Triple Talaq Bill Must for Gender Justice and Equality, Says Centre in Lok Sabha, Oppn Terms it Discriminatory
New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Thursday took up for consideration the contentious bill to make the practice of instant triple talaq illegal, with up to three years in jail for the husband.
Moving the bill for consideration, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the legislation was a must for gender equality and justice as despite an August 2017 Supreme Court verdict striking down the practice of instant triple talaq, women are being divorced by 'talaq-e-biddat'. He said that since January 2017, 574 such cases have been reported by the media.
Three ordinances have so been promulgated as a similar bill moved by the previous government could not get parliamentary nod. A fresh bill was introduced by the new government in June during the ongoing Parliament session.
Under the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, divorcing through instant triple talaq will be illegal, void and would attract a jail term of three years for the husband.
Prasad said to allay fears that the proposed law could be misused, the government has included certain safeguards in it, such as adding a provision of bail for the accused before trial.
While the bill makes triple talaq a "non-bailable" offence, an accused can approach a magistrate even before trial to seek bail. In a non-bailable offence, bail cannot be granted by police at the police station itself. A provision has been added to allow the magistrate to grant bail "after hearing the wife", the minister said.
The Opposition, however, was not convinced and claimed that the bill was against criminal jurisprudence and was politically motivated.
Rajiv Ranjan Singh, a member of the Janata Dal (United) that is the BJP's coalition partner in Bihar, said the government should not waste time on such bills. He raised several objections to the bill, one of them being the burden of proof, asking, "If a man said it to his wife, when the case goes to court and the man denies having said it, how will you prove it?"
This was also one of the issues raised by AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi. "You will put the burden of proof on the wife. Who from the husband's side of the family is going to come and testify against him in court?" he asked.
Owaisi listed several other objections to the bill, which he described as "anti-women". "You will jail the husband without telling us how will he provide maintenance to the wife. Also this woman will be bound to this man till he serves his three-year-long sentence. Why should a woman spend three years of her life waiting for a convicted man to get out of jail? This law is against criminal jurisprudence," he said.
Bahujan Samaj Party's Danish Ali criticised the government's intention of turning a civil offence, as prescribed by Supreme Court, into a criminal offence. "By turning the offence into a criminal offence, you close the window of opportunity for the man to reconcile or negotiate with his former wife and provide her maintenance," Ali said.
Congress party's Gaurav Gogoi attacked the government for proposing a criminal offence under the bill. "You keep saying that 22 Islamic countries have banned Talaq-e-Biddat, so why shouldn't we? It's a fair argument, but could you also tell us which of them have made giving triple talaq a criminal offence? None, except Bangladesh," he said.
Gogoi claimed that the government's intention by introducing such a bill was to "demonise and penalise muslim men". He added that the government should take views of organisations like the Muslim Personal Law Board in account and "shape the bill more in accordance with the constitution".
Telugu Desam Party's Jayadev Galla said, "There are more Hindu and Christian women who have been abandoned by their husbands than there are Muslim women. Only 10% Muslim women in the country have been abandoned. If you want justice for the women, why not the Christian or the Hindu women?"
DMK leader K Kanimozhi also raised this issue while criticising the government's delay in introducing the Women's Reservation Bill and legislation against honour killing and mob lynchings.
Several parties like the TMC also opposed the bill and suggested that it be referred to a joint select committee.
NK Premachandran of Revolutionary Socialist Party asked, "Why are you not enforcing imprisonment for divorce in the Hindu and Christian communities? Why alone in Muslim community? This is discrimination against Muslim community."
The Congress demanded that the bill be sent to the Standing Committee for review, saying it targets Muslim community of the country. Participating in the discussion on the bill, the party's Mohammad Jawed said the intent of the government is not clean and it wants to sideline the Muslim community of this country.
"I request the minister to send the bill to the Standing Committee for review and think of laws for separated women of all communities and not only Muslims," he said, adding that a higher number of Hindu women are being divorced as compared to Muslim women. Jawed alleged this law is being formulated to jail Muslim men.
Opposing the bill, the Indian Union Muslim League's PK Kunhalikutty described it as discriminatory in nature. "If it is for Muslim women, why you did not hold consultations with at least one Muslim organisation?" he asked, adding that it was "not convincing at all".
Kunhalikutty said data from the last census showed that the percentage of Muslim divorce is very minimal — 0.56%, whereas in other communities, the percentage is high. "It is your political agenda and nothing else. Why are you in a hurry," he added.
Senior BJP leader and Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi launched a counter-attack against the Congress in the House. "The country is witness to social evils like sati, child marriage, among others, which were also part of our society at one time, but were gradually done away with. But some people defended these acts in the name of religion as some are doing now," he said.
"We are introducing this bill to overturn the wrong committed by Rajiv Gandhi's government in 1986," Naqvi said, referring to the Parliament's overturning of the Shah Bano verdict. "If he hadn't intervened to trample upon the rights of Muslim women then, we would not have the need to bring in such a law right now."
(With inputs from PTI)