Battle to pass bill banning instant divorce by Indian Muslim men is on

Published January 31, 2018
SHAYARA Bano, the first Indian Muslim woman to challenge triple talaq in court.
SHAYARA Bano, the first Indian Muslim woman to challenge triple talaq in court.

NEW DELHI: With the budget session of Indian parliament underway, the government is making a strong pitch for the passage of the controversial triple talaq — or instant divorce — bill.

The country’s Lok Sabha — the lower house of parliament — had passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, last month, by a voice vote after rejecting a string of amendments moved by opposition members.

The bill was, however, stalled in Rajya Sabha — the upper house of parliament –– where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lacks a majority. Several opposition parties demanded that it be referred to a select committee.

India’s apex court had ruled that the 1,400-year-old practice of Muslim men divorcing their wives by uttering “talaq” (divorce) three times as “illegal, sinful and retrograde” in August last year.

The country’s five senior-most judges, hailing from five different faiths — Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism — were part of the panel that heard the clutch of petitions challenging the practice. It is, however, another matter that a woman judge was missing from this all-important panel.

Read: Why did India take so long to outlaw ‘triple talaq’?

The proposed law, if passed, will be applicable to the entire country, except the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It would make instant talaq punishable and would be a cognisable, non-bailable offence.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a “humble request” to all political parties on Monday to help pass the bill in the current session of parliament, saying it would be a New Year gift for Muslim women.

Speaking to reporters outside Parliament House, Modi said despite his government’s efforts and people’s expectations the triple talaq bill could not be passed in the last session.

Even a day before the start of the session an all-party meet was held to arrive at a consensus on the bill. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar described the meet as “fruitful”. The government will do everything possible to ensure its passage in the budget session, Kumar told the media.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will present the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s last fully fledged budget on Feb 1. The first leg of the session ends on Feb 9. Parliament will again assemble between March 5 and April 6.

Triple talaq practice has already been banned in 22 countries with a majority Muslim population, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Pakistan altered its marital laws through the Muslim Family Law Ordinance (1961) rendering triple talaq illegal. This law was subsequently adopted by Bangladesh as well.

Most members opposed to the bill argued that it had legal flaws and was being passed in a rush.

Asaduddin Owaisi of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen said the bill was politically motivated and encroached on Muslim personal law. He said triple talaq was an emotional and verbal abuse and provisions of the domestic violence act was enough to deal with it.

“This is the first step to take away all my personal laws that Article 21 of the constitution guarantees,” he said.

In Feb 2016, the anti-triple talaq movement gathered steam when Shayara Bano approached the Supreme Court for justice, demanding a uniform civil code applicable to people of all religions. She petitioned for a ban on not just triple talaq, but other practices such as polygamy.

Related: The ban on triple talaq is just one step toward justice for Muslim women in India

Shayara was divorced after nearly 15 years of marriage. When she returned to her parents’ house, their once confident and educated daughter was another depressed and traumatised woman. She was abused, both physically and mentally as her husband wanted more dowry.

Her case was reminiscent to that of Shah Bano, the 62-year-old woman who dragged her lawyer husband to court demanding maintenance after he divorced her. Shah Bano won the case, setting off a political battle over Muslim personal law.

The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, an organisation that is championing women’s rights, came to Shayara’s rescue.

Muslims in India have been following Shariah law which is interpreted by male religious leaders and is tilted in their favour, allowing them to marry up to four times and giving them the right to divorce their wives unilaterally.

With advances in technology Muslim men started divorcing their wives through phone calls, text messages with the word talaq written thrice, or worse, on social media. One of the seven women who petitioned was divorced on WhatsApp.

Shayara Bano, the woman who became the face of the movement challenging triple talaq, hailed the ruling. “I welcome the verdict and support it. This is a historic day for Muslim women,” she told the media.

India’s President Ram Nath Kovind, tweeted, “My Government has tabled a Bill on Triple Talaq in Parliament. I hope that the Parliament will soon pass it into a law. The law on Triple Talaq, once enacted, will also enable Muslim sisters and daughters to live a life of self-respect with courage #PresidentKovind”.

The bill, if passed, in the upper house of parliament, will be forwarded to the president for signing it into law.—ANN

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2018

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