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7 January, 2018 11:04:11 AM

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Triple Talaq bill controversy

The Bill also contains a punitive provision wherein a man who pronounces talaq on his wife will be punished with a jail term and a fine
KUMKUM CHADHA
Triple Talaq bill controversy

History repeated itself in the Indian Parliament on more than one count in the winter session that concluded on a stormy note. Time came full circle when the Opposition stalled the Triple Talaq Bill that the BJP led government introduced in the Upper House of Indian Parliament earlier this week.  Last year, in its last week, the Government introduced The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 in the Lok Sabha.

The Bill makes instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat a punishable offence while declaring the pronouncement of talaq-e-biddat illegal.
According to the Bill, "Any pronouncement of talaq by a person upon his wife, by words, either spoken or written or in electronic form or in any other manner whatsoever, shall be void and illegal."
The Bill also contains a punitive provision wherein a  man who pronounces talaq on his wife will be punished with a jail term and a fine. It also makes the pronouncement of talaq-e-biddat a non-bailable offence.
While sending the errant husband to jail, the woman  upon whom talaq is pronounced will have to receive an allowance from her husband, and also retain the custody of her children.
The woman can seek the allowance for herself and her dependent children. A magistrate will decide on the amount of this allowance keeping in view the husband's income. Unlike most other criminal offences that come with a three-year sentence, the bill makes the offence cognizable. This means that a Muslim woman will not need to approach a court but the police  can straightaway arrest the man without a warrant. Also, the offence has been made a non-bailable offence which implies only the court - and not the police - can release the man on bail.

Defending the jail term, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the jail term had been incorporated in the provision because cases of instant divorce by Muslim men continued despite the top court’s ban. He claimed a woman in Rampur was given instant triple talaq by her husband for getting up late.

During the debate in the Lok Sabha, many opposition leaders asked the government to relook the jail term provision on grounds that it would not be possible for him to provide a subsistence allowance while serving a jail term. Congress member Sushmita Dev, for instance, asked the Law Minister if the government would create a corpus to help the victims.

“In law, you have to prove… guilty intention. If the husband says I had no intention but I was upset, I was angry, what happens then,” she asked.

The government allayed this fear by stating that courts were free to release the man on bail. Also, the magistrates have been given a free hand to send the man to jail for a shorter duration. The law does not specify a minimum jail term that those found guilty would have to serve.

The bill is a consequence of a judgment of the Supreme Court judgment in August 2017 in the case of Shayara Bano vs. Union of India. The apex court had set aside  instant talaq as a "manifestly arbitrary" practice.

The Bill found a safe passage in Lok Sabha while hitting a roadblock in Rajya Sabha where allegations and counter allegations were being levelled amid high decibel levels with ministers on their feet shouting down the Congress led Opposition.

The Bill got support in Lok Sabha and was passed by a voice vote after rejecting several  amendments moved by opposition members.

The Congress said it supported the bill but wanted it to be scrutinized by the Standing Committee of Parliament, a demand that was rejected.

Given the Congress’s stated support, the government was upbeat about its smooth passage in the Rajya Sabha where it does not have the numbers and is consequently Opposition dependent. It is here that the Bill has got stuck. The Congress, backed by major Opposition parties,  created a ruckus and insisted on the Bill being to a select committee of Parliament.

The Supreme Court had, in August, asked the government to frame a law within six months.

When Prasad had told the Lok Sabha that “We are going to create history. Today is the day to create history,” he spoke too soon. When he said that it is not about siyasat, politics, but insaniyat, humanity, he was underplaying the politics behind the legislation.  Else what prevented the Government, that is busy projecting itself as a champion for women’s right to push the women’s reservation Bill that has been pending since 2010.

The Women’s Reservation Bill managed an assent in the Rajya Sabha and hit a roadblock in the Lok Sabha when the BJP, the Left and some other parties came together with the ruling Congress to help pass it in the upper house.

The bill called for reserving 33% of the seats in the Lok Sabha and all state legislative assemblies for women. The UPA II government, in spite of having 262 seats in the Lok Sabha, too couldn’t make it happen because of their inability to get its coalition partners on board. Now with the BJP having a majority in Lok Sabha and the numbers to see the Bill through should substantiate its women welfare concern by getting the languishing Bill passed in the Lower House where it has been stuck: a point made by Congress leader Anand Sharma to media persons after the impasse in the House.

But the ghost of Shah Bano looms large and the Congress that claims to be with the Muslim women forget that it was their Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who backtracked on Shah Bano case and opposed a maintenance allowance and yielded to the Muslim fundamentalists for fear of its vote bank being adversely affected.

BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi made the point in Lok Sabha when she said that the Congress was opposed to an allowance of ₹125 in the Shah Bano case: “Our Muslim sisters and the country suffered. After a gap of 30 years, there is an opportunity to correct it,” she said.

Both the  Congress and the BJP are on a sticky wicket. The ghost of Shah Bano continues to haunt the Congress and even while its flagging its concern for victims of triple talaq, its words ring hollow. The truth of the matter is that it would want a watered down Bill and even while standing up against the practice of triple talaq it would want to go soft on real culprits namely Muslim men. A jail term, though welcome on the social justice plank, is certainly a vote diminisher and the Congress and also other pro Muslims parties can ill afford to lose the electoral support that has often come to their rescue. Overturning the court judgment was  a black day for the rights of Muslim women. Therefore when Congress today champions the cause of Muslim women it is on  a weak wicket and when it voices pleas that to go soft on Muslim men by either doing away or reducing their jail term,   history is repeating itself.

Neither can the BJP be absolved of the crime of playing politics. Heralding itself as a savior of Muslim women’s rights, it has a trick or two up its sleeve. The BJP does not have to worry about the Muslim vote because it has none. Post-Babri Masjid demolition no Muslim worth its salt will ever vote for the BJP so its vote bank as far as Muslims is concerned is a big zero. Yes by championing the cause of Muslim women on the bogey of abolishing triple talaq, it has created a gender divide and pitched the Muslim men against its women.  Today the women are looking towards the BJP as being the only party that has moved to do something for their welfare: a fact other political parties claimed but never went beyond lip service. Therefore, if anything, the BJP may stand to gain by getting a chunk of Muslim women vote. But more importantly, the jail term clause in the Bill can be a handy tool to harass and settle scores with the vocal men among the community and as the Opposition says “throw them in jail”.

As for scoring points, the BJP has been able to flag its intent and paint the Opposition black by going to town on its attempt to thwart a progressive legislation.

Politics apart, the jail term will certainly act as a deterrent and over a period of time provide the much needed relief to Muslim women from the tyranny of men.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)  

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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