India’s lower house of parliament Thursday passed the hugely contentious bill that criminalises instant triple talaq and makes it punishable by up to three years imprisonment for the husband, a development opposed by a section of the opposition but hailed by the government as “historic” and “in favour of Muslims.”
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, news agency PTI reported.
The Congress said it supported the bill but wanted it to be scrutinised by the Standing Committee of Parliament, a demand that was rejected by the chair. The RJD and Samajwadi Party also backed the demand of referring the bill to the Standing Committee.
The bill will now be sent to the Rajya Sabha for passage before it is forwarded to the President for signing it into law.
Given the Congress’s stated support, the bill is likely to be passed by the Rajya Sabha, where the government lacks majority. However, the main opposition party may again insist on referring the legislation to the Standing Committee.
The Supreme Court had outlawed instant triple talaq in August and asked the government to frame a law within six months. Ending the controversial divorce practice was also the BJP’s electoral promise.
Acting swiftly, the BJP-led government not only introduced the bill today but also got it passed by the Lok Sabha by evening despite its consideration and passage not being part on the agenda.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who introduced the bill as part of the listed business, had requested her to allow it to be considered and passed today itself, and the request was granted.
“We are going to create history. Today is the day to create history,” Prasad said while introducing the bill.
He insisted the government did not intend to politicise the issue and the legislation was brought after taking a humanitarian view of it.
“This is not about siyasat (politics) but about insaniyat (humanity),” Prasad said.
“If it is a crime to bring a bill in the favour of Muslims then we will commit this crime 10 times,” he asserted.
Under the proposed law, instant triple talaq in any form –spoken, in writing or by electronic means such as email, SMS and WhatsApp — would be illegal and void.
The proposed law would be applicable to all states except Jammu and Kashmir. It would make instant talaq punishable by a jail term of upto three years and a fine, and would be a cognisable, non-bailable offence.
Members from RJD, AIMIM, BJD, AIADMK and All India Muslim League opposed the bill, saying it is arbitrary in nature and a faulty proposal.
E T Mohammed Basheer of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM alleged that through the bill the government was trying to bring in a Uniform Civil Code.
Owaisi said Parliament lacks the legislative competence to pass the law as it violated fundamental rights.
Taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Owaisi said that while the bill talks only about Muslim women being abandoned, the government should also worry about nearly 20 lakh women of various religions who are abandoned by their husbands, “including our bhabhi from Gujarat.”
Owaisi said through the law the government was trying to demonise Muslim men and claimed “vested interests” were behind the legislation.
“The minister is a normal lawyer but a pathetic and a failed draftsmen,” he said about Prasad.
B Mahtab (BJD) said while he would not talk about the merits of the bill, its framing was “faulty and “flawed”. He said if the proposed law makes the practice of instant triple talaq illegal and void, how can a person be jailed for pronouncing ‘talaq-e-biddat’.
Seeking to allay their concerns Prasad said it is wrong link instant triple talaq, the divorce practice which the Supreme Court struck down as illegal, with the Uniform Civil Code.
“Some are trying to spread fear that the bill is being brought to put Muslims behind the bars,” Prasad said.
Prasad cited instances of Karimul Haque, a tea labourer in Assam, who was awarded Padma Shree for ferrying patients on his “bike ambulance”, and Imran Khan, a Sanskrit teacher from Alwar in Rajasthan who was lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making mobile applications for students.
Not pacified, members of the BJD, AIMIM, Indian Union Muslim League staged a walk out.
Although Congress supported the bill, senior leader Salman Khurshid, a former law minister, said the proposed law is an intrusion into the personal lives of individuals, and would bring the civil issue of divorce into the realm of criminal law.
The Congress did not push for a division in the Lok Sabha on amendments moved by its MPs, nor did the party support any amendment sought by other opposition lawmakers.
Divorce and marriage comes under the concurrent list and both Parliament and state legislatures can enact laws on the subject.
In his speech, Prasad said despite the Supreme Court declaring instant triple talaq illegal, it was continuing.
He claimed that as recently as today, a woman in Rampur was given instant triple talaq by her husband for getting up late.