Triple Talaq Bill Could Take a Cue from Congress’ Hindu Code Bill
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: The Quint)

Triple Talaq Bill Could Take a Cue from Congress’ Hindu Code Bill

“The whole country is watching, that in the other House you supported the Bill, and in this House, you are trying to derail the Bill.”

These ‘golden words’ were enunciated by none other than the leader of the house in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley; albeit none of them stand true in principle. In a dramatic turn of events, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley even preached to the members as to how the Upper House was violating the rules by allowing a motion to be introduced without 24 hours’ notice.

Notably, the motion was being introduced by a Congress MP, who sought to send the bill to a select Rajya Sabha committee for further scrutiny and deliberations.

Also Read: Triple Talaq Bill in Rajya Sabha: Cutting Through the Falsehoods

“What is the kind of parliamentary practice that you are creating?” – asked Jaitley, oblivious to the practice that was created by his own party to get the same bill passed in the Lok Sabha. Let us look at the loopholes in The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, and how it was bulldozed through Lok Sabha in a rather unfortunate way.

In a world that is grey, often society is forced to make a choice between black or white, good or evil, yes or no. At times, the people do not even get to make a choice, but things are force-fed to them by the state.

Substitute the people with elected legislators and the society with the parliament. One is bound to find an uncanny resemblance. The passage of the Muslim Women Protection Bill on 28 December 2017 in the Lok Sabha saw every possible tactic from bulldozing legislation through to coercing the parliamentarians to make a choice in black or white.

Also Read: Mamata’s ‘Diplomatic’ Silence On Triple Talaq Bill Won’t Hurt TMC

An Act of ‘Tyranny’

The list of business, which is usually updated a day prior included The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill (2017) for introduction, among three other bills; The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment) Bill; The Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Amendment Bill; and The High Court and the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries And Conditions Of Service) Amendment Bill, for consideration and passage.

As per the list of business, The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill was duly introduced at 12:33 pm. However, at 12:57 pm, the members of the house were informed that the bill would also be tabled for consideration and passage. This is an act of tyranny, which has now become a standard practice for the ruling party to get things done as per their whims and fancies.

This is what the speaker had to say at 12:57 pm:

Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister-in-Charge of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, which has been introduced today, has requested me to allow the Bill to be taken up for consideration and passing today. I have acceded to his request. Accordingly, the Bill will be included in the Supplementary List of Business today for consideration and passing. In view of paucity of time available for tabling amendments to the Bill, I have, as a special case, permitted tabling of amendments up to 2:00 pm.

Also Read: Ishrat Jahan Joining BJP Shows Bengal’s ‘Competing Communalism’

A Strong Opposition

This exercise in principle helps the government in two ways – gives abysmally little time to the Opposition members to come prepared in the house for discussions, and since the time permitted to file the amendments is negligible, the bill sees the light of day with the least possible interruptions.

However, things did not sail as smoothly as the BJP would have wanted them to, because the Opposition did not succumb to this authoritarianism. Instead, defying stereotypes, the standard of the arguments put forth by both the sides rose to an unprecedented level.

The bill was discussed for four hours and thirty-four minutes, in which a whopping 22 members took part. Thereafter, six amendments were put to vote by the house (out of which three were filed by Asaduddin Owaisi alone) which was divided five times.

Rarely is this kind of Opposition strength, amendments and subsequent divisions of this magnitude witnessed in the house. The parliamentarians deserve praise.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also acknowledged this fact by specially congratulating three members of the house for their valuable comments – Sushmita Dev (INC), Meenakshi Lekhi (BJP) and Supriya Sule (NCP).

Also Read: Here are Reasons to Abolish Triple Talaq (UCC is Not One of Them)

The Govt’s Idea of Gender Equality

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill was one of the few bills in this Lok Sabha session, among plenty of other economic legislations, which had the potential to lead society towards inclusiveness and development. However, the government should be excoriated for pushing this bill in such an undemocratic way.

This bill, if passed in the Rajya Sabha in its present form, may have grave repercussions for the Muslim community. Unfortunately, the government has presented a distorted view of women’s empowerment. Equality cannot be achieved by pulling men down but by elevating our women – that is, to level the playing field. This bill seeks to achieve the former over the latter.

I am not a legal expert, however, common sense tells me to raise a few unanswered questions. This bill, in turning a civil contract into a criminal act, penalising the husband for the mere utterance of the word, ‘talaq’ by making it a cognisable offence, is gravely retributive in nature rather than restorative.

An ideal law should not aim to penalise the citizens, rather it should focus on their rehabilitation through reconciliation.

Also Read: Demand to End Triple Talaq a Result of Muslim Women’s Empowerment

Loopholes in Triple Talaq Bill

The bill is silent on the provision as to how the husband will pay the subsistence allowance after being sent to jail for three years (as penalty). What would be the quantum or the criteria be for determining this allowance? The bill fails to provide any kind of counselling or educative provisions to the community.

An imperative issue, which was also pointed out by most members in the Lok Sabha, is that no consultation whatsoever was made with the Muslim community nor with Muslim women to incorporate their valuable suggestions. Women, being the major stakeholders, if consulted, would have made the bill more inclusive.

Does this law presume that the pronouncement of ‘talaq’ three times by the husband would actually imply divorce? Since, talaq-e-biddat has already been declared void by the Supreme Court, the answer is a resounding no.

Hence, the marriage remains valid, while the husband is sent to jail for three years.

Is the government assuming that after spending three years in prison, the husband will be a changed man, who will now be willing to live with his wife? Or does this legislation further deteriorate the condition of Muslim women by making them vulnerable without any substantial recourse?

Take a Cue from Congress

Lastly, the BJP should learn a lesson from the Congress party, which followed a comprehensive process to formulate the Hindu Code Bill. Between 1952 and 1956, the Hindu Code bill was passed in four separate segments after being modified by a committee under the chairmanship of Dr Ambedkar. 

The BJP may follow its agenda of ‘changing the Constitution’, however, under no circumstance should it be allowed to mess with the social fabric of our secular society. No one wants this nation to be referred to as the land of ‘Hindu extremists’.

(The writer is a public policy professional and tweets @prakharsingh5. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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