The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the triple talaq bill. Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, “It’s a historic day, we are confident that it will be passed in Rajya Sabha as well.” The bill that criminalises instant divorce with 3 years of imprisonment for Muslim husbands was passed after the government rejected an overwhelming demand from the Opposition to refer the legislation to a Parliamentary standing committee for detailed consideration. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was passed by a voice vote after rejecting a resolution moved by Revolutionary Socialist Party member N.K. Premachandran that the legislation be circulated for public opinion.
Various amendments moved by opposition members, including Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) and Premachandran, were negatived in divisions. The government’s determination to get the Bill passed could be gauged from the fact that it was introduced in the morning and taken up for consideration in the afternoon by suspending relevant rules and then passed in the evening by sitting late beyond the scheduled close of the House.
Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who introduced the bill and later piloted it in the Lok Sabha, said history was being created today.
He said the issue was not of religion or faith but of “gender justice and gender equality” and appealed to all the parties to rise above political considerations and politics of votebank. “Women are seeing that justice will be done to them. Let us speak in one voice that we are for gender justice and gender equity and pass the Bill unanimously,” Prasad said, winding up the discussion.
He said instances of instant triple talaq continue despite the Supreme Court ruling it as unconstitutional in August this year. The bill seeks to declare pronouncement of talaq-e-biddat (three pronouncements of talaq at one go) by Muslim husbands void and illegal in view of the Supreme Court verdict.
Prasad said while Justice Rohington Nariman and U.U. Lalit held in their judgment in August that instant divorce was unconstitutional and the government should look at bringing a law, Justice Kurian Joseph had observed that what is a sin in Islamic laws cannot be legal.
The Minister saw no justification in the demand for referring the Bill to a standing committee saying the affected Muslim women were crying for justice and were fully backing it. He said there was contradiction in members wanting it to be referred to a standing committee and some arguing why it was not brought earlier.
The Bill makes the act of pronouncing talaq-e-biddat punishable offence. There is provision for subsistence allowance from the husband for the livelihood and daily supporting needs of the wife as also of the dependent children. The wife would also be entitled to the custody of minor children.
Amit Malviya, in-charge of BJP’s national Information and Technology tweeted, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government passes the historic Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Bill, 2017, to protect and uphold the dignity of Muslim women. Great step towards gender justice.”
Though Opposition members, including from the Congress, supported the legislation, they wanted it to be referred to a parliamentary committee so that several lacunae can be removed and the provisions strengthened in favour of Muslim women. The law must ensure that subsistence allowance and maintenance to the women and the children was not stopped, they felt.
Some felt that the BJP government was in a haste to pass the Bill not because of its concern for Muslim women but because it sees this as a first step towards bringing in a uniform civil code. They wanted the measure to be given up immediately.
The Congress on triple talaq said it supports the triple talaq Bill but suggested that it be strengthened in favour of Muslim women and the law must ensure that subsistence allowance and maintenance to the women and the children are not stopped. “Congress was the first political party to welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the practice of instant triple talaq and that this is a firm step towards the protection of women’s rights,” said Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala. The party supported the law to ban instant triple talaq and “we believe that there is a need to strengthen this law”.
“We have certain suggestions to strengthen it to protect the rights of these women,” he said. Surjewala added that Section 5, which was proposed in this law, stated that ‘subsistence allowance would be given to Muslim women’. “But we want to ask how much that allowance would be, and what are parameters for deciding it? What percentage of it would be taken from the husband’s income? These things are not mentioned in this bill. This needs to be mentioned and considered to secure the rights of women,” he said.
Surjewala also said that in the Muslim Woman Protection of Rights on Divorce Act, 1986, sections 3 and 4 already spoke about maintenance, “but the current bill does not”. “This bill also does not mention that if the woman is provided subsistence allowance, then will she also be provided with maintenance. This has to be included in the new law so that the woman is not denied maintenance by her husband which is clearly mentioned in sections 3 and 4 of the 1986 Act,” he added.
He said that under the proposed law, the responsibility of proving triple talaq had been put on the woman. “Why can’t this responsibility be shifted to the husband? The government should give a thought on these points which will make this law even more solid,” he said. Surjewala added that this law also stated that the accused would be put behind bars for three years.”But the government should think that if the man, on whom there is the responsibility of providing subsistence and maintenance, is in jail, how will the children and the woman get the allowance and who will then be responsible for providing that amount?
“It is also not mentioned that if the husband does not have any tangible property then how will the woman and children survive? These points have to be considered by the government for the welfare of women,” he said. The Congress leader said the Bill needed to be strengthened in favour of women and Muslim women per se. “The concern that the Congress has expressed… have any punishment that you want… but ensure that the subsistence allowance under this act and maintenance under the 1986 Act for the children and Muslim women are not stopped. Surjewala also asked what if the person did not have enough property to pay for that subsistence allowance and maintenance, “has the government made any other provision, the answer is no”. All issues of payment of maintenance and subsistence allowance had been placed and the government would have to answer to those, he added.
During the debate, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi accused the Congress of appeasing Muslims and said there is a need for codification of Muslim personal laws in the country.
“They (Congress) always did appeasement politics for which the country has paid for 30 years and today we have this chance. If we lose this chance today we will not have another chance.,” she said.
“Codification of Islamic law is needed in this country. No one knows what is Sharia, Talaq-e-Biddat… No one knows the difference,” she added.