Taking a stand against the practice of triple talaq and polygamy in Islam, the Centre on Friday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying in the spirit of the Constitution, "gender equality is non-negotiable".
The government in its affidavit stated that the validity of triple talaq and polygamy should be seen in the light of gender justice while stating that there is no reason women in India should be denied their constitutional rights, the ANI reported.
Gender equality, it said permeates the entire scheme of fundamental rights as articulated under Article 14, Article 15 and Article 21 of the Constitution and hence are non-negotiable values in secular India.
The Centre is also of the view that the issue is not to be seen from the prism of Uniform Civil Code, but be treated substantively as an issue of gender justice and that of fundamental rights of women. According to a PTI report, the Centre has taken the view that the Muslim Board's plea that triple talaq and polygamy be legalised as the Sharia upholds such practices is "completely misplaced". It went further to say that it is "unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory" as many Islamic countries have regulated matrimonial laws.
According to a Times Now report, the Centre cited 10 Muslim nations where matrimonial laws have been regulated and re-promulgated to substantiate its claim.
"A practice - unfair, unreasonable, discriminatory, has always given way before a humanising Constitutional principle, particularly under Chapter 3 of the fundamental rights. This whole plea of sanctity under Sharia is completely misplaced. There are nearly 20 Islamic countries in the world who have regulated their matrimonial laws, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and some Arabic countries like Saudi Arabia," a senior government functionary told PTI.
The Supreme Court had on 5 September granted four weeks time to the Centre to file its reply on a batch of petitions on triple talaq and the plight of Muslim women. However, sections of the Muslim community have been opposing the move citing Article 25 of the constitution which guarantees a citizen freedom to practice his or her religion. Tasleem Rehmani, the founder president of Muslim Political Council of India, told Times Now that the government affidavit violates the Article 25. He also said that Islam is a constitution in its own and can’t be governed by another body, stating that Quran should be implemented in its entirety.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) too in its 2 September affidavit told the Supreme Court that personal laws of the community cannot be "re-written" in the name of social reforms and opposed pleas on issues including alleged gender discrimination faced by Muslim women in divorce cases.
Times Now also said that AIMPLB in its counter affidavit has reasoned that if practices like triple talaq and polygamy were tinkered with, it will lead to "unchaste practices" and women could be burnt alive and murdered. It said these contentious issues relating to Muslim practices of polygamy, triple talaq (talaq-e-bidat) and nikah halala are matters of "legislative policy" and cannot be interfered with.
The board also said that practices provided by Muslim Personal Law on the issues of marriage, divorce and maintenance were based on the Holy Quran and "courts cannot supplant its own interpretations over the text of scriptures".
The board had said though it was the "least appreciated" form of terminating a marriage, yet it was "very much effective" and in line with the Shariat law.
Regarding polygamy, the board's affidavit said though Islam permitted it, but it does not encourage the same and referred to various reports, including World Development Report 1991, which had said that polygamy percentage in tribals, Buddhists and Hindus were 15.25, 7.97 and 5.80 percent respectively as compared to 5.73 percent in Muslims.
The apex court had taken suo motu cognizance of the question whether Muslim women faced gender discrimination in cases of divorce or due to other marriages of their husbands and a bench headed by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur is examining the issue.
Subsequently, various other petitions including one by triple talaq victim Shayara Bano were filed challenging the age-old practice of 'triple talaq' among the Muslim community.