Four months after the Supreme Court set aside the centuries-old practice of talaq-e-biddat or instant triple talaq, The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Bill, outlawing talaq-e-biddat, was passed by Lok Sabha on Thursday with law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad hailing it, saying “we are making history today”. The proposed law, which makes talaq-e-biddat a cognisable and non-bailable offence, has provisions for a three-year jail term and fine for any Muslim man who divorces his wife by uttering talaq three times in quick succession. It also deals with subsistence allowance for Muslim women and custody of minor children. Overruling demands by several Opposition parties to refer the Bill to a standing committee for wider consultation, Prasad said the government views the Bill not through the lens of “siyasat” (politics) but “insaniyat” (humanity). When the Bill was introduced in the House on Thursday, parties like the RJD, AIMIM, BJD, Indian Union Muslim League and AIADMK objected. The Congress did not oppose the introduction of the Bill and supported it but sought strengthened safeguards for divorced Muslim women. Initially, the Bill was only listed for introduction but the government managed to get it discussed and passed since the Opposition did not put up a united front. Some Opposition members did protest, saying they have not been given enough time to file amendments. Although the Bill was brought after the Supreme Court’s verdict, the issue of triple talaq has been high on the BJP list of priorities for some time. It was made an election issue by the BJP during the Uttar Pradesh assembly campaign earlier this year. It also figured in the BJP’s Gujarat campaign. The nearly five-hour debate saw Opposition members questioning the motive of the government, suggesting that it was an attempt to paint in poor light the entire Muslim community. Prasad told those opposing the Bill that “yeh kanoon na kisi puja ka hai, na prarthana ka hai, na ibadat ka hai, na majhab ka hai, yeh kanoon naari nyay, naari garima aur naari samman ka hai” (this is not a law for any prayer or religion but it is for justice to women, their dignity). The Opposition’s main contention was regarding the criminal clause in the Bill. The Congress, though it pointed out “flaws” in the Bill, chose not to vote against it or block its introduction. The Congress did not give notice to raise an objection to introduction of the Bill, but its floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge stood up to protest that they were not being given a chance to speak. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan reminded him that no prior notice was given to her to convey that Congress members want to speak. The unease in the Congress over the decision to support the Bill was apparent. Former law minister Salman Khurshid said the proposed law will be an “intrusion” into the personal lives of individuals. “Taking criminal law into the family, you have to be careful. To make divorce in any form a criminal matter is unacceptable anywhere in the world,” he said. The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, a staunch opponent of the BJP, also did not participate in the discussion. In contrast, BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab objected to introduction of the Bill, saying its framing was “faulty and “flawed”. And so did RJD’s Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav, AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi, Muslim League’s E T Mohammed Basheer and AIADMK’s A Anwhar Raajhaa.
CPM members staged a walkout just before the Bill was introduced to protest not being given a chance to speak. Mahajan said she was allowing all those who had served notice to present their point before the minister introduced the Bill. The empty Opposition benches at the time of passage of the Bill showed that there was no whip issued. In contrast, the treasury benches were almost fully occupied. Owaisi, CPM’s A Sampath, RSP’s N K Premachandran and Congress’s Sushmita Dev and Adhir Ranjan Choudhary had moved amendments. The amendments, pressed for division, failed miserably with support only in single digits, suggesting the disarray in the Opposition ranks. Of the 64 women MPs in Lok Sabha, only three — Sushmita Dev (Congress), Meenakshi Lekhi (BJP) and Supriya Sule (NCP) — spoke on the Bill while the remaining speakers were all male MPs. Replying to the debate before the Bill was passed, Prasad reminded the House that it was going to script history. He said how can the Parliament can remain silent if the fundamental rights of women were being trampled upon. He said the legislation was not aimed against any religion but was framed to provide a sense of justice, security and honour to women. The government drafted the Bill after the Supreme Court, in a landmark 3-2 verdict on August 22, set aside the practice of talaq-e-biddat. Three of five judges on the Constitution Bench — Justices Rohinton F Nariman, Uday U Lalit and Kurian Joseph — called the practice un-Islamic and “arbitrary” and disagreed with the view that triple talaq was an integral part of religious practice. But the minority ruling of then Chief Justice of India J S Khehar and Justice S Abdul Nazeer, while underlining the primacy of Muslim personal law, said the practice enjoyed constitutional protection and was beyond the scope of judicial scrutiny. They were of the view that Parliament should consider an “appropriate” law to deal with the issue of talaq-e-biddat. Following the verdict, the government decided to draft a law.