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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

‘Triple talaq bill not about religion’: Ravi Shankar Prasad

The law minister emphasised that the issue is part of BJP’s Sankalp Patra (election manifesto).

india Updated: Jun 28, 2019 08:57 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The minister maintained that the Modi government will not backtrack when it comes to social empowerment. (SANJEEV VERMA/ HT Photo)
The minister maintained that the Modi government will not backtrack when it comes to social empowerment. (SANJEEV VERMA/ HT Photo)

Union law and justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad spoke to Kumar Uttam about the triple talaq bill, which was introduced in Lok Sabha again this week. Edited excerpts:

Q. What was the urgency to bring the bill in the very beginning of the session?

Lok Sabha passed this bill twice. Certain concerns about who can complain, and provisions for bail and maintenance allowance were expressed when it was sent to Rajya Sabha for the first time. We addressed them and sent to the Rajya Sabha after making changes, but it lapsed. It is an important issue and part of our Sankalp Patra (election manifesto). What amazes me is the attitude of the Congress. It has nothing to do with religion, and purely a question about women’s dignity, empowerment and justice.

Q. What is the argument against it?

They say, once it has been declared as ‘bad’, what is the need for a law. From 2017 to May 31, 2019, 543 issues of triple talaq have been brought to our notice. Of them, 324 are after the Supreme Court judgment. Uttar Pradesh has recorded highest number with 201 cases. What should these women do? Should they frame the SC judgment and hang it in their home? They will go to police station and the police will say, ‘sorry, I don’t have power’. Then we came with a law and framed the ordinance. Thirty-one FIRs have come to our notice after the ordinance. This is what we could collect from different sources. ‘Why are you making it a criminal offence?’ is the second argument. Questions are asked how they [women] will feed their children. This is an escapist argument. Don’t Muslim men and mothers-in-law go to jail under the dowry protection law? For the Congress, led by a distinguished woman leader, to be ambiguous on the issue is shocking to say the least.

Also Read | NDA makes a point with triple talaq bill in House

Q. The accusation against you is that it is aimed at victimising Muslims to get support of Hindus.

This argument is unfair. This matter is in the public realm for more than three years. The Modi government will not backtrack when it comes to social empowerment. You must see women’s empowerment in a larger narrative – the ‘beti bachao beti padhao’ initiative, women being given the first chance to fly fighter planes, Indian women scientists playing a stellar role in Mangalyan, so many women colleagues getting important responsibility in the Cabinet, and rape laws being made tougher. Triple talaq should not be seen in isolation. Muslim women were suffering for so long.

No one is opposing triple talaq bill, but everyone is coming up with a ‘however’. This ‘however’ is vote bank politics. It is time the non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) political leadership must come out of that mentality and join the larger narrative of empowerment. If 22 Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have regulated triple talaq, why can’t India?

Q. Why are your allies such as the JD(U) opposing the bill?

We are separate parties. Surely, we will talk to them. Nitish Kumar is a great supporter of women’s empowerment and I am proud of some of his initiatives, such as giving reservation to women in panchayats. The larger issue is that polity of the country needs to speak in one voice on this issue. We need to forge a consensus in the country.

Q. How will this bill see the light of the day when you don’t have a majority in the Rajya Sabha?

Leave that to us.

Q. Even parties such as the BJD and the AIADMK have reservations.

The prime minister has gently reminded the Rajya Sabha that today we have got a massive mandate of the people and he rightly quoted an observation of Pranab Babu [former President Pranab Mukerjee] – ‘legislation is to propose and oppose but not to obstruct’. I have already taken many of the concerns on board. Let us take this argument about not making triple talaq a criminal offence. How will it work? The man will torture his wife with triple talaq, she will go to police station, and the husband will be called and released on bail because the offence is bailable and he will tell his wife ‘get lost’. Some degree of deterrence is inherent when you reform these social ills.

Q. Are you open to setting up a select committee of the Rajya Sabha to address these issues?

I have addressed all concerns. But let me tell you this, I am open for a free and fair discussion even now. But if a select or standing committee, though respectful institutions, become a plea of further delay, then it is a question to be considered. I want to know the logic behind this demand to make it non-punitive.

Q. Does that mean criminality part of the bill is a non-negotiable for the government?

The whole alibi of the law being taken out from the criminal purview is something which is not a very fair argument to make. I have told you how numbers are rising even after the Supreme Court judgment. My approach is purely social, because all the bodies that are supposed to be societal leaders of the community have failed to address it.

Q. There have been several ordinances on this matter because Parliament could not clear the bill. Will there be another ordinance if the Rajya Sabha does not pass it?

So long as the bill is not passed, the ordinance will be there. I cannot leave victims midway in the absence of a law. But, why should this be seen purely from the political prism? The only argument they are making is ‘please remove penal provision’. That means the victims should put a big frame of the Supreme Court judgment and thereafter a good frame of the toothless law passed by Parliament, and the errant husband continues to practice this sin boldly.

Q. Whom do you blame for the delay – the Congress or your allies?

Congress is an age-old party that ruled the country for more than 55 years, and has itself played a role in social transformative laws of the country. But, from Shah Bano to Shayara Bano, the Congress is stuck at the same position in spite of paying such a heavy political cost.