Indian parliament's lower house passes Triple Talaq bill

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

On Thursday, the lower house of the Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha passed the bill to criminalise triple talaq, an Islamic law which allows men to divorce their wives instantly without the need of a judicial hearing. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, was passed with 245–11 majority. The hearing went on for five hours and opposing parties including Congress, AIADMK, and Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) did not participate in voting.

Talaq allows a husband to effect a divorce solely by saying talaq thrice. Muslim women who are against this law say it ruins their lives and is against gender equality.

Talaq is an Arabic word which translates to repudiation or divorce. It is a right limited to the Muslim men. The announcement must be clear and unambiguous but it does not require a judicial hearing. There is a waiting time of three months – or, precisely, three menstrual cycles; called Iddah — in which the husband can change his decision. Once the divorce is final, it is the responsibility of the husband to pay his wife a certain sum, known as Mahr. Mahr is declared at the time of marriage, and the husband only need pay it if Mahr was not paid before. The husband does have some continuing financial obligations to his ex-wife during Iddah and if she is pregnant, the husband must look after her until the child is born.

The Muslim Women (Protection of the Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018 criminalises triple talaq, makes the divorce "null" and "void", and makes its use punishable by a three-year prison sentence. If this bill is passed and comes in effect, it is to replace last year's bill. Last year's bill against triple talaq made it a non-bailable and punishable offence. This bill introduces limitations that only the wife or her close relatives can open a police complaint if the husband had pronounced "talaq" thrice to divorce his wife. The wife can also pull out of the case if the couple can settle the case themselves. If passed the law would be applicable to all the states of India except Jammu and Kashmir where Ranbir Penal Code is applicable instead of Indian Penal Code.

The Indian Supreme Court began the hearing against triple talaq in May 2017 and later ruled it was unconstitutional. The 2018's bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 17 after the ordinance in September. Ordinance in India has a validity of six months.

President Amit Shah of the ruling party, Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), congratulated his government on twitter and said, "This is a historic step ensuring equality and dignity for the Muslim women. Congress and other parties must apologise for decades of injustice towards Muslim women."

Voices opposing the bill, including Congress, Communist Party of India, Samajwadi Party, Biju Janata Dal and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) cited freedom of religion granted by the constitution of India to oppose the bill. Article 25 of the Indian constitution states "all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion".

Mallikarjun Karge, a member of congress said, "This is a very important bill which needs detailed study. It is also a constitutional matter. I request he bill be sent to joint select committee". He also said, "We will discuss the bill. The government shouldn't interfere in religious matters".

Meenakshi Lekhi, a member of BJP said, "Our constitution talks about a uniform civil code and not a uniform religious code. Do we want to create a society where men have he sole right to divorce Women whenever they want, a society where men can change wives like clothes". She questioned "in which suraa of the Qur'an is talaq-e-biddat mentioned" and said: "This is not he vs she, these are issues of human rights violation".

People opposing the bill also raised concerns about the effectiveness of the bill. Sushmita Devi, a member of parliament of Congress said: "This law is not about empowering a Muslim woman, it is a bill that only penalises a Muslim man. In the name of power, you are giving the Muslim woman nothing but a criminal case".

Congress politician Shashi Tharoor said this bill "conflates civil law with criminal law by criminalising a wrong form of divorce and by criminalising an act which is legally null and void".

President of AIMIM Asaduddin Owaisi compared the punishment term of three-year sentencing with that of hit-and-run case which is just two years in prison. He also said, "If he [the husband] is sent for three years in jail, then how will he earn to provide an allowance to his wife and children?"

Lekhi argued in favour of bill stating "no woman wants to get divorced — I say this as a woman. We think that marriage is for life. We speak about marriage, not of divorce." She also said women "want to lead a happy married life with their family. Be it Christian, Hindu, and Muslim, women mostly want to save their marriage. Men, on the other hand, have been seen to divorce women over most trivial cases".

While the debate of protection of interests of the people of minority religion vs rights of women were discussed, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "Don't weigh the bill on the scales of politics. The bill is about humanity and justice." Prasad also said "20 Islamic nations have banned triple talaq, then why can't a secular nation like India [ban it]? I request that this should not be looked through prism of politics [...] this bill is for the rights of women and about justice".

The bill is to be discussed in the upper house of the parliament: the Rajya Sabha on Monday. The BJP and Hindu nationalist party Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is minority in the upper house.

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