Amid a raging debate for hours in the Rajya Sabha, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage), Bill, 2019, popularly called Triple Talaq Bill, was passed on Tuesday. In a massive victory for the Muslim women across the nation, the Bill was passed with a total of 99 votes in favour of it and 84 votes went against it.
This Bill criminalises the practice of instant divorce by Muslim men and seeks jail term for the guilty and proposes to protect the rights of married Muslim women and to prohibit divorce by pronouncing talaq by their husbands. It will be signed by President Ram Nath Kovind to make it an Act, in the next step. The Bill was passed in the House in the third attempt as it was twice sent back from Rajya Sabha.
The government, which does not have a majority in the Upper House, still managed to have smooth sailing for the bill because NDA constituents AIADMK, which has 11 members and JDU, with six, walked out after recording their opposition to the bill. MPs belonging to parties like YSRCP and TRS reportedly abstained from voting while NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel and some Congress members were absent.
The Congress, Trinamool Congress (TMC), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), DMK, CPI(M), PDP, TDP, and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) opposed the Bill.
The BJP along with the Shiv Sena, Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Republican Party of India (RPI), Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) supported the Bill.
The Bill makes all declaration of instant divorce, including in written or electronic form, to be void (not enforceable by law) and illegal. It defines talaq as talaq-e-biddat or any other similar form of talaq pronounced by a Muslim man resulting in instant and irrevocable divorce. Talaq-e-biddat refers to the practice under Muslim personal laws where pronouncement of the word ‘talaq’ thrice in one sitting by a Muslim man to his wife results in an instant and irrevocable divorce.
Soon after Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu was to take up the Bill for its passage, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the entire opposition was for the empowerment of women but as far as the Bill was concerned, the opposition parties wanted some modification. "This was the reason the opposition members moved some amendments. Our demand to refer the Bill to the Select Committee was rejected. We were expecting that the government would at least consider the opposition`s demand to remove the criminality clause in the Bill which provides to send the husband to jail for three years for pronouncing triple talaq. But this demand was also rejected. So, in compulsion, we will have to vote against the Bill," he said.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "You spoke a lot today, Ghulam Nabi Azadji. You (Congress) won 400 seats in 1986. There have been nine Lok Sabha elections after that. You did not get a majority in any of them. Think why did that happen? You were 44 in 2014, 52 today. In 1986 you rose to 400. Shah Bano`s case happened in 1986 and you never received a majority after that. I am giving you food for thought," he said.
The key features of the Bill are--a) Offence and penalty: The Bill makes a declaration of talaq a cognisable offence, attracting up to three years’ imprisonment with a fine. (A cognizable offence is one for which a police officer may arrest an accused person without warrant.) The offence will be cognizable only if information relating to the offence is given by: (i) the married woman (against whom talaq has been declared), or (ii) any person related to her by blood or marriage. The Bill provides that the Magistrate may grant bail to the accused. The bail may be granted only after hearing the woman (against whom talaq has been pronounced), and if the Magistrate is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for granting bail. The offence may be compounded by the Magistrate upon the request of the woman (against whom talaq has been declared). Compounding refers to the procedure where the two sides agree to stop legal proceedings, and settle the dispute. The terms and conditions of the compounding of the offence will be determined by the Magistrate; b) Allowance: A Muslim woman against whom talaq has been declared, is entitled to seek subsistence allowance from her husband for herself and for her dependent children. The amount of the allowance will be determined by the Magistrate; c) Custody: A Muslim woman against whom such talaq has been declared, is entitled to seek custody of her minor children. The manner of custody will be determined by the Magistrate. The Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Prasad saying that it should not be seen from the political prism or as vote bank politics. "It's an issue related to humanity...it is related to the dignity of the women...It is an issue of gender justice and equality," Prasad said while introducing the Bill.
Reacting on the passage of the Bill, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the decision saying that an archaic and medieval practice has finally been confined to the dustbin of history.
"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! I thank all parties and MPs who have supported the passage of The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 in both Houses of Parliament. They have risen to the occasion and this step of theirs will forever be remembered in India’s history. This is an occasion to salute the remarkable courage of those Muslim women who have suffered great wrongs just due to the practice of Triple Talaq. The abolition of Triple Talaq will contribute to women empowerment and give women the dignity they deserve in our society."
President Ram Nath Kovind said, "Passage in the Rajya Sabha of Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill completes Parliament's approval of a ban on the inequitable practice of triple talaq. A milestone in the quest for gender justice; a moment of satisfaction for the entire country."
Union Minister Amit Shah said, "Today is a great day for India’s democracy. I congratulate PM @narendramodi ji for fulfilling his commitment and ensuring a law to ban Triple Talaq, which will free Muslim women from the curse of this regressive practice. I thank all parties who supported this historic bill."
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "A historic day when the Rajya Sabha passed the #TripleTalaq Bill, earlier passed by Lok Sabha. Govt of PM @narendramodi has fulfilled its commitment by giving justice to Muslim women.
No more Talaq-Talaq-Talaq!"
The practice of triple talaq may be 1,400 years old but a number of Muslim countries have banned it. Saudi Arabia, considered the birthplace of Islam and known for being an extremely conservative country, has a ban on the practice. So does, Pakistan where it was banned when Muslim Family Law Ordinance was issued in 1961. Countries like Bangladesh, Malaysia, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Brunei, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Kuwait and Morocco too are among Muslim countries which frown upon the practice and have banned it. Interestingly, Egypt was the first country to ban the practice - way back in 1929. In Afghanistan, triple talaq is invalid if in only one sitting.