Triple Talaq Bill passed: What does it mean for Muslim men and women? Why is it controversial?

A contentious bill that makes instant triple talaq a criminal offence and provides for a jail term to a Muslim man for the crime, was moved for passage in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

Moving the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 in the Upper House, Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the proposed legislation should be not seen through a political prism or vote bank politics, as it aims at ensuring gender dignity, justice and equality. "This issue should not be seen through a political prism or vote bank politics. This is a question of humanity. This is for ensuring justice to women, dignity and empowerment to women and to ensure gender dignity and equality," he said.

The passage of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill that makes instant triple talaq among Muslims a criminal offence with 99 votes in favour and 84 against was a major legislative success for the BJP-led NDA in the opposition-dominated Upper House where it lacks majority. The bill failed to pass the Rajya Sabha hurdle early this year during the first term of the Modi government though it was approved by the Lok Sabha.

The ruling alliance was helped by the absence of some members of the opposition Congress, SP and BSP as well as six members of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and two MPs of the YSR-Congress. Lok Sabha had passed the Bill last week and once it gets Presidential assent the practice of Muslim men instantly divorcing their wives by uttering 'talaq' thrice will become a criminal offence, punishable by a jail term of up to three years. The bill will replace an ordinance promulgated on February 21.

What does passing of bill mean?

Clearing misgivings of some members about the bill, the Law Minister said there is a provision that the wife can file FIR or a relation by blood or marriage and a magistrate can give bail to the husband upon hearing the wife. It has been hailed as a step in providing legal recourse to Muslim women from the practice of talaq-e-biddat, where a Muslim man could divorce his wife by uttering the word ‘talaq’ thrice. This was preceded by the Supreme Court judgment in 2017 where it had declared the practice “unconstitutional”.

During the course of the hearings, the Centre had told the bench that it would come out with a law to regulate marriage and divorce among Muslims if Triple Talaq is held invalid and unconstitutional by the apex court. A clause in the bill criminalises this practice, with a jail term of three years for the husband.

The triple talaq bill also makes declaration of talaq-e-biddat cognisable offence that gives a police officer powers to arrest the offender without requiring a warrant.

To check misuse of cognisable nature of the offence, the triple talaq bill makes declaration of talaq-e-biddat only if the complaint is filed by the aggrieved woman or any of her relation by blood or marriage. The accused under the triple talaq bill is entitled to bail, which can be granted by a magistrate. But the bail can be granted only after the magistrate has heard the aggrieved woman.

Why is it controversial?

This bill has had a roller-coaster ride in the parliament but unlike your mental state, this bill just might be settled once and for all.

The bill was introduced in the winter session of Lok Sabha back in December 2017. The bill was then passed through the Lok Sabha but faced heavy backlash in the Rajya Sabha where the opposition stood against the bill. Then, the bill was reintroduced with certain changes and was again passed by the Lok Sabha but this lapsed because the parliament was dissolved by the president on May 24, on account of the elections.

Once passed in the Rajya Sabha and granted assent by the President, the triple talaq bill will replace an ordinance promulgated last on February 21 to the same effect as the bill. The ordinance and the triple talaq bill follow a Supreme Court verdict of 2017 declaring talaq-e-biddat, commonly referred to as instant triple talaq, unconstitutional.

The triple talaq bill has been steeped in controversy ever since the previous Modi government tabled it in the Lok Sabha in December 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch for consensus in Parliament but the vehement opposition from the Opposition parties such as the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, AIMIM, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party stalled the bill in the Rajya Sabha where the ruling NDA has never enjoyed a majority.

The Opposition parties have argued that the triple talaq bill is redundant and the government is pushing it through only to use it as a tool to harass Muslim men.

Reactions after the Triple Talaq Bill was passed

As the Parliament cleared the triple talaq bill, Opposition lashed out at the BJP-led government. The Congress on Tuesday said there was no need to criminalise the practice which had already been struck down by the Supreme Court, while senior party leader Raj Babbar termed the bill's passage as a "historic mistake".

The Parliament approved the bill that makes instant triple talaq a criminal offence after the contentious legislation was passed by Rajya Sabha following non-aligned BJD extending support and NDA constituents JD-U and AIADMK walking out.

"We had fundamentally supported this bill. We also wanted amendment for the provision of support to Muslim women. Our opposition was on two-three issues. The Supreme Court had struck down triple talaq, you had also struck down down triple talaq through the law, then what is the need to criminalise an imaginary thing?" senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

"Triple talaq does not have any legal standpoint, then what was the need to criminalise it? Even if the woman does not want it, her relative can get the husband arrested. Bail will be very difficult... What is the relevance for this?" he told reporters outside Parliament.

Another Congress leader Raj Babbar described the passage of the bill as a "big jolt" to family laws in India. "A civil law has been changed into criminal law. This is a historic mistake," he said.

Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Kapil Sibal took a swipe at the parties and individuals who abstained during voting, saying it is sad to note that "those who claimed they oppose the bill and will vote against it, were not present in the House during voting". "One should ask them as to why they abstained. If they were not to come to the House during voting, why did they make tall claims that they will vote against the bill?" Sibal said.

Soon after the Rajya Sabha passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage), Bill, 2019, Mufti tweeted, "Fail to understand the need to pass the triple talaq bill especially since the Supreme Court had already declared it illegal. Undue interference seemingly to punish Muslims. Given the current state of the economy, should this really have been a priority?"

The Triple Talaq bill should be seen only as one part of many attacks on Muslim identity since the NDA government came to power in 2014, AIMIM president Asauddin Owaisi claimed Tuesday. "#TripleTalaqBill should be seen only as one part of many attacks on Muslim identity & citizenship since 2014. Mob violence, police atrocities & mass incarceration wont bog us down. With a firm belief in the Constitution, weve withstood oppression, injustices & denial of rights," he tweeted.

(Input from Agencies)

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