A Historic Day for Muslim Women

Dr. Jaipal Singh
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30 July 2019 can indeed be called a historic day because after over two years of socio-political battle and bickering over the abolition of the medieval and retrograde practice of triple talaq (divorce) prevalent in Muslim community in India, the Bill was finally passed by the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) of Indian Parliament to abolish the evil practice from the society. The Rajya Sabha passed it with 99 to 84 votes after a lengthy debate in which the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party and allies supported the legislation while the opposition Congress Party and many others opposed the bill on various imaginary grounds. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill had already been cleared last week by the Lower House (Lok Sabha) and now it will shortly become a law after the assent of the Indian President.

Scrapping of this evil and retrograde social practice could be counted as one of the major successes of the federal government in India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as they had to promulgate Ordinances on many occasions after failing to get the legislation through the Rajya Sabha during the last two years in the absence of requisite numbers in the Upper House. This feat was possible despite ruling party’s lack of majority mainly because of the walk out staged by some of the ruling alliance parties such as Janta Dal (United) and All India ADMK, who were reluctant to support bill, a few abstentions of both ruling and opposition and with the support of Biju Janta Dal from Odissa.

Under the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, now divorcing through instant triple talaq will be illegal, void and could attract a jail term upto three years for the erring husband. Besides, under the proposed law, the affected Muslim woman will be entitled to seek subsistence allowance from her husband for herself and also for dependent children. Besides, she will also be entitled to seek custody of her minor children. Prime Minister Modi hailed this as a victory of gender justice and a step towards further equality in society. Thanking all parties and Members of Parliament who supported its passage, he remarked:

"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!"

The oldest political party of India, the Indian National congress, has constantly opposed and voted against the bill on one or the other pretext. One of its official spokesmen, who is also a Supreme Court lawyer and senior leader, stated that their opposition was on two-three issues like criminalization of the talaq and the provision of support to Muslim women. According to him, such provisions were not at all necessary in the bill. Another prominent Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh described the passing of the bill as a historical mistake and "big jolt" to family laws in India.

As an aware and patriotic Indian, today I am indeed glad for the Muslim women of the country who have finally won a long battle against social inequality, discrimination and exploitation continued for centuries in the name a religious code. Earlier happiness and hope was short-lived when a constitutional bench comprising of five Supreme Court judges banned this controversial Islamic practice in a majority verdict on 22 August 2017. While arriving at the judgment, the Supreme Court had also taken cognizance of the fact that several Islamic countries (over 20 Muslim countries) including Islamic Pakistan do not allow triple talaq. Self-proclaimed champions of Muslims cause involving clergy, some Muslim organizations and politicians had opposed the judgment and some even openly threatened to defy it citing interference in religious matter.

Consequently, in just within few months after the Supreme Court verdict, over a hundred cases of the triple talaq were reported making a mockery of the Constitution and Supreme Court of India. Such cases were reported not only from the backward and unprivileged class but also from the so called educated and privileged class of Muslim society. For instance, a bizarre case of a high profile professor of the Aligarh Muslim University was reported to have given triple talaq to his wife on the social media Whatsapp through a text message. This necessitated a law on the subject and even the apex judiciary had to stress on such a need when some aggrieved parties approached them again.

Following these events, when the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was passed in the Lok Sabha with an overwhelming majority, it raised high hope of the good intentions and maturity of the political parties about their capability of taking right decisions jointly in the interest of the nation despite ideological differences and personal rivalries. This hope was, however, belied soon when the same opposition parties, mainly the Congress, created ruckus by opposing and stalling the bill in the Rajya Sabha within days to the cheers of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and other orthodox members of the Muslim community. Ever since the bill was stalled in the Rajya Sabha and the government had to rely on Presidential Ordinance time and again.

The successful passage of bill in the Rajya Sabha is a major victory to rejoice for the Muslim women, the present government and democracy in India. At the same time, it is sad to note that many of those who claim to be liberal and secular face of India are in fact fake and a shame on it in opposing a progressive law on the gender justice and equality in the country. The Supreme Court had declared the practice of instant triple talaq unconstitutional and a divorce pronounced by uttering talaq three times in one sitting void and illegal in August 2017. The earlier triple talaq bill lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha upon completion of its tenure in May 2019. So it is heartening to note that the uncertainty over this important issue is over and the passage of bill in the Parliament has brought a new dawn for the Muslim women in their long and sustained fight against the social injustice and gender inequality.

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