Clearing cobwebs in Muslim divorce practices

For a party that has been virtually devoid of Muslim voter support and has revelled in polarising Hindu voters in its favour, the BJP has indeed got a major boost with the instant triple talaq issue having caused an identifiable divide between Muslim men and women. But, there can be little doubt that with such an obnoxious practice as repeating the word ‘talaq’ thrice even by such means as a telephonic conversation, e-mail or SMS actually leading to divorce, outlawing such practice met the ends of justice and fair play. What came out glaringly was male chauvinism at its worst being perpetuated by Muslim priests.

It was therefore small wonder that the Supreme Court, by a majority judgement last August found ‘talaq-e-biddat’ or instant triple talaq unconstitutional and banned it. The BJP, in turn, was quick to see in this an opportunity to appropriate a share of the Muslim vote and the Congress, too, saw merit in supporting oppressed Muslim women to harness this section as a vote bank. The apex court judgment cited laws from 19 countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka among them) that have abolished the practice. Significantly, it was pointed out that instant triple talaq did not find a mention in the holy Quran and was by implication a creation of vested interests.

Traditionally, Islamic law was much more progressive. It had provision for termination of marriage where both husband and wife could dissolve it. It was considered an undesirable act, therefore, had an elaborate process where reconciliation, arbitration from both sides were encouraged. When a divorce was initiated by the husband over three sittings, it was called Talaq (divorce). Pronouncement could be verbal or written, and was only to be done once in the presence of two witnesses. If the wife initiated a divorce, it was known as Khul’a.

In any Islamic divorce procedure, there had to be a three-month waiting period, where reconciliation also existed as an option before the divorce was finalised. The husband was supposed to pay maintenance and alimony to the wife once the divorce was settled. All this changed with the introduction of instant triple talaq which found many takers among influential sections especially among the Mullahs. In the debate on the concerned Bill in the Lok Sabha, some apologists of the pernicious practice argued against criminal liability for offenders. Even some Congressmen did so. But, clearly, there can be no effective deterrence if there is no criminal liability fixed and the Narendra Modi government took the logical course in fixing such liability. When the Bill comes up before the Rajya Sabha, the powers-that-be must stick to the original provision of three years imprisonment for those who defy the law and not water it down to gain acceptance from vested interests.

While the basic spirit behind banning instant talaq is unexceptionable, the Modi government must not close its mind to certain well-meaning specific suggestions. The alimony from the husband in the case of divorce must be clearly provided for and it must be codified how the divorced woman and any children through her should be maintained when the husband is imprisoned for defying the provisions of the new law banning instant triple talaq. The ruling establishment must ponder how greater trust can be built into and a stronger sense of participation can be nurtured in the minority community. It is no secret that one of the avowed objectives of the BJP is to have a common civil code. If such a code is to be effected, the minorities must be an integral part of any consultation process.

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