The Lok Sabha has passed The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, popularly known as Triple Talaq 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 pronouncing the word "talaq" three times.
The Bill makes all declaration of talaq, including in written or electronic form (by phone, text or email), to be void and illegal. It makes declaration of talaq a cognizable and non-bailable offence.
This effectively means that if a Muslim woman goes to the police station and lodges a complaint that her husband has pronounced triple talaq to her, the police officer can arrest the ‘accused’ husband without warrant. If proven guilty, he can be imprisoned for up to three years along with a fine.
The woman against whom instant triple talaq has been pronounced, is permitted for subsistence allowance from her husband for herself and her children. The woman is also entitled to seek custody of her minor children.
Defeating all amendments to the bill, the Modi government disregarded all the resentment coming from opposition parties like the RJD, the BJD, All India Muslim League and AIMIM.
The principle opposition, Congress, strategically but selectively supported the bill, raising concerns on few of its aspects. The government has accepted it on record that it did not consult any Muslim organisations on the issue, neither did it take into account the disagreements coming from the Muslim women activists who have been fighting for gender equality for years and were the first ones to go to court against the archaic practice of triple talaq.
Standing in Parliament as a champion of gender justice and a crusader for ‘Muslim sisters’, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad sought for bipartisan support for the Bill, without actually consulting the actual stakeholders, including the very ‘Muslim sisters’ that he and his government are fighting for.
The government is taking a cue from the minority view of the Supreme Court judgment that declared triple talaq as ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘invalid’, leaving aside the majority judgment. The court did not ask the government to frame a law.
The fundamental flaw in this whole argument of criminalising the mere utterance of triple talaq is the fact that pronouncement by the man does not eventually dissolve the marriage, so why criminalise an offence that did not even take place?
The SC judgment effectively means that even after the pronouncements of talaq three times at one go, the marriage in still intact and the man and the woman remain husband and wife.
The law if implemented will take away the husband of the Muslim woman and end all possibilities of any reconciliation, making her socially and financially insecure. Looking at it from the other end of the gender debate, criminalising Muslim men for a civil wrong is an outright abuse of human rights. One does not need to be a legal expert to understand something as basic as this.
While much has been talked about the lack of rationale and logic in structuring a law like this, it is also important to look at the politics of legislating and criminalising triple talaq.
In the last three and a half years of the BJP rule, most of their policies and politics have been brazenly anti-Muslim. The atmosphere of sustained hatred against Muslims, pulling them out of trains and buses and killing them anywhere at any pretext, from cow protection to ‘Love Jihad’, has created a feeling of terror and insecurity among the Muslim community.
Most of these self-appointed ‘protectors’ of Hindu religion go unpunished and at times enjoy the covert support and patronage of the ruling powers. While this religious division and polarisation take place under the watch of BJP government, the Love Jihad project of the Sangh Parivar demonises Muslim men and marginalises them in the public spheres.
The propaganda and naked bigotry on social media and on prime time TV debates is gradually turning Muslim men into demons who eat beef, convert Hindu women on the pretext of love and divorce their wives at will.
The technology has allowed the spread of hate and bigotry on an industrial scale and has normalised the anti-Muslim propaganda, the centre of which remains the Muslim men.
Now by framing this Triple Talaq Bill and turning Muslim husbands into criminals, it will only be an extension or continuation of the demonisation of the Muslim men.
This bigotry and hate is also an effective tool for political dividends.
From Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat, the election campaigns run by the BJP were not just outright communal but unabashedly based on Muslim-hate. How does a party that functions and succeeds on Muslim-hate and anti-Muslim politics expects to gain credibility in the Muslim community and pretend to work for their social ‘reforms’?
Their strategy is clear: demonize Muslim men and patronise Muslim women. We can safely conclude that the Triple Talaq Bill is a politically motivated act and is an attempt to consolidate the Hindu vote.
(The author is a television journalist. Views are personal)