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OPINION | Triple Talaq Bill: An Albatross around the Government's Neck

A party accused of inciting and spear heading some of the grossest riots in human history had won a democratically held election, a pall of gloom had descended on the Muslim community as well as a large opposition who did not subscribe to the hard line ‘Hindutva’ ideology.

Saira Shah Halim |

Updated:January 9, 2018, 4:50 PM IST
OPINION | Triple Talaq Bill: An Albatross around the Government's Neck
Image for representation only.
Let’s admit it; we are living in vulnerable and touchy times, we have a right wing government at the helm of affairs who came in riding on an anti-incumbency wave, expectations were high from the BJP.

Here was a government that was pro industry, did not claim to be a socialist one.

I need to admit the feeling- of despondency, suddenly our voices, and faces did not matter.

A party accused of inciting and spear heading some of the grossest riots in human history had won a democratically held election, a pall of gloom had descended on the Muslim community as well as a large opposition who did not subscribe to the hard line ‘Hindutva’ ideology.

The silence from the Muslim community was eerie, morally low ,the politically active Muslims devised a strategy of ‘lying low’ as barbs grew thick and fast on social media – “Har Har Modi, Har Ghar Mein Modi”, the nemesis was around the corner, or so it felt.

The newly-elected BJP had proved it to the world that they could win the Lok Sabha election without a single prominent Muslim face, for them the minuscule 15% did not matter, the Hindu community has long been divided riddled with class and caste problems and inter caste rivalries, so while the opposition remained divided, the BJP won giving a false narrative to the people that they could polarise the Hindu community by fear-mongering ,whereas the reality is that they won the election by a mere 30 %.

The cauldron was already churning in Muzzafarnagar in early August 2013, when the country witnessed a gruesome riot that resulted in 62 deaths, including 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus, injuring 93 and leaving more than 50,000 people displaced. And the army was called in the state for the first time in last twenty years.

An atmosphere of fear was categorically being built up before the 2014 Lok Sabha election, it’s as if concerted efforts were being made to make the ‘Muslim community’ feel like the ‘other’ and the buoyant right wing party started discourses further propelled by screaming and ‘hyper ventilating’ news anchors running amok with obscene ‘hashtags’ on the ‘perceived threat’.

After the Lok Sabha election, with seats in the parliament firmly in place, the BJP didn’t really have anything to worry about, so it’s true that the country has not witnessed any major communal riot since the party has come to power in 2014. However, its left no stone unturned to give a silent message that the community is under watch, lone wolf hunting of Muslim men subjected to hate crimes of the worst denomination has further propagated the idea that currently Muslims in the county are an abhorred lot, their lot and safety solely left to the whims and fancies of the right wing government.

After singularly targeting Muslim in the name of ‘love jihad’ and ‘cow vigilantism’; cow vigilante violence in the name of ‘cow protection’ has swelled since 2014, and human rights advocacy groups have called such incidents –alarming.

Communal violence has indefinitely taken a huge toll on all religious communities in India, including Christians, Sikhs and OBC’s and it’s not stopped at just singular lynchings, the hate has manifested itself in places of worship; forced conversions and falsifying narratives by ideating communal agendas like ‘ghar wapsi’ and ‘love jihad’.

The ‘anti meat’ campaign that closed the shutters on the meat shops affecting the meat and leather industry on the pretext of closing down illegal ‘slaughter houses has left butchers and traders in penury.

Failure by authorities to investigate and prevent these attacks have further created an atmosphere of ‘impunity ‘and fear in the Muslim community, pushing them in a corner.

The honourable PM made deliberate attempts to insult the senior most Muslim citizen of the country holding public office-the outgoing vice president of the country Mr Hamid Ansari by his communal barbs and geo political communal innuendos in the farewell speech to the incumbent which is well documented as the entire nation watched in disbelief appalled and aghast at the choice of words used on an elderly statesman.

In such a vitriolic atmosphere, the Muslim community has reasons to look at the anti-triple talaq bill with suspicion.

At the moment my timeline is flooded with posts from Muslim women that read as – “I am a Muslim woman and I am against the triple talaq bill which seeks to only populate our jails with Muslim men” with a hashtag that says #StandUpForMuslimMen.

Always in support of progressive laws and development for all communities, I can’t help being cynical of the intentions of the present regime, considering the barrage of insults and jibes the community has been subjected to since 2014.

Any personal law that is in favour of women and safeguards their interests and security should be looked at in a holistic manner without tags of caste and community, however when one makes it look as if one is a champion of Muslim women liberation and overlooks the other serious issues grappling the community, then ones intentions are definitely misplaced.

Marriage is a civil matter, and there are ways in which one can negotiate differences and conflicts.

It seems the government was in a tearing hurry to push the bill without any serious deliberation on the matter, or considerations about criminalizing the act.

The fact that men were using triple talaq as a plank to harass their women is undeniably true, for that Muslim women filed a petition in the Supreme Court, in August 2017, the Supreme Court banned triple talaq making it null and void.

Divorce is not a crime per se. Inflicting cruelty on the woman, robbing her of her home or denying her and the minor children maintenance should be considered a crime punishable by law.

There are two aspects of divorce, divorce is a relief to a couple who are in an incompatible marriage and second it has opportunity of misuse, hence to criminalise rather than affording and creating procedures for dissolution of an incompatible marriages is like denying the concrete social necessity of divorce in a progressive world.

In a data published before the judgement, the Supreme Court had itself stated that the cases of triple talaq are negligible, hence this shoddily drafted bill reflects the government’s urgency to score brownie points with Muslim women focussing on issues that are not central to the upliftment of Muslim community at large and Muslim women in particular.

Travelling back in history, Islam was the first religion to give credence and sanction to this important social requirement, the advent of this important recourse afforded to people in a marriage has been accepted by non-Islamic states and legal institutions the world over and it’s interesting to note that nowhere is divorce considered under criminal law.

According to the Holy Quran, marriage is intended to be unbounded in time, but when marital harmony is not achievable, Islam allows the spouses to bring the marriage to an end, what is accepted and has been a laudable step for mankind, unachievable for other communities and a bench mark to follow for other faiths will leave an unhappy and bitter couple who are desperate to get out of a failed and crippled marriage saddled with fears of criminalization, two things can come out of this –

a) People will be reluctant to explore the option of dissolution of marriages in an incompatible union.

b) It will be open to misuse as article 498 A was earlier misused.

Triple talaq in one sitting should be supplanted by the due process of talaq over the recommended time and the act should be focussed on creating the necessary infrastructure and procedure so that due triple talaq can be availed.

So when the union law minister states how A,B,C,D Muslim countries have abolished triple talaq, he has not mentioned that these countries have not criminalized triple talaq but laid down provisions on how due procedures can be kept in mind to facilitate a necessary divorce.

Also one needs to be clear that triple talaq and instant triple talaq are not the same and proper provisions for divorce need to be kept so that this option of legally walking out of an irreconcilable marriage always remains open in a free and just society and if a couple do agree to opt out of a dysfunctional marriage, the provisions of ‘triple talaq’ which is facilitated over a period of ninety days keep a provision of a hope for a reconciliation.
So a thought comes to mind that if there is no further scope for triple talaq and uttering the words in a single pronouncement is null and void anyway, so how can one criminalize the pronouncement that is null and done away with and the utterance of which either by WhatsApp, social media or though skype would not be taken into account.

As the popular saying goes ‘’little knowledge is a dangerous thing ‘’ hope this hurriedly passed bill does not become an albatross around the government’s neck.

Saira Shah Halim is a Kolkata based Social and Political commentator. All views are personal.

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| Edited by: Ashish Yechury
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