The government’s affidavit in the Supreme Court (SC) last week opposing triple talaq and polygamy among Muslims has triggered a controversy, with the All India Muslim Personnel Law Board (AIMPLB) and several Islamic bodies vowing to defend the practices. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad spoke to Kumar Uttam over the issue. Excerpts:
Why did the government take a stand against triple talaq?
There are three issues at the core of the government’s position … gender justice, non-discrimination and dignity of women. These principles are fundamental to our constitutional values. Article 14 of the Constitution talks about right to equality, Article 15 says there shall be no discrimination on the ground of sex. Article 21 guarantees right to live with dignity and Article 15(3) enables the state to make special provision for women and children. Against these principles, triple talaq cannot be justified. I salute the vision of the founding fathers. They gave voting rights to women, much before many western countries did.
How do you respond to the opposition from Muslim religious bodies?
India is secular. We cannot pass a law in Parliament to remove this principle or whittle down its import. Should in a secular country, like India, a big group of women be allowed to get into a vulnerable situation, only because of a particular community? The makers of India had said India won’t be a theocratic state. What is India? It was said the state will have no religion. Taxpayers’ money will not be used to promote a particular religion. But, there will be right to faith. Freedom of religion and right to faith will be respected. Faith and practices are different. Every discriminatory practice cannot be held integral to faith.
Does the government believe that time has come to regulate triple talaq in India?
Many Islamic countries have made provisions for arbitration and conciliation. You simply cannot say talaq, talaq, talaq. Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan have regulated their laws. We have taken a position if acknowledged Islamic countries have regulated their matrimonial laws, which have not been found violative of the Sharia, how can the same argument be raised in a secular country? If it can happen there then why not in India?
Why did the government take so much time to take a stand?
This case came up before the SC. Several women victims of triple talaq have filed cases. The court asked us to elaborate our stand and we have done it. There is no delay.
Is there a possibility of any review or reversal of the stand?
This is a well-thought-out view of the government in pursuit of gender equality and dignity of women.
Any plans to push for a uniform civil code?
The matter is with the law commission. I would not like to comment.