Triple Talaq Bill: Unwarranted and Brazenly Populist

Sourav Mukherjee

As a continuation of the new normal, (after DeMo on 8th Nov 2016 or GST on mid night, 30th June 2017) the Union law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad in Parliament while introducing the triple divorce bill, said that “It is a historic day. We are making history today”. Many would argue though how can everything which is done in regulation, even passing of a bill in the Parliament, in the era of “Acchedin”, becomes “historic”. Without getting cynical, a sense of déjà vu prevails when such bytes comes from the Modi government. Please pardon the shyness because we are bitten not just once but twice in a span of little over a year.

Those from the government who are projecting themselves as the guardians of Muslim women empowerment and custodians of their rights, are fully aware of the fact even the Supreme Court had noted that incidence of triple talaq is insignificant. Isn’t like the 2G, triple talaq is getting blown out of proportion? Discrimination, education, employment, violence, etc accord for more oppression to Muslim women. Of course we had to start somewhere and the Supreme Court’s verdict on triple talaq was a step in right direction. But the Modi government’s move to pass a bill (in the present form) criminalising triple talaq is not only objectionable but risible and brazenly populist.

The law Minister, whose committee did not consult any stake holders like the Muslim community, women rights groups, civil society and Muslim scholars before shaping the bill, floated a supportive reference to Muslim countries where such law already exist. This reference is preposterous at a stage when India is looking to fortify Islamic reforms and move ahead. How can we idolize the case examples of countries where criminal justice system have failed or on the verge of it?

A civilized legal system must be independent of religious domain. No law should propagate any religious morality. Mr. Prasad during his speech on the floor of the Parliament said that “The Supreme Court has held triple divorce as a sin.” Therefore by criminalising triple talaq, the government is only enforcing a religious morality.

The Supreme Court through its landmark judgment has already banned the triple talaq. Triple talaq is no longer valid in any case. So if divorce has not happened in the first place, where does the need to bring a law to punish the offender arise? The government has capped a criminal tag to the civil matter of divorce that too without making the distinction between “major” and “minor” crimes by providing the excessive and disproportionate punishment of three years.

The bill leaves many questions unanswered like if husband is jailed, who’ll pay for the maintenance of the woman? Importantly does the jail sentence of the husband actually mean that the couple is divorced? If yes, than that indirectly means triple talaq has been committed and that is again against the Supreme Court’s verdict which has held instant triple talaq as unconstitutional. It is almost certain that no husband on return from jail is likely to retain the wife on whose complaint he has gone to prison. The bill is bound to create more animosity than harmony between couples and may have a snowballing effect on the number of divorce cases.

After the Supreme Court verdict, the government should have incorporated triple divorce’s prohibition in the Nikahnama (a civil contract of Muslim marriage), if it had any good intention of serving the Muslim women. This could have ensured that the Muslim women get retributive justice against the proportionate misconduct of husbands. The law Minister in Lok Sabha failed to state the “compelling necessity” to criminalise a civil offence and enforce the bill which was unwarranted and was only a specious tool to get political mileage.