Muslim activists decry bill on instant triple talaq, ask why civil issue is being made criminal offence

Sixty-year old Noorie Mohammed belongs to the erstwhile Katputli Colony at Shadipur Depot. Some weeks ago, she and her family of six members were moved to Narela in Delhi. When asked if she had heard about the bill titled Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage), 2017, (MWM) which is slated to be placed in Parliament next week, she replied in the affirmative. She said that she had heard that talaq-e-biddat (instant talaq) had been struck down by the Supreme Court.

But when Noorie was asked to give her views on whether she supported the idea of a husband who had pronounced triple talaq being jailed, she was aghast.

"Which woman will want to send her husband to jail?," Noorie asked. "It will only serve to further erode the institution of marriage," she remarked.

In Chitli Kaber, the bustling residential cum market place located behind Golcha cinema in Daryaganj, Delhi, the middle-aged Ruksana Khan who earns her livelihood as a dai (mid-wife) is equally aghast at learning about these developments.

"We have never supported talaq-e-biddat, but we cannot support our boys being sent to jail either. As it is, our community is suffering and has its back to the wall,’ said Khan.

Muslim activist in Uttar Pradesh, Shabina Mumtaz uses the same logic to point out the travesty in of this current piece of legislation which is expected to be tabled in Parliament on Friday.

 Muslim activists decry bill on instant triple talaq, ask why civil issue is being made criminal offence

Activist Shabina Mumtaz. Rashme Sehgal

"Hundreds of Muslim women I have interacted with in the last few weeks have come up to me asking for a clarification on this piece of legislation. They point out, `Earlier a man could throw a woman out of the matrimonial house; now, we can turn around and throw him out of the matrimonial house. This is because the bill says that once a woman files an FIR, she can continue to live in her matrimonial house and take financial support from her husband. But if the husband is in jail, how is he going to support the wife and children? And which husband’s family will be ready to keep the wife if she is responsible for getting their son arrested? What kind of fool’s paradise is this?' these women ask me," pointed out Mumtaz.

"These women believe MWM will leave both the women and their children more vulnerable. They do not want to be ostracised by the men in their community as they will have no place to vent their grievances," said Mumtaz.

Even more important, women want to know why what is primarily a civil dispute is being turned into a criminal offence.

Supreme Court advocate Indira Jaising, who is representing different women groups in court on this issue, said, "Marriage is a civil contract between two adult persons and so the procedures to be followed on its breakdown must be civil in nature."

"We support the Supreme Court verdict striking down instant triple talaq. If a bill has to be legislated, it should stop at the portion of the verdict which says instant talaq shall be void and anti- legal," said Jaising.

Hasina Khan of the Bebak Collective, an outfit which supported Shayara Bano’s petition against instant triple talaq, also insisted her organisation is opposed to making the violation of the civil contract of marriage a criminal act.

"MWM has made instant triple talaq into a non-bailable offense, with the husband being given a three-year jail sentence. It will allow for the police to literally march into a couple’s bedroom and claim he has pronounced triple talaq and then arrest him,’"said Khan.

Khan cited examples of cow vigilantism and love jihad where Muslim men are being lynched on the basis of rumour mongering. "How do we know that the same will not be perpetuated in this case also?" she asked.

This bill also does not touch on the issue of unilateral talaq, which Muslim men can still pronounce over a period of three months under the personal law.

“Instead of bringing in a new legislation that criminalises instant talaq, the government should amend the existing Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939. The Act requires women to approach the court for divorce. It should be made gender-neutral so that even men have to approach the court for a divorce,” she said

The activists quoted above point out that there is a difference between instant triple talaq and triple talaq because while the latter is pronounced over a period of 90 days and gives space for reconciliation, this is not the case with instant triple talaq which has been deemed unconstitutional and un-Islamic by the Supreme Court.

In fact, Khan, as also many other activists, maintains that in cases of triple talaq, the aggrieved woman can use the exiting provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and Section 498A of the IPC. The provisions of the Domestic Violence Act are civil in nature but the procedure followed is the one prescribed by the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Prof Ayesha Kidwai of JNU is horrified at the surreptitious manner in which the bill is being passed. "The bill has not been circulated. No feedback has been taken from women's organisations and from Muslim groups to incorporate their point of view. The bill must be referred to a Parliament Standing Committee for wider consultations," said Kidwai.

Ayesha Kidwai. Rashme Sehgal

Ayesha Kidwai. Rashme Sehgal

Members of Bebak Collective have met both Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to express their dissatisfaction with the bill.

The outfit has also written a letter to MPs from Opposition parties pointing out that since instant triple talaq has been declared invalid by Supreme Court, the marriage is not dissolved and hence criminalisation would “violate the rights of conjugality.’

"The move to imprison Muslim men will add to the prevailing insecurity and alienation of the Muslim community,” the letter added.

The government is presently seeking support from all political parties across the country. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad spoke to West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee on Thursday seeking the support of the Trinamool Congress. Other leaders that have been contacted are Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of Odisha.

For the BJP, the issue of triple talaq remains an extremely political one. It is trying to present itself as the champion of the Muslim women's rights. But other political parties believe this piecemeal approach is one more attempt to saffronise the bill and present Muslim men as being adulterous and errant. They also ask why the government showing so much concern only for deserted Muslim women especially when Hindu, Christian and Sikh women are also being deserted by their husbands.

Indira Jaisingh has warned that it will be unacceptable for the government to pass this bill through a voice vote. "If the government does not hold wider consultations, the bill will be severely challenged in the Supreme Court."

Updated Date: Dec 22, 2017 20:59:04 IST