The revised bill to make instant Triple Talaq - a practice among Muslim men to instantly divorce their wives by uttering "Talaq" thrice -- a punishable offence was passed in the Lok Sabha on Thurday after five-hour debate and a walkout by the Congress and the AIADMK. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the bill should not be seen through the "prism of politics" but of humanity. He also pointed out that the Supreme Court had called instant Triple Talaq "unconstitutional" and asked the government for a law against it. The real test, though, will be in Rajya Sabha, as the government lacks majority there.
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The government's argument failed to convince most opposition parties, including Naveen Patnaik's BJD and the AIADMK, which wanted the revised bill to go to a select committee of the two houses of parliament. The BJP's fractious ally Shiv Sena also kept it guessing, commenting they were ready to support the government on the Ram temple issue.
The opposition argued on three points. It questioned the three-year-jail term for the husband, arguing that in no other religion there is such a punishment for desertion. There was also no clarity on who would provide maintenance to the wife once the husband is in jail. The opposition also questioned whether such hardline tactics would help bring a family together.
The government sent the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 for revision after it got passed in Lok Sabha but got stalled in the Rajya Sabha by the opposition parties. But the government refused to scrap the jail term for the husband, and the provision that empowers only a magistrate, and not a local police officer, to release him on bail.
The proposed law makes "triple talaq" an offence with a jail term of up to three years and a fine for the husband, and makes the woman entitled to maintenance.
The government introduced three provisions to stop misuse of the law. Under these, only a woman, or her close relative, can file a police case against her husband. A second amendment allows her to drop the case if the couple reaches a compromise. A third says the magistrate can decide on the husband's bail only after hearing the wife.
Uproar started in the Lok Sabha as Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad introduced the bill at 2 pm. Congress's Mallikarjun Kharge said it should be referred to a joint select committee of the two Houses for greater scrutiny as several provisions of the bill were "unconstitutional". AIADMK's P Venugopal, TMC's Sudip Bandhopadhyay, AIMIM's Assaduddin Owaisi and Supriya Sule of NCP echoed the demand.
"I must inform the House that the Supreme Court too called it (instant Triple Talaq) unconstitutional and requested parliament to pass a bill too. The Supreme Court has made it illegal," said Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. In a landmark 3-2 verdict in August last year, the Supreme Court found the practice of "triple talaq" un-Islamic and "arbitrary", and disagreed that it was an integral part of religious practices.
The minister has "misread" the Supreme Court judgment, nowhere does it say that instant Triple Talaq should carry criminal punishment, retorted Congress's Sushmita Dev. "In any other religion, there is no punishment for desertion... The Triple Talaq Bill is not about empowering Muslim women, it is about penalising a Muslim man," she added.
Even Islamic nations don't have triple talaq in their laws, it is surprising that a secular country like India continues to adhere to it, said Meenakshi Lekhi. "Women are given instant triple talaq over the phone, via SMS or messaging services. This bill ensures an effective way of curbing the act," she said.
"Some people said this is a civil matter, and asked why it should be seen as a crime... But people had said the same for dowry, but parliament passed a law against it," said Union minister Smriti Irani."If a contract is being cancelled, it cannot be done unilaterally. And if it is cancelled, there are consequences," she added.