The bill banning, and rather criminalising the civil act of, what is called, ‘instant triple talaq’ has made its way through the Lok Sabha, quite obviously since the NDA has an overwhelming majority. The Bill was introduced, debated upon and passed in a single day amid BJP’s brute majority, but there is no smooth road in Rajya Sabha. After all the hasty passing slays down the essence of Indian Constitution and democracy.
On Thursday, 29th December 2017, the Lok Sabha gave an instant nod to the instant talaq bill which criminalises the instant divorce practiced by Muslim men and can land them straight into jail for three years. Called as the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, it is rather a bill that has been hastily written down and passed over in some sort of urgency that we may expect in passing a bill for brutal acts like rape, murder and violence – which essentially are actually criminal activities. With a brute majority in the Lok Sabha, the BJP bulldozed the Bill, calling it historic and that it will support and empower Indian Muslim women, who are themselves a minority in the minority community as a whole. What takes days to introduced, months in debate and review, and rather years to pass a Bill in the Lower House, was done in a single day. But, the road for this bill is rather bumpy in the Rajya Sabha.
The government is likely to present the triple talaq bill in Rajya Sabha on January 2, 2018, when the Parliament will meet up in a new year, and providentially BJP has no majority in the Upper House. Both BJP and Congress have 57 members each in the Upper House, around 75-odd members from belonging to regional parties and the Left are likely to go along with the Congress. While Congress says that it supports the idea of controlling the practice of instant triple talaq, the party is against the issue of penal provision that says a man may have to undergo three years’ imprisonment and fined for giving instant triple talaq, especially in such a hurry. Apart from Congress, the left parties like CPM, CPI, SP, BSP, RJD and NCP too want the bill to be discussed and reviewed at length, in detail and not in a rush.
However, the rushed nod to the Muslim Women Bill in Lok Sabha passes a strong message and an array of unasked questions. First and the most foremost one, if a civil act like divorce practiced by a specific community is so urgent, isn’t is also essential that the Lok Sabha passes a legislation on marital rape in a similar, unilateral manner? There are many, many changes required in criminal laws addressing punishment for rapists, murderers and offenders. Next, shouldn’t the bill be discussed publicly, as it should in a democracy? Rather, it was just delivered unilaterally by law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who handed over the bill to members of Parliament to pass – without prior discussion, not even in the media. Isn’t it total disregard of the essence of democracy?
Then, as per Indian Constitution frameworks, there is a major difference between civil law and criminal law – we literally have two separate courts for both these laws, that isn’t a line of difference clear enough? As per this framework, only the acts that cause injury or harm to others – like murder, rape, theft and assault constitute criminal law. Marriage and divorce fall under civil law, even for the Muslim community – surprise! So it is quite logical to let the something like divorce stay under the provisions of Indian Civil Law. Because we have seen instances in past, in large scale, when civil acts were criminalised and misused; for example, the anti-dowry act under Section 498A.
Last, this bill prevents any reconciliation between the couples – by jailing the husband for three years; as a matter of fact, reconciliation should be the core purpose of an act provisioned for divorce. It remains to be seen how these men will pay maintenance and fine from inside the jail. At the best, it all looks like the government’s concern in nurturing the issue of triple talaq to energise the right-wing voters. It suits the party, and nurtures the intellectual form of communal hatred among the citizens of India. A tweet posted by Smita Dikshit, a legal counsel, perfectly reveals a lot. The tweet says, “Men need to go to prison. If Muslim men go, it’s better.”