New Delhi: The government placed a fresh bill seeking to ban triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat) on Friday in the Lok Sabha. The Muslim Women’s Marriage Rights Protection Bill 2019 has been necessitated by the fact that, with the completion of the 16th Lok Sabha, the ordinance became ineffective, as did the previous bill that had not been approved by the Rajya Sabha.
This bill became the first legislation to be tabled in Parliament by the Narendra Modi dispensation in its second term, with Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserting the legislation was a must for gender equality and justice.
The bill was introduced following a division of votes, with 186 members supporting and 74 opposing it.
“This is not a question of religion but about justice to women,” Prasad said. Seeking to justify the need to bring in the legislation, Prasad said there were 543 cases of triple talaq reported in the country. After the Supreme Court judgement banning triple talaq practise, Prasad said more than 200 cases were reported. “This is a question of dignity of women and we are committed to (safeguard) it,” he said.
Prasad said the job of Parliament was to legislate and it was up to courts to interpret the law. As soon as Speaker Om Birla asked Prasad to move the bill, several opposition members rose in protest. Birla allowed them to put forth their point of view.
Shashi Tharoor of the Congress said he was opposed to triple talaq (instant divorce) but was against this bill as it conflates civil and criminal laws. He claimed it was a textbook example of class legislation as it was pointed at one community, Muslims, even though abandoning wives is not unique to it.
Tharoor said there should be a law universally applicable to all in case of abandoning wives.
Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM took a dig at the BJP, saying it has so much affection for Muslim women but is opposed to rights of Hindu women to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The triple talaq bill violated constitutional rights as it stipulates three-year jail term for guilty Muslim men while non-Muslim men get only one year of jail term for a similar offence, he said.
NK Premchandran of the RSP also opposed the bill.
The bill faced objections from opposition parties from the beginning which claimed that jail term for a man for divorcing his wife was legally untenable.
The new bill is a copy of the ordinance in force. Bills that are introduced in the Rajya Sabha and are pending there do not lapse with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. However, bills passed by the Lok Sabha and pending in the Rajya Sabha lapse with the dissolution of the lower house.
The government had promulgated the ordinance on triple talaq twice — in September 2018 and in February 2019 — as the contentious bill remained pending in the Rajya Sabha, though it was passed by the Lok Sabha.
As per the bill, divorcing through instant triple talaq is illegal, void and will attract a jail term of three years for the husband. Seeking to allay fears that the proposed law could be misused, the government has included certain safeguards in it such as adding a provision for bail for the accused during trial. These amendments were cleared by the Cabinet on 29 August 2018.
While giving triple talaq is a non-bailable offence as per the bill, an accused can approach a magistrate even before trial to seek bail.
In a non-bailable offence, bail cannot be granted by police at the police station itself. A provision was added to allow the magistrate to grant bail “after hearing the wife”.
NDA ally JD(U) is opposed to the bill, too. Speaking on the issue, the party’s spokesman KC Tyagi said, “The JD(U) reiterates its stand on issues such as the universal civil code. Our country stands on a delicate balance of laws for different religious communities. We believe that there is scope for a detailed discussion with various communities on the issue. In the absence of such a process, the age-old traditions associated with marriage, divorce, inheritance, legacy and property cannot be fiddled with in haste. We would not advise such a move.”