lok Sabha has passed a landmark bill that makes instant "triple talaq" a criminal offence and proposes a three-year jail term for a Muslim man who divorces his wife by uttering the word "talaq" thrice. While the Centre got the bill passed in the Lok Sabha, one has to read between the lines on the reactions of leading political parties, including the Trinamool Congress which very surprisingly remained silent. Does TMC think by remaining silent (read "Neutral") it will retain its muslim vote bank (constituting roughly 30%) in 2019 General Election, at the risk of alienating the women voters? Pushed to the back foot, a vastly outnumbered Opposition largely restricted itself to citing gaps in the bill and suggesting amendments, all of which were defeated. Just a few smaller parties opposed the bill's introduction.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha and later wrapped up a debate on it on Thursday, urged the house to pass the bill "for the sisters of the Muslim community, for the dignity of women, gender equality," rejecting allegations of political move by the ruling BJP saying, "We do not take decisions to garner votes. We introduced the bill after the Supreme Court called triple talaq illegal."
In a majority 3:2 judgment, on 22 August, 2017, a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside 'talaq-e-biddat' — instant and irrevocable 'talaq' — as a "manifestly arbitrary" practice, which is not protected by Article 25 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution. In his judgment, Justice Nariman observed that it is "not possible for the court to fold its hands when petitioners [Muslim women] come to court for justice." The Court mandated the legislature to decide a law in this matter within six months. The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha within the six-month period stipulated by the Supreme Court. Now it remains to be seen how the political parties play ball when the bill is put up in the Rajya Sabha.
It is high time Uniform Civil Code (UCC) was enacted in our country, on the lines of developed countries, instead of religion-specific legislation, so that men and women irespective of their religion, caste and creed, were on par, to uniformly avail of civic liberties like right to education, healthcare, marriage, inheritance and other rights. Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt (The Hindu)
The Centre on Thursday got the instant triple talaq bill passed in the Lok Sabha, projecting itself as the champion of suffering Muslim women and ready to grab any opportunity to paint the Opposition as unsympathetic to them.
Pushed to the back foot, a vastly outnumbered Opposition largely restricted itself to citing gaps in the bill and suggesting amendments, all of which were defeated. Just a few smaller parties opposed the bill's introduction.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had at a morning meeting of party MPs urged everyone to be present and support the bill, but was himself absent during the four-hour debate and the bill's passage by voice vote.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, projected Modi as the "saviour of Muslim women" and party member Meenakshi Lekhi said Muslim women need not fear anybody when they had a "brother like Narendra Modi". The Centre rejected a Congress suggestion to send the bill to a parliamentary panel, saying there should be no delay because instances of the instant talaq were being reported despite the Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional.
However, BJP sources said that when the bill goes to the Opposition- dominated Rajya Sabha next week, the government could agree to a few amendments or send it to a select committee, telling voters the Congress was responsible for the delay.
Under the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, any man who pronounces the instant talaq on his wife can be jailed for three years.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board had opposed the bill, saying it did not distinguish clearly between instant and staggered triple talaq and that jail for the husband would jeopardise the wife's chances of securing maintenance.
Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen opposed the bill in the House, saying it violates Muslim women's "right to freedom". Biju Janata Dal members Bhartruhari Mahtab and Tathagata Satpathy objected to the wording of a few clauses. The AIADMK opposed the hurry.
"In the interest of the country (and) the Muslim community and the unity and integrity of the country the bill should be referred to a standing committee," Congress House leader Mallikarjun Kharge said.
Congress members wondered how the husband would offer maintenance if he were in jail. Some members said the criminal provisions would kill the possibility of reconciliation and break up families.
Prasad said the courts would decide on bail and maintenance on merit.
Akbar speaks, BJP cheers
Junior foreign minister and former editor M. J. Akbar starred for the BJP as the Lok Sabha debated the talaq bill on Thursday, quoting the Quran and narrating tales from Jawaharlal Nehru's days to attack the Congress.
Akbar earned the loudest cheers from his party colleagues when he questioned the All India Muslim Personal Law Board's claims to represent the community.
"What is the credibility of the (board)? Who has elected them to be the community's representative? They have become the false voice," he said, speaking Hindi laced with Urdu.
Akbar was smothered in congratulations from BJP members when he stepped out of the House.
During the debate, he had recounted an anecdote from the autobiography of an English journalist, Taya Zinkin, as he castigated the Congress for neglecting the plight of Muslim women.
He said that once Zinkin had asked Nehru what his biggest achievement was and the then Prime Minister had replied: "Hindu code bill." "But when Zinkin asked: 'Do Muslim women not have the right for reforms?' Nehru did not have an answer," Akbar said. "Nehru didn't say there should not be reform. He said the time was not right." Akbar added: "For the last 40 years, there has been only one question in my mind. When will that right time come?" He said the "right time "could have come during the heyday of Indira Gandhi, who was a woman herself. But during her tenure, one organisation was made — the All India Muslim Personal Law Board." As Opposition members argued that the jail provision for husbands would hurt the wives' chances of securing alimony, Akbar recalled the 1986 Shah Bano judgment. The Supreme Court had upheld divorced Muslim women's right to alimony, only for the then Rajiv Gandhi government to enact a law bypassing the verdict.
"Shah Bano's maintenance allowance was just Rs 127 per month and for that you created an uproar across the country," he said.
Akbar said a false argument was being spread that Islam was in danger. "I'm speaking as a Muslim. Poison is being spread that Islam is in danger. A true Muslim will never believe that Islam is in danger. Only a few Muslim men are feeling vulnerable." He quoted from the Quran and said the holy book stated that there would be no atrocities on women in the name of God. "But even 1,400 years later, some jaahil (ignorant) men continue to do so." Akbar said the instant talaq went against the spirit of the Quran, which said that women should be given more than they deserve.
He said the bill had good intentions and promoted the country's interests and gender progress. "Never destroy the good in search of the ideal," he said, referring to the Opposition members' objections to what they said were gaps in the bill.
Akbar said the "right time" for reforms for Muslim women had finally arrived and the legislation would end the "the terror among Muslim women" whose husbands regularly threaten them with the instant talaq.
Trinamul silent on talaq bill
The Trinamul Congress stood out with its silence on the instant talaq bill in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, none of its members participating in the four-hour debate as the party sought to stay "neutral". Several Trinamul members, including the party's leader in the House, Sudip Bandyopadhyay, were present throughout the debate but kept quiet as other Opposition parties suggested amendments and committee reference or opposed the bill outright.
Later in the day, Trinamul members refused to comment on the matter, merely saying they were taking a "neutral" stand." It was the party's decision not to participate in the debate, " MP Saugata Roy said.
While many were puzzled by Trinamul's silence on the talaq bill, some speculated that Mamata may be averse to strengthening the Congress on every issue at a time the party was receiving national attention after the Gujarat election results." Mamata wants the Congress to give importance to her, too," a Trinamul member said.
Several parties that have opposed the bill abstained from voting in the Lok Sabha. Among them were the Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK and the Trinamool Congress. The BJD has 20 MPs, AIADMK 37 and Trimamool 33 in the Lok Sabha.
- The Supreme Court had in August this year ruled that the "Triple Talaq" is unconstitutional. Muslim women had petitioned the court, arguing that practice of husbands divorcing them through "Triple Talaq", including by Skype and WhatsApp, not only violated their rights but also left many women destitute.