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Lok Sabha passes Bill that criminalises triple talaq

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was passed by a voice vote after rejecting a resolution moved by Revolutionary Socialist Party member N.K. Premachandran that the legislation is circulated for public opinion. 

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Triple talaq
Activists of various social organisations hold placards during a protest against "Triple Talaq" in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (VOA)
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New Delhi, Dec 28: The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed a bill that criminalises instant divorce with three years of imprisonment for Muslim husbands after the government rejected an overwhelming demand from the Opposition to refer the legislation to a Parliamentary standing committee for detailed consideration.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was passed by a voice vote after rejecting a resolution moved by Revolutionary Socialist Party member N.K. Premachandran that the legislation is circulated for public opinion.

Various amendments moved by opposition members, including Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) and Premachandran, were negatived in divisions.

Lok Sabha cleared the Triple Talaq bill
Lok Sabha cleared the Triple Talaq bill

The government’s determination to get the Bill passed could be gauged from the fact that it was introduced in the morning and taken up for consideration in the afternoon by suspending relevant rules and then passed in the evening by sitting late beyond the scheduled close of the House.

Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who introduced the bill and later piloted it in the Lok Sabha, said history was being created today.

He said the issue was not of religion or faith but of “gender justice and gender equality” and appealed to all the parties to rise above political considerations and politics of vote bank. “Women are seeing that justice will be done to them. Let us speak in one voice that we are for gender justice and gender equity and pass the Bill unanimously,” Prasad said, winding up the discussion.

He said instances of instant triple talaq continue despite the Supreme Court ruling it as unconstitutional in August this year. The bill seeks to declare pronouncement of talaq-e-biddat (three pronouncements of talaq at one go) by Muslim husbands void and illegal in view of the Supreme Court verdict.

Prasad said while Justice Rohington Nariman and U.U. Lalit held in their judgment in August that instant divorce was unconstitutional and the government should look at bringing a law, Justice Kurian Joseph had observed that what is a sin in Islamic laws cannot be legal.

During the debate, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi accused the Congress of appeasing Muslims
During the debate, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi accused the Congress of appeasing Muslims

The Minister saw no justification in the demand for referring the Bill to a standing committee saying the affected Muslim women were crying for justice and were fully backing it. He said there was a contradiction in members wanting it to be referred to a standing committee and some arguing why it was not brought earlier.

The Bill makes the act of pronouncing talaq-e-biddat punishable offence. There is provision for subsistence allowance from the husband for the livelihood and daily supporting needs of the wife as also of the dependent children. The wife would also be entitled to the custody of minor children.

Intervening in the debate, Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar said time was now ripe for the passage of the legislation in the interest of Muslim women. He recalled an instance of a British journalist interviewing the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru after the passage of the Hindu code Bill when she asked when would the government introduce reforms in Muslim laws.

Nehru was not opposed to reforms of Muslim personal laws but merely said the time was not opportune then, Akbar said. “That time has come now.”

Though Opposition members, including from the Congress, supported the legislation, they wanted it to be referred to a parliamentary committee so that several lacunae can be removed and the provisions strengthened in favour of Muslim women. The law must ensure that subsistence allowance and maintenance to the women and the children were not stopped, they felt.

Some felt that the BJP government was in a haste to pass the Bill, not because of its concern for Muslim women but because it sees this as a first step towards bringing in a uniform civil code. They wanted the measure to be given up immediately.

During the debate, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi accused the Congress of appeasing Muslims and said there is a need for codification of Muslim personal laws in the country.

“They (Congress) always did appeasement politics for which the country has paid for 30 years and today we have this chance. If we lose this chance today we will not have another chance.,” she said.

“Codification of Islamic law is needed in this country. No one knows what is Sharia, Talaq-e-Biddat… No one knows the difference,” she added.

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Rohingyas Repatriation to Myanmar Scrapped by Bangladesh

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months.

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Rohingya, myanmar
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Bangladesh’s plans to begin repatriating Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar Thursday were scrapped because officials were unable to find anyone who wanted to return to the country that has been accused of driving out hundreds of thousands in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The refugees “are not willing to go back now,” Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam told The Associated Press. He said officials “can’t force them to go” but will continue to try to “motivate them so it happens.”

Some people on the government’s repatriation list disappeared into the sprawling refugee camps to avoid being sent home, while others joined a large demonstration against the plan.

Rohingya, myanmar
Workers build a Rohingya repatriation center in Gunndum near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

UN urged a halt to repatriation

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017 to escape killings and destruction of their villages by the military and Buddhist vigilantes that have drawn widespread condemnation of Myanmar.

The United Nations, whose human rights officials had urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation process even as its refugee agency workers helped to facilitate it, welcomed Thursday’s development.

Firas Al-Khateeb, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cox’s Bazar, said it was unclear when the process might begin again.

“We want their repatriation, but it has to be voluntary, safe and smooth,” he said.

Bangladesh officials declined to say whether another attempt at repatriation would be made Friday.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali told reporters in Dhaka late Thursday that “there is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?”

Rohingya, myanmar
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Pleading with Rohingya

At the Unchiprang refugee camp, a Bangladeshi refugee official implored the Rohingya on Thursday to return to their country over a loudspeaker.

“We have arranged everything for you, we have six buses here, we have trucks, we have food. We want to offer everything to you. If you agree to go, we’ll take you to the border, to the transit camp,” he said.

“We won’t go!” hundreds of voices, including children’s, chanted in reply.

Some refugees on the repatriation lists, which authorities say were drawn up with assistance from the UNHCR, said they don’t want to go back.

‘I don’t want to go back’

At the Jamtoli refugee camp, one of the sprawling refugee settlements near the city of Cox’s Bazar, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, age 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not. She said she had never asked to return to Myanmar, and that she had sent her children to a school run by aid workers Thursday morning as usual.

“They killed my husband; now I live here with my parents,” said Setara, who only gave one name. “I don’t want to go back.”

She said that other refugees on the repatriation list had fled to other camps, hoping to disappear amid the crowded lanes of refugees, aid workers and Bangladeshi soldiers, which on Thursday were bustling with commerce and other activity.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Plan to return 150 a day

Bangladesh had planned to send an initial group of 2,251 back from mid-November at a rate of 150 per day.

Myanmar officials, speaking late Thursday in the capital, Naypyitaw, said they were ready to receive the refugees. Despite those assurances, human rights activists said conditions were not yet safe for the Rohingya to go back.

The exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts. The scale, organization and ferocity of the crackdown led the U.N. and several governments to accuse Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are a native ethnic group, viewing them as “Bengalis” who entered illegally from Bangladesh, even though generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees cross floodwaters at Thangkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. VOA

Refugee camps bleak

The refugees survived the ransacking of villages, rapes and killings in Myanmar, but for many, life in Bangladesh’s squalid refugee camps has been bleak.

The refugees who’ve arrived in the last year joined a wave of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims who escaped forced labor, religious persecution and violent attacks from Buddhist mobs in Myanmar during the early 1990s.

Access to education and employment has been far from assured.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who hopes to retain power in December elections, has repeatedly complained that hosting more than a million Rohingya is taxing local resources.

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months, but plans last January to begin sending refugees back were called off amid concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that their return would be met with violence.

Foreign leaders, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, criticized Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.

Also Read: Rohingya Muslims Remain Fearful Due To Forceful Repatriation

But on Thursday, Pence said that U.S. officials were “encouraged to hear that” the repatriation process would begin.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would continue working with international partners including the U.N. “to ensure that the Rohingya themselves are part of any decisions on their future.” (VOA)