New Delhi, Jan 2: How could a bill tout to empower Muslim women by banning triple talaq proved to be harmful to its beneficiaries?
On August 22 last year, the Supreme Court banned the practice of instant triple talaq, (the practice under which a Muslim man can divorce his wife by simply uttering the word "talaq" three times) calling it unconstitutional.
The SC said triple talaq violates the fundamental rights of Muslim women as it irrevocably ends a marriage without any chance of reconciliation. It was a historic day for the women's rights movement in India.
Months later, as the Narendra Modi government is all set to table the contentious Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, a debate over the provision in the bill that criminalises instant triple talaq is creating a lot of furore inside and outside Parliament.
Recently, the bill was passed without much opposition in the Lok Sabha as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government enjoys an absolute majority in the Lower House of Parliament.
However, things are different in the Rajya Sabha, as the opposition Congress and the BJP have 57 seats each in the Upper House.
The Congress, which supported the bill in the Lok Sabha, says that it opposes the criminalization part of it. The bill makes instant triple talaq or "talaq-e-biddat" illegal and provides for a jail term of up to three years for the husband. The offence has been made cognizable and non- bailable.
The Congress had earlier said that the bill should be referred to a select panel of parliamentarians to nuance some provisions of it that opposition leaders in the Lok Sabha had argued.
The bill is facing reservations from some opposition parties over its misuse by women in the future.
Several Muslim groups, including the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), allege "illegality" in provisions of the bill that criminalises instant triple talaq.
On Tuesday, before the bill was tabled in the Rajya Sabha, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and others have noted their reservations over the bill and wanted it to be referred to a select panel of parliamentarians.
"We are in talks with the Congress party and others for the triple talaq bill. Hope for a smooth passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha," said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar.
"The way triple talaq bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, it will be passed in the Rajya Sabha too with constructive debate and discussion. Hope the opposition, including the Congress, supports it," said Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
The opponents of the bill denounced the Centre for the "haste" shown in getting the triple talaq bill passed in the Lok Sabha.
Writing for The Indian Express, Salman Soz, Congress leader, who supported the Supreme Court judgement on triple talaq, alleged that "I didn't imagine that the apex court's progressive judgment would become a pretext for the Narendra Modi-led government to put forward a bill that would not only do little to advance the interests of Muslim women but could end up harming the interests of both Muslim women and men."
He added, "Last week, the government introduced the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) bill, 2017, in the Lok Sabha. There was no real discussion and the government's brute majority in the Lower House ensured that the bill took only a few hours for it to be passed. All proposed amendments were rejected. Shouldn't a Bill of this nature have required a discussion?"
The Congress leader mostly objected to the part in the bill where it makes the utterance of talaq, talaq, talaq a criminal offence, punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine that remains undetermined.
"This is important. For saying something that has no legal effect, the government proposes to send the offending man to jail. Worse, the offense will be cognizable and non-bailable. That means anyone can accuse a Muslim man of violating this law (not just the wife) and the police have to take cognizance, make an arrest and hold the man without bail. Any man with half a brain would realise that the proposed law would land him in jail for saying something that has no practical impact as far as his marriage is concerned," Soz writes.
Before ending his column, Soz suggested the government to review the bill.
"This is not a good way to draft laws that can have an impact on millions of families. This bill needs a comprehensive review and a careful assessment of its consequences on Muslim men and women. If we put our heads together in good faith, I am certain we can find a way to stop the practice of instant triple talaq, protect women's rights and mitigate risks of abuse from this piece of legislation."