Criminalising Triple Talaq Bill passed hurriedly

Amritananda Chakravorty and Mihir Samson

In a sudden move, the Central Government introduced a bill criminalising the practice of unilateral instantaneous divorce by Muslim men, commonly known as triple talaq, vide, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 in the Lok Sabha on 29.12.2017. The Bill was passed, amidst lots of opposition, especially amongst Muslim women’s groups and organisations. The Bill essentially declares the pronouncement of talaq, which is defined as triple talaq, to be illegal and void, and makes it a punishable offence, i.e., any Muslim man who divorces his wife, vide triple talaq, would be liable for punishment up to three years and fine. The Bill further makes this a cognizable offence (the accused can be arrested without a warrant) and non-bailable, thereby bringing it within the ambit of ‘serious offences’, which has furthered angered many individuals. The Bill also provides that ‘subsistence allowance’ would be provided by the husband to those Muslim women and their dependent children who are victims of triple talaq and she also would be entitled for the custody of her dependent children. These provisions are of little assistance to Muslim women who do not want their husbands to be treated as criminals and sent to jail, especially in light of the current atmosphere of ever growing right-wing violence against the Muslim community.      
Though the Government is trying to use the mandate of the Supreme Court decision in Shayara Bano v Union of India (Writ Petition No. 118 of 2016, dated 22.08.2017) to justify bringing this ill-thought out law, in reality, it was the minority view of Supreme Court that asked the Government to legislate on this issue. The majority view, authored by Justice Kurien Joseph, Justice Rohinton Nariman and Justice U.U. Lalit in two separate opinions, the practice of triple talaq was not part of Islam, which does not sanction the practice of instantaneous talaq without providing any chance for reconciliation. Further, Justices Nariman and Lalit held that the practice of triple talaq was arbitrary and discriminatory and was thus unconstitutional. Nowhere in the majority opinion a reference was made to the need to bring a legislation in this regard.
While the government tried to paint it as a legislation aimed at gender justice, criticisms have poured in from all corners of the society. The Law Minister claimed that the jail term intended to serve as a deterrent, as cases were being reported even after the Supreme Court verdict, rather the number had spiked, but this provision has become the focal point of the criticism. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board and even the Bebaak Collective, a group of autonomous women’s organisations that played an important role in Shayara Bano case, have denounced the Bill for not taking into account the concerns of Muslim women and that of the larger Muslim community. In fact, no consultations with the groups or civil society happened. The Government did not bother to organise one meeting or consultations with the affected community to elicit their response to the Bill. 
The Collective further warned that such a move would alienate the Muslim men more and that criminalising them would not serve the ends of gender justice. When a woman complains against triple talaq, she does so because she wants to stay in the marital home and continue drawing financial support from her husband for herself and for her children. This objective would get defeated if the husband is penalised for pronouncing talaq-e-biddat. They have further pointed out that the legislation has a very narrow scope and is only aimed at the very practice of triple talaq and not the allied practices like that of halala that further propagate gender discrimination in the Muslim society.
Thus, it is very clear that the Bill was not brought in to fulfill the mandate of the Supreme Court judgment, since there was no such mandate given, but to advance the dangerous sectarian agenda of this government to further alienate the Muslim community, to criminalise their men and to use the discredited practice of triple talaq as a stick to further penalise the already beleaguered community. The lofty claims of the Ministers in Parliament about fighting for the rights of Muslim women sound hollow in light of their perpetuation of anti-women policies and attitudes throughout. The fact that there was no demand from the Muslim women themselves to criminalise triple talaq speaks volume about the motivation behind the current Bill. Whatever it is, it is not the best interest and welfare of Muslim women for sure. 
Major decisions –
i. Notice issued in challenge to I&B Code – The Gujarat High Court has issued notice on a petition challenging the validity of the recent Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code Ordinance, which bars promoters from participating in asset sale. The petition argues that the ordinance does not distinguish between wilful defaulters and those who are actually interested in retrieving their company. It further argues that the rules place the management of affairs of the corporate debtor in the hands of a resolution professional, who may or may not have experience in the specific area of business of the corporate debtor, thereby risking the entire business. [Accord Industries Limited v Union of India, Special Civil Application No. 22616 of 2017, date of order: 18.12.2017] (IPA/To be continued)

Tuesday, 9 January, 2018