As parties milk the issue of triple talaq, a unanimous decision remains far-fetched. Ultimately, Muslim women are the worst sufferers
With the Lok Sabha passing the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill last week, the issue of triple talaq has, once again, held centrestage in Parliament. While the amended Bill could pass the immediate hurdle in the Lower House, it should be passed by Parliament within 42 days (six weeks), else it will lapse. It was also most expected that the Bill would face stiff opposition in the Rajya Sabha where the ruling party does not have the numbers. In all probability, the Bill may not see the light of day due to a number of factors. While the Opposition has been adamant to send the Bill to a joint select committee for greater scrutiny, the BJP has been rejecting its demand. A consensus, therefore, seems to be elusive. Both sides are eyeing on vote-bank politics.
The Modi Government has sent a political signal by pushing the legislation in the House of Representatives. The Parliament witnessed a similar kind of drama during last year’s Winter Session when the Lok Sabha passed the Bill in December, 2017 and the Rajya Sabha blocked it. A revised Bill was drafted after the first one got stalled in January. Opposition members had suggested some changes to the Bill. Political parties remain in a quandary. As Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad pointed out in the Lok Sabha, “What is this dichotomy? No one in this House said that he/she supports triple talaq. Yet, they (Opposition) oppose the very Bill that outlaws this condemnable practice.” While no party wants to appear to be siding with injustice to Muslim women, they want the votes of Muslim men. The Bill comes close on the heels of a Supreme Court judgement last year in August where it declared talaq-e-biddat as illegal. The Union Law Minister, too, claimed that cases of instant triple talaq have been reported despite the apex court declaring it illegal. Over a 100 cases were registered since the top court’s verdict and, hence, the need for a legislation.
Stringent opposition to the Bill in the form of walkouts, allegations and counter-allegations were witnessed in the Lok Sabha. Speeches of both, the Opposition and the ruling party, were on expected lines and were in tune with their party’s affiliation. The divide became clearer when during a Lok Sabha debate, few parties in the Opposition, including the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Telugu Desam Party, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Indian Union Muslim League and Biju Janata Dal, besides the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), demanded that the Bill be sent to a joint select committee. The BJP had the support of its allies, the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal to push the Bill in the Lower House.
While the Opposition alleged that the Bill was passed by the ruling party for political gains, the latter accused the former of stalling the Bill exactly for the same reason. This despite the fact that the Government has improved upon the earlier Bill and also incorporated a number of suggestions made by various groups. The Opposition pointed out that the Bill criminalises an essentially civil matter by stating that once the husband goes to jail, all possibilities of reconciliation will end. The BJP, on the other hand, has refused to send the Bill to a select committee on the ground that it will further delay an important legislation that can ensure the rights of married Muslim women. This is sure to give the Government an electoral advantage.
As regards the complexity of the issue, it is pure politics to garner Muslim votes. The saffron party is looking for incremental votes it might need in the General Election. First, Muslims have a decisive presence in 90 districts, 100 Lok Sabha constituencies and 720 Assembly seats in the country. Second, the BJP would like to divide the Muslim votes. The party has put the Congress and other Opposition parties, which do not want to antagonise the Muslims, in a catch-22 situation by forcing a reform through the triple talaq Bill. The Opposition conveniently prefers the matter to be dealt with by the community internally.
Undoubtedly, the ideal way forward would have been if both houses of Parliament would have passed the Bill unanimously. But with elections round the corner, this looks far-fetched. Either way, it is a win-win situation for the BJP. If the Bill were to be passed, the Government would tom-tom its success. If the Opposition blocks its passage, the ruling dispensation would brand the Opposition as ‘pseudo-secular’ and ‘real enemies’ of Muslim women. Ultimate sufferers are the Muslim women who continue to face the barbaric provisions of triple talaq. It is also a fact that abolition of the triple talaq practice alone will not mean empowerment. Muslim women also need better health, education and job facilities.
(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)