Instant talaq a criminal offence after Rajya Sabha nod
The passage of the triple talaq bill, which would make the practice a penal offence for the husband, after the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill was cleared four days ago, shows that the Opposition’s ability to stall or defeat bills or have them referred to parliamentary committees has greatly diminished.Updated: Jul 31, 2019 00:06 IST
The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed a bill to outlaw talaq-e-biddat, the Muslim practice of instant divorce by uttering the word “talaq” thrice, the second key legislation to have been passed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in less than a week despite being in minority in the upper house.
An Opposition-sponsored motion to send the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, informally known as the “triple talaq bill”, to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha was put to vote. It was defeated 99 to 84. A select committee is a parliamentary panel of MPs across parties, where the Opposition can examine a draft law at length and suggest changes.
The passage of the triple talaq bill, which would make the practice a penal offence for the husband, after the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill was cleared four days ago, shows that the Opposition’s ability to stall or defeat bills or have them referred to parliamentary committees has greatly diminished.
Since only 193 MPs voted, it’s clear that a large number of MPs chose to skip the voting, helping clear the bill. The Rajya Sabha has a total current strength of 241. The Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party had not issued whips to its MPs that would have made it mandatory for them to be present during the vote.
The Lok Sabha passed the triple talaq bill on July 12. The President will now sign it into law.
“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,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter.
The Bill, passed in last year’s winter session of Parliament in December, ceased to exist as the Rajya Sabha did not clear it before the Lok Sabha was dissolved. It was brought afresh by the Modi government during the current session.
A key reason for the government’s greater clout has been due to a change in the upper house’s composition, with the BJP adding more Rajya Sabha members in recent months, taking the National Democratic Alliance tally to 112 in a 241-member house. It is still shy of a majority, for which its strength needs to be 121. The total capacity of the house is 245, which means there are four vacancies currently.
The BJP has been also able to get some fence-sitting regional parties, such as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), on its side. The YSR Congress Party and Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which voted in favour of the government on the RTI bill, helped the ruling side on the triple talaq bill too by not being present in the House during the vote.
A key NDA constituent, the Janata Dal (United), walked out, helping the government by bringing down the total strength present and voting and therefore the required majority to pass a bill.
According to Opposition leaders, all four of BSP’s MPs, seven from the Samajwadi Party, two from the NCP as well as both MPs of the Telegu Desam Party skipped the voting. The Peoples Democratic Party said its two MPs had abstained from voting.
Several Opposition parties, including the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party, voiced concerns over the bill during a raucous debate.
Their main arguments were that since Muslim marriage is a civil contract, there is no need to make instant triple talaq a punishable crime.
The bill makes instant talaq a cognizable offence, with provisions for up to three years’ imprisonment, along with a fine. Although it stands to be a bailable offence, the bail may be granted only after hearing the wife. A cognizable offence is one for which a police officer may arrest an accused person without a warrant.
The Opposition said a key inconsistency in the bill is that jailing the offender, in this case the husband, would render him incapable of providing living expenses to the wife or their children during his imprisonment, as is required under the bill itself.
Since the Supreme Court had already invalidated triple talaq, the Opposition said, the question of maintenance did not arise, since the marriage remained intact.
“Why criminalise a civil matter? The government only made cosmetic changes to our suggestions. We had raised two main issues,” Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
“Why only subsistence allowance? During the period of imprisonment of the offending husband, we wanted the government to take care of the welfare of children. The law minister had told us the government would not pay a single penny,” Azad added.
Quoting the 19th century British political philosopher John Stuart Mill, lawmaker Javed Ali Khan of the SP said that without absolute necessity, nothing ought to be treated as a punishable crime.
The NCP’s Majid Memon said: “What are you going to punish the man for? Since the Supreme Court has invalidated triple talaq, the marriage continues to exist; the wife remain where she was, the marriage continues.”
Pointing out what he called a lacuna, Memon said the bill provided for maintenance, which, under Indian law, could be granted only upon dissolution of a marriage.
To the Opposition’s contention that while banning triple talaq, the Supreme Court did not ask it to be made a punishable offence, law minister Ravi Shakar Prasad said: “I want to clearly assert this House doesn’t need the mandate of the Supreme Court to pass any law.”
“If Arabic and Islamic countries can bring a change, why can’t we?” Prasad asked, referring to several Muslim countries putting limits to the practice of instant talaq.
Tearing into the Congress, Prasad said that while the Congress brought laws to criminalise dowry and brought various laws to empower women, it developed cold feet when it came to issue of Muslim women.
He brought up the issue of the Shah Bano case of the 1980s, when the then Rajiv Gandhi government brought a law to overturn a Supreme Court verdict that ordered maintenance to a Muslim woman. It did so after a backlash from Muslim conservatives, who said the court had interfered with Muslim personal laws, which they said enjoyed constitutional protection.
“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,” home minister Amit Shah said on Twitter.