The Supreme Court banned the instant triple talaq, or the talaq-e-biddat on August 22. So, in effect, the instant talaq stood outlawed in India. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, passed by Lok Sabha on December 28, bolsters this by providing for three-years imprisonment as punishment for a Muslim man who uses the now-banned talaq-e-biddat to divorce his wife. While a hefty fine should have sufficed as deterrent—if that is the rationale behind legislating a jail term for violations—the government seems to have had the best interests of Muslim women in mind in drafting the law. But the question is, if the empowerment of the Muslim woman is the goal, does the Bill do the job?
Muslim women are allowed, as per the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, to seek divorce by approaching the court. A Muslim man, on the other hand, must turn to the clergy. Also, the talaq in Islam is unilateral—only the man can pronounce it. Even the so-called benign forms of talaq are not available to women. So, a Muslim man just has to wait for a period of three months, in keeping with the Sharia, instead of taking the triple talaq route, and he would have achieved the same ends—that is, had his marriage dissolved with the wife having no say in the matter. A true reforms Bill would have been one that relooked family laws in Islam and allowed both men and women a court-driven solution when it comes to divorce. So, the new Bill pays just lip service to both Muslim women and men. To be sure, there is a section of public opinion that argues that reforms in Islam in India must be organic and must come from the community. But, it is important to keep in mind that the government has a role to nudge communities on the path of reform, by forming enabling laws—many a reform in the Hindu society would have been half-baked had they not received support from policy. Some may argue that Muslim women will be better off if the Act is passed than they were before, but the fact is they would not have moved substantially ahead of where they were after the SC ruling.