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Only half the battle won

Statesman News Service |

To begin with, it needs no rocket scientist to conclude that the reprehensible practice of instant triple talaq is not far away from becoming a punishable offence after the Lok Sabha on December 28 passed this historic Bill by voice vote. The Bill expressly stipulates a jail sentence of up to three years for the guilty husband. The draft Bill says that, “Any pronouncement of talaq by a person upon his wife, by words either spoken or written or in electronic form or in any other manner whatsoever shall be void and illegal.”

The Bill makes the declaration of instant triple talaq a cognizable and non-bailable offence. Without a doubt, the Centre by making instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat a punishable offence has given a big boon to all those Muslim women who get adversely affected by it and suffer for no fault of theirs.

But the endless woes of women just don’t end by this. Polygamy or permission given under Muslim law for a man to marry up to four women is another much abused provision wherein it is the woman who is the worst sufferer. As if this is not enough, there is nikah halala also whereby if a Muslim man gives divorce to his wife and wants to marry her again, the woman is supposed to marry some other man, get a divorce from him and then marry her first husband.

Can anything be anything more atrocious than this? Still it is valid in India since last 70 years and has continued unabated, unpunished and unchecked. Arif Mohammad Khan who was Union minister in the late Rajiv Gandhi’s Cabinet has been most vocal in demanding the abolition of not just instant triple talaq but also nikah halala and polygamy. But he had to leave the Cabinet as his voice was not heard on this and he was overruled.

The Centre must now act on these two evils also just like Pandit Nehru very rightly banned Hindus from marrying more than once even though Lord Krishna had 16,108 wives. Shivaji too had many wives and it was very common for Hindus to marry as many women as they liked with no one to stop them. Hindus should never forget Nehru for this great favour that he did to them. Now similarly Mr Modi should have the guts like Nehru to favour Muslim women by abolishing the reprehensible practices which are retrograde and violate their dignity. No doubt, a good beginning has been made in this direction.

It is imperative to mention here that the Lok Sabha passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill by voice vote after rejecting a string of amendments moved by opposition members. The Congress said it supported the Bill but wanted it to be scrutinised by the Standing Committee of Parliament. But this demand was rejected by the Chair. MPs from the RJD, AIMIM, BJD, AIADMK and All India Muslim League opposed the Bill and called it arbitrary in nature and a faulty proposal. Eminent Union Minister MJ Akbar who is himself a Muslim said, “The law will give a big blow to those who want to keep women under the constant ‘fear and terror’ in the name of talaq”.

It must be mentioned here that Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had invoked the Shah Bano case at the BJP’s Parliamentary Party meeting on December 28 and had said that unlike Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister Modi would not bow down on triple talaq. He briefed the BJP MPs of the triple talaq legislation. He said that, “Rajiv Gandhi bowed down to the lobbies and left Shah Bano mid-way. Our PM will not let any injustice be done to Muslim women.” What Prasad said is laudable but I reiterate that government must now outlaw nikah halala and polygamy.

If polygamy is banned among Muslims, the dangerous trend of Hindus and people from other religions converting to Islam just for getting their second marriage validated would be checked. Thus two birds will be killed with one stone. The dangerous menace of “Love Jihad” can also be effectively checked.

But the moot question here is whether the Centre will show the requisite courage to act as it has done in the case of instant talaq or will it succumb to those who are big leaders but who never want Muslim women to truly become independent which alone explains why they oppose tooth and nail any change in Muslim personal laws.

To put things in perspective, while calling it a historic step the Union Law Minister said the Bill would act as a deterrent since there have been 100 cases of triple talaq even after the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court delivered in August this year. We all know that in the landmark case of Shayara Bano v Union of India, the Supreme Court has outlawed instant triple talaq and very rightly so.
Going forward, Mr Prasad made it a point to mention that while 22 Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have regulated instant triple talaq, there was no effective law in India. “The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill seeks to ensure the larger constitutional goals of gender justice and gender equality of married Muslim women and help subserve their fundamental rights of non-discrimination and empowerment.”

Clause 3 of the draft Bill stipulates that instant triple talaq in any form shall be void and illegal. Clause 4 mentions that husband giving triple talaq will serve a jail term of up to three years and pay a fine. Mr A Sampath of CPM asked, “Why is there no mention of the maximum quantum of fine in the Bill?” This is because the judge has then the discretion to impose fine seeing the financial condition of the man.
Clause 5 envisages that a married Muslim woman shall be entitled to alimony. Sushmita Dev of Congress on this asked, “Who will give the maintenance if the husband goes to jail?” All these questions must be addressed before it is finally made a law. The amount of the allowance will be decided by a first class Magistrate.

Shaista Amber who is All India Muslim Woman Personal Law Board President hailed the Bill saying that, “I thank Allah, the government, the Supreme Court, Law Commission and all MPs”. Taking a dig at those opposing the Bill, she asked what they had done for the rights of Muslim women. Shayara Bano who led the fight to ban instant triple talaq too expressed happiness but added a rider that, “After triple talaq, even other practices such as polygamy and nikah halala should be banned in our society. The way in which women are tortured in the name of these ill-practices should be stopped”.

Shayara Bano also said, “I will once again file a petition to ban polygamy and nikah halala in the top court. I will continue my fight against ill-practices among the Muslim community. These types of practices should be abolished from the Indian society for the development of our country.”

After she filed the petition against instant triple talaq, thousands of Muslim women across the country came together to join her. Shayara has shown that any person can change the system if there is determination and will power to do so even if he/she comes from an ordinary family with a humble background. Kudos to her as she deserves all the laurels for prompting even the Supreme Court and Centre to act positively in this regard.

Eminent jurist and former Attorney General Soli J Sorabjee very rightly appealed not to bring religion into the triple talaq Bill. He elegantly said that, “It’s a very good move that requires legislation. Don’t bring religion into it as the whole thrust of the legislation is to ensure gender equality and to see women are not treated in an arbitrary manner.” He also said that the Bill was being opposed by vested interests and that the legislation would ensure gender equality.

Muslim women must hope that the Bill gets cleared by the Rajya Sabha soon and becomes law. But the battle is far from over as other pernicious practices too must be done away with.