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A proposed bill criminalising triple talaq, now empowering Muslim women

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A proposed bill criminalising triple talaq, now empowering Muslim women
A proposed bill criminalising triple talaq, now empowering Muslim women. IANS
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  • Muslim women raising their voices against triple talaq
  • Triple talaq meaning any pronouncement of divorce by a person upon his wife in any manner
  • A bill has been proposed against triple talaq

New Delhi, Dec 24, 2017: The proposed bill that criminalises the practice of instant divorce “empowers” Indian Muslim women by giving them a larger say in dissolving marriages, custody of minor children and the right to seek maintenance from their estranged husbands, according to the cabinet-cleared controversial legislation opposed by Muslim groups.

The bill defines triple talaq as “any pronouncement (of divorce) by a person upon his wife by words, either spoken or written or in electronic form, or in any other manner”. It proposes to make the practice a punishable offence and is set to be introduced in the Lok Sabha next week.

IANS has exclusive access to a copy of the cabinet-cleared version of the legislation drafted after the Supreme Court’s decision against the gender-discriminatory practice that is not followed even in major Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan.

The draft bill says the practice against “constitutional morality” and “gender equity” is to be considered “void and illegal”.

Anyone who pronounces instant divorce “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and a fine”, the bill proposes.

In its statement of objects and reason, the draft mentions the landmark Shayara Bano case in which the Supreme Court invalidated the practice of instant triple talaq. The statement would be read by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad when he introduces the bill in the Lok Sabha to explain why the government had to formulate the legislation.

Shayara Bano, a 38-year-old woman from Uttarakhand, fought a long legal battle seeking an end to the patriarchal custom after she claimed to have suffered for 14 years in her marriage.

“This judgement gave a boost to liberate Indian Muslim women from the age-old practice of capricious and whimsical method of divorce, by some Muslim men, leaving no room for reconciliation,” the minister says in the bill’s statement of objects.

The judgement vindicated the position taken by the government that “talaq-e-biddat”, which allows men to pronounce divorce thrice in one sitting, is against “constitutional morality, dignity of women and the principles of gender equality, as also against gender equity guaranteed under the Constitution”.

Clerics and several Muslim organisations, cutting across sects and schools of jurisprudence, protested against the Supreme Court judgement and termed the government’s stand as “uncalled for interference” in the personal laws of the community.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, in the bill’s objects and reasons, says the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which was also a respondent in the Shayara Bano case, had contended that it was not for the judiciary to decide matters of religious practices such as talaq-e-biddat but for the legislature to make any law on the same.

“They had also submitted in the Supreme Court that they would issue advisories to the members of the community against this practice,” the minister explains.

The bill notes that “there have been reports of divorce by way of talaq-e-biddat from different parts of the country” even after the Supreme Court invalidated the practice and the assurance by AIMPLB.

“It is seen that setting aside talaq-e-biddat by the Supreme Court has not worked as any deterrent in bringing down the number of divorces by this practice among certain Muslims. It is, therefore, felt that there is a need for State action to give effect to the order of the Supreme Court and to redress the grievances of victims of illegal divorce,” the minister says.

The bill states that urgent suitable legislation was necessary “to give some relief to…the hapless married Muslim women who suffer from harassment due to talaq-e-biddat.

“This is essential to prevent this form of divorce, wherein the wife does not have any say in severing the marital relationship.

“The legislation would help in ensuring the larger constitutional goals of gender justice and gender equality of married Muslim women and help subserve their fundamental rights of non-discrimination and empowerment.” (IANS)

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Triple Talaq: Are the concerns and efforts real?

It cannot be deied that BJP is outlawing triple talaq to gain political mileage both from sections of Muslim women and from those Hindus who will see it as Modi's distress over the sufferings of Muslim women and as a message to Muslims that the days when they were given excessive leeway by less assertive governments are now gone.

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Triple Talaq continues to plague lives of Muslim women, VOA News
Triple Talaq continues to plague lives of Muslim women, VOA News
  • Triple Talaq has been seen as way of BJP gaining popularity among Muslims, and not as a real concern for the distressed women of the community.
  • BJP leaders are often accused of Anti-Muslim statements, which further proves the point.
  • However, if the law is passed, it will be a step towards empowerment of the Muslim women.

Only the naive will believe that deep concern for the welfare of Muslim “sisters” and for the maintenance of the “dignity of women” and “gender equality” persuaded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to introduce the bill in parliament to ban the practice of triple talaq.

For a party whose founder in its previous incarnation, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, thought that only a civil war can solve the Hindu-Muslim problem, as Tripura’s Governor, Tathagata Roy of the BJP, reminded us recently, and a BJP candidate in the Gujarat elections sought a reduction in the numbers of “topi and dadhiwalas” (sartorial allusion to Muslims), it strains credulity to believe that it has been guided solely by laudable motives to put an end to an admittedly reprehensible custom.

The belief will persist, therefore, that it is a desire to “garner votes” which is behind the decision, notwithstanding Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad’s disavowal of such an intention.

Few will deny, of course, that the practice itself is highly condemnable, not least because it is illegal even in Islamic countries. For a secular country, therefore, to allow it to prevail will point to a flawed outlook whose roots lie deep in the political calculations.

It cannot be gainsaid that the BJP is outlawing triple talaq to gain political mileage both from sections of Muslim women and from those Hindus who will see the proposed law, first, as an example of “brother” Modi’s distress over the sufferings of Muslim women and, secondly, as a message to Muslims in general that the days are gone when they were given excessive leeway by less assertive governments.

The “secular” rulers of the past, on the other hand, also thought that they will gain votes by pandering to the predilections of the obscurantists among the minorities.

The worst example of this regressive attitude was the Shah Bano episode, when the Rajiv Gandhi government negated a Supreme Court verdict in favour of alimony for a divorced Muslim woman on the advice of Muslim fundamentalists.

Shayara Bano case was one of the biggest milestone cases in history of India which intensified the previously buried matter. Wikipedia Common
Shayara Bano case was one of the biggest milestone cases in history of India which intensified the previously buried matter. Wikipedia Common

The BJP’s rise from the sidelines of politics to the mainstream, can be traced through that event in the mid-1980s. The Congress will have to tread carefully in deciding on its stance on the bill which has followed the Supreme Court’s recent declaration of triple talaq as unconstitutional in a case involving the litigant, Shayara Bano.

The difficulty for the Congress is that it has given secularism a bad name by making the concept virtually synonymous with minority appeasement. While the BJP will not mind being closely associated with Hinduism, the Congress has been trying to shed the impression that it has become “mussalmanon ki party” or a party of Muslims, as the Congress leader, Ashok Gehlot, has said, ever since the 2014 defeat made him aware of this unwelcome image, as the A.K. Antony report pointed out.

The triple talaq bill gives it an opportunity to refurbish its reputation by articulating a rational position on drafting the law, aiming at protecting Muslim women from cruel and whimsical divorces and at the same time ensuring that the legislation does not lead to a police witch-hunt targeting men. Since the bill has to still pass through the Rajya Sabha, Parliament’s upper house, there is ample scope for fine-tuning it for smoothing out the rough edges, the most egregious of which is to introduce an element of criminality in a civil legal procedure.

If the Congress and other “secular” parties play a leading role in ensuring that the new law will unequivocally serve the ends of justice where no one — neither the women, nor the men, nor the children of divorced parents — will suffer, then these parties will be able to retrieve much of their lost reputation about cynical kowtowing to bigots in the Muslim community and reassure the country in general that politics can rise above partisan and opportunistic considerations.

From this standpoint, the bill provides a golden opportunity to the secular outfits even if the BJP runs away with much of the credit for introducing it.

Outside of politics, what is noteworthy is the failure of the Muslims to deal with the problem on their own. But ever since partition robbed the community of bold, educated leaders and self-confidence by inducing the minority complex of being forever under siege under the numerically superior Hindus — unlike other minorities like Sikhs and Parsis who have retained their poise and self-belief — the Muslims have come under the retrogressive influence of the mullahs with the result that they have remained stuck in the past.

Not all Muslim have the freedom to do whatever they want. They are still in the clutches of Triple Talaq.
Not all Muslim have the freedom to do whatever they want. They are still in the clutches of Triple Talaq.

Triple talaq is one manifestation of such backwardness along with polygamy and the veiling of women as they reinforce the age-old patriarchal norms. Only a small section of upper middle class women — film stars and sports personnel being prominent among them — has been able to extricate themselves from the grasp of medievalism and enter the modern world. But the majority of the poor and lower middle class women have been denied the opportunity of advancement by orthodox Muslim society. The new law offers them a ray of hope. IANS Live