Parliament clears Triple Talaq bill amidst high drama, activists raise key concerns

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: July 31, 2019
On Tuesday, July 30, the Rajya Sabha or upper house of the Indian Parliament gave its nod to the controversial Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019. This bill has already been cleared by the Lok Sabha or lower house and now just needs Presidential assent before being formally considered an Act.

Triple talaq
 
But the passage of this bill that primarily concerns itself with the criminalisation of the practice of Triple Talaq was not devoid of drama. If the Lok Sabha saw Hyderabad MP Asauddin Owaisi showcasing exactly how the bill actually did very little for the women it hopes to protect, there was a walkout by BJP allies JD (U) and AIADMK when the bill was presented before the Rajya Sabha. While there were 99 votes in favour, there were 84 votes against the passage of the bill.
 
Curiously, 5 Congress MPs abstained from voting despite being issued a whip by none other than Congress Parliamentary Party leader Sonia Gandhi. In fact, poor floor management by a disunited opposition appears to be as much to blame for the passage of the bill as the determination of the regime to further is divisive and openly anti-minority agenda.
 
Key criticisms of the bill can be summarised as follows:
 
  •          The bill fails to take into account the plight of the woman who will be forced to depend on her potentially vindictive in-laws while her husband serves his jail sentence
  •          While the bill has a provision for payment of subsistence allowance (amount to be determined by a Magistrate) for herself and her children, it fails to realise that the husband who is expected to pay the allowance will be incarcerated and therefore unlikely to be able to pay the said allowance
  •          When it comes to all other religions, marriage and divorce are treated as a civil matter, but only Muslim personal law provisions are being bent to turn divorce into a criminal matter
  •          The provision to criminalise divorce can be used against Muslim men to target them
 
Now, several activists and civil society groups, including Bebaak Collective, a group that had backed Shayara Bano in her historic case against Talaq-e-Biddat in the Supreme Court, have come together to highlight how this law can be misused to target minorities. The activists have released a statement in which they say, “We the undersigned groups and individuals condemn the government’s attempt to criminalize Muslim men in the guise of protecting Muslim women.”
 
The statement further questions the rationale behind criminalising triple talaq despite the Supreme Court ruling the practice to be void in law. “After the Supreme Court in 2017 already made the pronouncement of talaq in a single setting void in law, it is an absurdity to make a person uttering it criminally liable, facing 3 years of imprisonment,” says the statement.
 
Activists also raise key questions about the plight of the aggrieved woman saying, “Imprisoning the husband for three years, leaves the aggrieved complainant at the mercy of her matrimonial family, liable to turn hostile and vengeful towards the wife for putting him behind the bars. Her financial security and that of her children is of no concern in this bill.”
 
The entire statement may be read below:
 
CONDEMNING THE MUSLIM WOMEN (PROTECTION OF RIGHTS ON MARRIAGE) BILL, 2019
 
Statement by Civil Society Groups
 
We the undersigned groups and individuals condemn the government’s attempt to criminalize Muslim men in the guise of protecting Muslim women. We stand today in strong opposition to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Bill, 2019 which has been pushed through the Rajya Sabha in great haste by this government. Why was it not sent to a select committee? We shall petition the Honorable President to not sign it into law.
 
At a time when all right-thinking Indians are alarmed at the daily barbaric acts of lynching of Muslims and the impunity to the perpetrators being provided by the government, this bill is a complete charade. You cannot pretend to save Muslim women, while seeking to bring the Muslim community to its knees.
 
After the Supreme Court in 2017 already made the pronouncement of talaq in a single setting void in law, it is an absurdity to make a person uttering it criminally liable, facing 3 years of imprisonment.. Does this bill really care about Muslim women’s access to justice? Imprisoning the husband for three years, leaves the aggrieved complainant at the mercy of her matrimonial family, liable to turn hostile and vengeful towards the wife for putting him behind the bars. Her financial security and that of her children is of no concern in this bill.
 
Personal laws of all community are civil matters, not criminal matters. This is the first time in the history of India, that we are witnessing criminal provisions in matters of marriage and divorce. In its intent and target, it is clear that this is not a pro-woman but an anti-minority bill.
 
We further condemn the utterly ineffective floor management of the opposition parties. The time opposition leaders have spent in making passionate speeches against this bill would have been better spent in reaching out to all parties and ensuring their presence for this vote. This is not the kind of opposition that many Indians voted for, and we deserve and demand better. We urge the opposition to stand up to its constitutional duty and protect Indian democracy that is being eroded by the day, with the number of anti-people legislation that is being passed by the government.
 
Signed:
Bebaak Collective
Farah Naqvi, Writer, and Activist, Delhi
Parwaaz, Gujrat
Sahiyar, Gujrat
Muniza Khan, Banaras
Hameeda Khatoon, Lucknow