Nearly two years after the Supreme Court set aside the centuries-old practice of instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat calling it un-Islamic, arbitrary and not an integral part of religious practice, The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 got the stamp of Parliament when it was cleared by Rajya Sabha Tuesday, five days after it got the nod from Lok Sabha.
The passage of the triple talaq Bill is a major win for the government given that ruling NDA lacks numbers in Rajya Sabha — it has 107 members in the 245-member House where four seats are currently vacant. The Bill was passed with 99 votes in favour and 84 opposed after BJD came out in support, ally JD (U) and AIADMK walked out while the Opposition BSP, TDP and TRS did a no-show.
A motion by CPM member Elamaram Kareem to refer the Bill to a Select Committee was defeated 84-100. An amendment moved by Congress member Digvijaya Singh to remove the penal provision in the Bill too was defeated 84-100.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, taking to Twitter, hailed the passage of the Bill: “An archaic and medieval practice has finally been confined to the dustbin of history! Parliament abolishes Triple Talaq and corrects a historical wrong done to Muslim women. This is a victory of gender justice and will further equality in society. India rejoices today!” “I thank all parties and MPs who have supported the passage of The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 in both Houses of Parliament. They have risen to the occasion and this step of theirs will forever be remembered in India’s history,” he said.
This was a second setback for the Opposition in a week — its attempt to force referral of The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019 to a Select Committee had failed last week.
The 10 Opposition parties which regularly meet — Congress, Trinamool Congress, AAP, CPM, CPI, DMK, Muslim League, Kerala Congress (M), RJD and SP — have 93 members. But they managed to get only 84 which means many of their members were absent. While participating in the debate, the AIADMK opposed the Bill and demanded that it be sent to a Select Committee, but dramatically staged a walkout hours before the motion was put to vote. Opposition benches too were not full.
For instance, top NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel were not present in the House when the voting took place. Only two of the NCP members were present. Some of the SP members were missing. The BJD supported the Bill with reservations.
Introducing the Bill, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad called it a historic day. The law, he said, follows from the Supreme Court judgment of 2017 declaring instant triple talaq unconstitutional but even after that, according to newspaper reports, 574 cases of instant triple talaq have come to light.
“I want to ask this House, should we tell the women of this country that there is a judgment but we are not acting on it? That is why we have brought this Bill. Because the law is a deterrence. There were some misgivings… people said that it is possible a neighbour files an FIR, so we made changes that allow only the woman or her blood relative to lodge an FIR. We have made a provision that this is compoundable. At the instance of the wife, a magistrate can do it… magistrate can give bail upon appropriate condition after hearing the wife… we have kept provisions for bail, for compromise and for subsistence allowance,” he said.
It is a matter of gender justice, gender dignity and gender equality, Prasad said. Among the frivolous reasons for which instant triple talaq has been given, he said, are things like a roti gone wrong or because the wife asked for money to buy vegetables.
The Opposition’s main objection to the Bill was declaration of talaq as a cognizable offence, attracting up to three years imprisonment with a fine. Speaker after speaker referred to it, saying that a Muslim woman who has been given triple talaq and her children would be left in the lurch if the husband is sent to jail. In his reply, Prasad said many personal laws like the Hindu Marriage Act and Dowry Prohibition Act have penal provisions. He said cruelty against wife is also a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code.
Since the Supreme Court judgment on August 22, 2017, this is the first time the Bill has been put to vote in Rajya Sabha. In 2018, when the Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha, the Opposition had moved for a Select Committee reference but the House was adjourned before voting could take place after treasury benches trooped to the well and started raising slogans. Lok Sabha though discussed the Bill/Ordinance thrice. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Ordinance, 2019 was promulgated for the third time on January 12, 2019.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, in his brief intervention, accused the government of attempting to finish the Muslim community by bringing this Bill. “This Bill is called The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill. It is a misnomer. In my view, the real intention is destruction of Muslim families,” he said. “If Muslims are killed by mob lynching, there are law and order implications. But here you are trying to burn Muslim households with the lamp of their own house… so nobody will have any problem,” Azad said. He said the changes brought by the government in the Bill were cosmetic.
In her speech, Congress MP Amee Yagnik questioned the rationale of making the violation of a civil contract, as marriage is in Islamic law, a criminal offence, forcing the woman to make the rounds of a criminal court alongside hardcore criminals. “Why is this government not worried about all women of this country? Eighty-two per cent of the women face desertion. I will give you the latest example I had in Gujarat. A mother has come to me whose daughter has been abandoned by her husband. That is across caste, across class and not only in India but in NRI marriages also… I am talking of a Hindu community in Gujarat, coming from Surat.”
Speaking for JD(U), Bashistha Narain Singh said that Bills like talaq-e-biddat take long social movements to end, not just through one law. Following his brief speech, his party MPs walked out.
Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi listed the pro-women initiatives of the NDA government. However his mention of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao was met with cries of “Unnao” from the Opposition benches — a reference to the Unnao rape victim being seriously injured in a road accident.