Now that the government has bulldozed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, criminalising talaq-e-biddat (instant triple talaq), through the Lok Sabha, isn't it also essential that it passes a legislation on marital rape in a similar, unilateral manner? After all, this is, quite simply, the BJP’s approach to delegitimise Indian Muslims; as senior advocate Indira Jaising put it: “Shameful display of brute force passing the TT [Triple Talaq] Bill turning Muslim husbands into criminals, this is not what we fought for in the Supreme Court of India.”
This article is meant to serve as an indictment of the prime minister, his Cabinet and party, for cultivating animus towards the country’s Muslims. India’s citizens should expect that a bill will be discussed publicly and the views of experts, if not affected communities, will be incorporated into it. But the government, in this instance, has displayed total disregard for democracy. The bill was not released in the public domain. Just as instant triple talaq is delivered unilaterally, the law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, handed over the bill to members of Parliament to pass — without prior discussion, not even in the media.
The bill was hailed as historic by writers and journalists in editorial newsrooms, social media was littered with their professed contention, that it marks empowerment of Muslim women. Law minister Prasad, echoing these sentiments, said, “It is a historic day. We are making history today.”
This argument is bogus. Social media euphoria too is a balloon that will burst. When the Indian Penal Code was amended to insert Section 498A, this anti-dowry law was also hailed as historic. Today, this law has become a murderous curse on this nation and its men.
Zakia Soman of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan has said that if dowry, bigamy and domestic violence can be punishable by jail term, instant triple talaq should also be. Let me respond. Before the Supreme Court, she argued for “minimum interference” on triple talaq and did not advocate quashing of a unilateral Muslim divorce, the real curse, by Muslim husbands.
On the one hand, her group runs Sharia courts parallel to the Indian judiciary, and on the other, argues that a Muslim man must pay a dowry of one year's salary to a woman to marry her in the name of mehr. This is duplicity of convenience.
There is a difference between civil law and criminal law. Only acts that cause injury and harm to others, such as murder, theft and assault constitute criminal law. Marriage and divorce are not part of criminal law. Non-criminal acts such as talaq must remain within civil law. Since 22 August, talaq-e-biddat remains illegal. Violations of civil law must be punished, possibly with a fine. We have witnessed large-scale criminalising of Indian society under Section 498A. If the government’s bill becomes law, any aggrieved Muslim wife can accuse her husband of uttering triple talaq, landing him in jail for three years.
However, the difference is that the bill specifically targets the Muslim community and therefore has its roots in hatred of Muslims being nursed in our political culture. This hatred is seen when cow vigilantes murder a Muslim, or when a cap-wearing Muslim is dragged out of a train and killed, and when certain ministers in the government mouth their hatred of secularism. These acts are committed by people who are, broadly speaking, from the BJP’s vote bank.
When the issue of instant triple talaq came up before the Supreme Court, the judges remarked that Muslim husbands have no judicial forum to go to seek divorce and asked what remedies the government would provide.
On 15 May, the then attorney general Mukul Rohatgi informed the judges that if instant divorce is struck down, the government would bring a law to regulate marriage and divorce in the Muslim community. However, the Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha has failed to fulfil this promise.
It is critical that we outlaw all unilateral forms of divorce by a Muslim husband. We must also outlaw practices such as mehr, halala, polygamy, two Muslim women's testimony being equal to one man's, a girl's inheritance being half of a boy's, the guardianship of male over female, and so on.
This effectively points at the need for a Uniform Civil Code. A year ago, this author drafted such a code, calling it the Universal Bill of Rights for the Indian Citizen. However, political considerations motivate the government to skirt such reforms. Indeed, if transformation and betterment were the order of the day, the state would have introduced a Muslim family reform bill, enabling husbands to seek divorce via court, among other things.
But even after the passage of this Bill, a Muslim husband has no choice but to bring about his own divorce through the following two means: send one talaq and wait for three months to lapse, or send one talaq each month for three months making the marriage invalid. But for the government, this key issue of unilateral divorce is not the concern. This new law prevents any reconciliation between the couples — by jailing the husband for three years (it remains to be seen how he will pay maintenance from inside jail).
At best, the government's concern is nurturing the issue of instant triple talaq for political reasons: it helps energise right-wing Hindu voters. It suits the party. It nurtures an intellectual form of anti-Muslim hatred among its constituents.
Smita Dikshit, a legal counsel, wrote on Twitter about comments by supporters of the Bill: “Men need to go to prison. If Muslim men go, it's better.” This comment reveals a lot about the hatred that is being nurtured in Indian society. It is also indicative of how the BJP will use triple talaq to nurture its electoral constituency in view of next year's assembly elections and the 2019 general elections.
Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He tweets @tufailelif
Updated Date: Dec 30, 2017 09:02 AM