The wronged women, those on the brink and the rest with the hideous prospect of being rendered unprotected any day cannot be left in the lurch any longer
The Bharatiya Janata Party has sent the right signal to women, feminists and humanists in general and Muslim women in particular by introducing the bill on talaq-e-biddat or triple talaq in the Lok Sabha on 28 December. The party is rightly projecting this as a human rights issue and not one of state interference in a religion of a section of the population. Being less subjected to mainstream education, a Muslim woman is more vulnerable in the event of her divorce, which may lead to halala wherein she has to get another husband and be divorced by this second man to come back to the first by Islamic means. This, in effect, has reduced many a woman to a prostitute, as rarely does the first husband embrace the once-divorced wife again. Such a wretched life of the woman cannot be allowed by the law to turn all the more miserable by an irresponsible pronouncement of “talaq” thrice, verbally or even via frivolous texting. As for religion, there are several Islamic states where this practice is banned. The ulema in the country would not sound convincing if they asserted that they were better Muslims than their counterparts in Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cyprus, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia and Turkey. Hence, they are cleverly evading this argument. And since the opposition does not wish to be seen as anti-women, they are coming to the aid of Muslim male chauvinists — who control the community’s vote-bank — by seeking refuge in a standing committee. The treasury benches cannot concede this demand; for sending the bill to the committee for a revision would mean withholding the law sine die, in the process also dishonouring the then chief justice, Justice JS Khehar’s order to legislate to this effect within six months, the countdown for which began in August this year when the verdict was delivered by the Supreme Court, declaring triple talaq unconstitutional. However, while the ruling party can get the enactment passed through the Lok Sabha, it will not enjoy a majority in the Rajya Sabha until the second half of 2018 to be able to turn the bill into a law.
A bone of contention of the opposition is criminality. If, after triple talaq becomes illegal, a man violates the law, how the opposition wants to see him punished is not clear. In the absence of a punitive measure, what happens to the deterrent value of the new law? Is it the case of the Indian National Congress and Biju Janata Dal that the law should be ineffective, or do they believe that Muslim men would wantonly violate the law in such large numbers that our jails would not be able to accommodate all of them? Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen’s Asaduddin Owaisi has resorted to a diversionary tactic by questioning why the government is not focussing on Hindu women abandoned by their husbands. This is a cliché apologists of Islamism employ, suppressing from their audience the fact that the civilised law of the land does not support wayward husbands of other faiths; they are Muslim men alone whose mediaeval Shari’ah law permits them to be callous towards the lives of their womenfolk. A uniform civil code that the Directive Principles of State Policy advocated should have settled the debate in favour of modernity and against obscurantism — irrespective of a citizen’s religion — long ago, but realising the goal of such an ideal regime is a subject matter of a different debate.
Since the state must function within the prevalent, unfair and unjust regime of separate laws for different religions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has sought a consensus on the issue, and his colleagues in the National Democratic Alliance will have to come up with a plan to be executed backstage to make a chunk of the opposition support the bill in the Upper House or abstain under any pretext. The wronged women, those who are on the brink and the rest that carry the hideous prospect of being rendered unprotected one fine day — because the law so far allows the husbands to be inhumanly arbitrary and whimsical — cannot be left in the lurch any longer.