Triple talaq bill cleared by Lok Sabha, faces big test in Rajya Sabha.

Vishal Chauhan, 28/12/2018
Triple talaq bill cleared by Lok Sabha, faces big test in Rajya Sabha.

The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed an amended Triple Talaq bill after a four hour-long debate, but the Congress and some other parties walked out before the vote because their demand to refer the legislation to a joint select committee was spurned by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2018 was passed by the Lower House with 245 MPs voting in favour and 11 opposing it. Other than the Congress legislators, the AIADMK, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Samajwadi Party MPs walked out.

The Centre now faces an uphill task in pushing the bill through the Upper House, where the NDA doesn’t have a majority. Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad spoke about the “political pressure” in the Rajya Sabha during the debate, but added that the government is hopeful about the bill’s passage.

During the prolonged debate, all parties unequivocally spoke about the evils of instant Triple Talaq, or Talaq-e-Biddat, the practice of immediate divorce. Opposition parties, however, protested against the provision to make instant Triple Talaq a criminal offence while some leaders demanded that the proposed three-year jail term for offending husbands be reduced.

Prasad justified the jail term and said “deterrence is always important”.

Union textiles minister Smriti Irani and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Meenakshi Lekhi provided statistics to back her party’s claim that even after the Supreme Court’s verdict on August 22, 2017, banning the Islamic practice of instant divorce, instant Triple Talaq continued to be practised, necessitating the law and provision of punishment.

Lekhi quoted extensively from theological texts and said that even Prophet Muhammad was opposed to the practice.

Prasad also defended the promulgation of an ordinance to this effect in September this year. He said the bill was in Rajya Sabha and so the government wanted to “address an urgent issue”.

The ordinance, he added, helped reduce the number of such instant divorces.

The original bill, introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha on December 28, 2017, made instant divorce a non-bailable offence; the government amended the bill to make it bailable after confronting criticism and political protests.

Another amendment is that only the affected woman or her blood relative can file a police complaint against the husband. The earlier bill allowed anyone to lodge a complaint. The amended legislation also makes the offence compoundable by a magistrate after hearing the wife.

Also Read: ‘About women’s rights, justice’, Prasad says as Lok Sabha debates triple talaq bill

Several speakers referred to the famous Shah Bano case of 1986 in which she won the right to get alimony from her divorced husband, but the then Congress government brought about a bill to reverse the Supreme Court’s order so as to appease the Muslim community. Many also referred to Shayara Banu, the first Muslim woman who sought a ban on instant divorce. Minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Lekhi slammed the Congress for its government’s stand in 1986 and added that the party lost a historic chance back then.

Prasad, Naqvi and other ruling party members emphasised that the bill was not against any community but only about gender rights and justice. “Don’t weigh the bill on the scales of politics. The bill is about humanity and justice,” Prasad said, introducing the bill on Thursday afternoon.

Naqvi added that “this issue is not related to Islam but related to social customs”.

He also spoke about how social evils like sati (burning a widow) or child marriage have been abolished through law.

Those who spoke in favour of the bill rattled off a long list of Islamic countries such Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Syria, Malaysia, Cyprus, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates that have banned instant Triple Talaq.

BJP chief Amit Shah demanded an apology from the Congress “for decades of injustice” and hailed the bill as “a historic step to ensure equality, dignity of Muslim women”.

Congress lawmaker Sushmita Dev alleged that Prasad, despite being a lawyer, has misread the top court verdict. “What are you giving Muslim women in the name of empowerment? Nothing but a criminal case. This law is not about empowering Muslim women but penalising Muslim men. Let this bill go to stakeholders, listen to the voice of the people. We have no right to play messiah,” she said.

While the government managed to win support from allies such as the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal, the NDA’s prominent supporter, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, opposed the bill.

The Dravidian party’s senior MP Anwhar Raajhaa maintained that the proposed act is against the provisions of sharia law .

BJP ally Shiv Sena took the opportunity to demand a Uniform Civil Code and the scrapping of Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

Mohammed Salim of the CPI(M) said if the government was serious about empowerment of Muslim women, it should first talk about communal violence and stop profiling the community. The NCP’s Supriya Sule questioned the need for an ordinance, “Why did you use the ordinance route if it was only for social justice and not a political issue,” she asked.

Congress MP Sunil Jakhar said: “The flawed triple talaq bill is pushed in the name of women’s empowerment.”

BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab thanked the government for accepting some of his earlier demands in the bill but opposed the penal provision. “We want a provision of fine, not jail,” he told the House.

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