Indian Parliment’s lower house, the Lok Sabha on Thursday made history by passing a law criminalising instant triple talaq in a move that significantly empowers Muslim women, although the legislation will now have to be cleared by the Upper House of Parliament.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which has opposed the law, has said if the Rajya Sabha passes the bill, it will approach the Supreme Court, which, in August held the practice unconstitutional and illegal, though it didn’t rule on or suggest criminalising instant triple talaq.
The proposed law, which stipulated up to three years of jail and a penalty for violators, was passed amidst concern from opposition members that it was criminalising what was essentially a civil procedure, and that it could be misused. Some Muslim women’s groups have also raised concerns about “maintenance” if the husband is sent to jail.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill seeks to “ensure the larger constitutional goals of gender justice and gender equality of married Muslim women and help sub-serve their fundamental rights of non-discrimination and empowerment”, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad informed the House.
Most opposition parties were in favour of a law to deter Muslim men from practising talaq-e-biddat or instant Triple Talaq, and they demanded wider consultations and changes in the bill.
The bill was passed by a voice vote after rejecting a resolution moved by Revolutionary Socialist Party member NK Premachandran that the legislation be circulated for public opinion.
Rejecting the opposition’s demand for sending the bill to the standing committee of Parliament, Prasad stressed the proposed law should not be seen through the prism of politics or vote bank but in the light of gender justice and equality.
“Women are seeing that justice will be done to them. Let us speak in one voice that we are for gender justice and gender equity and pass the bill unanimously,” he said, winding up the discussion.
Union minister of state for external affairs MJ Akbar questioned the credibility of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board for opposing the bill. “What is their credibility? Who elected them and chose them to be the representatives of the Muslim community?” he asked, even as he added that the slogan “Islam khatre mein hai (Islam is in danger)” was earlier used to divide the nation and is now being used to divide society.
The legislation would have far-reaching implications for 90 million Muslim women living under the “constant fear of being divorced”, Akbar said.