LS clears triple talaq bill: Congress walks out, Owaisi cries hypocrisy as BJP speaks of 'justice' for Muslim women

The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the triple talaq bill with 245 votes in favour and 11 against it, at the end of a day that saw intense discussions and a walkout by the Congress and the AIADMK. Almost exactly a year ago, on 28 December 2017, similar scenes were witnessed in the Lok Sabha as the Lower House debated an earlier version of the bill.

Since then, much water has flown under the bridge. Amid opposition by some parties in the Upper House, the government had then cleared some amendments, including the introduction of a provision of bail, to make the bill more acceptable. However, as it continued to face resistance in the Rajya Sabha, the government issued an ordinance in September, incorporating the amendments. The proposed legislation passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday seeks to replace this ordinance.

In August 2017, the Supreme Court by a majority verdict had ruled that the practice of divorce through instant triple talaq among Muslims is "void", "illegal" and "unconstitutional", providing the basis for the legislation that the government is trying to push through. However, parties across the political spectrum differed sharply on a number of aspects, most importantly on whether or not the practice should be made a criminal offence.

 LS clears triple talaq bill: Congress walks out, Owaisi cries hypocrisy as BJP speaks of justice for Muslim women

Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi speaks in the Lok Sabha on the triple talaq bill on Thursday. PTI

Differences between the earlier bill and the present one

The official name of the bill is the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018.

There are three key amendments which have been made to the earlier bill to take into account the concerns raised by the Opposition. These were listed out by law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in a press conference in August this year.

Firstly, while the offence of pronouncing instant triple talaq continues to be non-bailable, the accused can approach a magistrate even before the trial to seek bail. Secondly, the police can file an FIR only if approached by the victim (wife), her blood relations or people who became her relatives by virtue of marriage. The third amendment makes the offence of instant triple talaq compoundable, which means that a magistrate can use his or her powers to settle the dispute between the husband and wife.

Key arguments — then and now

Several arguments made in 2017 and 2018 were on largely similar lines, as were the positions that political parties took in the Parliament. On both the occasions, there were frequent references to 20 Islamic countries where instant triple talaq is banned — which include Pakistan and Bangladesh. Further, during 2017 as well as 2018, BJP leaders have argued that husbands are resorting to triple talaq despite the Supreme Court's verdict and that a law which deters people against doing so is required. Last year, Ravi Shankar Prasad had quipped, rather dramatically, "Should the Muslim women frame and hang the SC verdict in their homes now?" On Thursday, Smriti Irani said that it is "shameful" that there have been over 400 cases of triple talaq since the apex court's verdict.

Ministers from the BJP have also repeatedly stressed that the bill is not about "politics", but giving "justice" to Muslim women. Prasad urged the House, "Don't weigh the bill on the scales of politics. This bill is not about any specific religion and community. The bill is about humanity and justice." The law minister cited a case where a professor gave talaq to his wife over Whatsapp. He said that another Muslim man gave talaq to his wife for attending Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally. Prasad said, "If the House unitedly can pass a bill for capital punishment for alleged rape with girls below the age of 12 years, then why not this legislation?" The Congress' arguments from last year and this year were also largely similar. While the Congress in 2017 had demanded that the bill should be sent to the standing committee for consideration, on Thursday, it sought that the proposed legislation should be sent to a "select committee". 

Last year, Congress had raised the issue of women's reservation in the Parliament and sought to contrast the government's stance on this issue as against triple talaq. Similarly, this year, the party pointed out the BJP's stance on women's entry into the Sabarimala temple and asked why it was not proactive in protecting women's rights on this issue.

Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, claimed the BJP was desperate to get the bill passed in the Lok Sabha with political gains in mind in view of the impending polls.

He also said stringent provisions like the criminalisation of a civil offence were not there in any other law applicable to other religions as were there in the triple talaq bill.

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge speaks in the Lok Sabha. PTI

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge speaks in the Lok Sabha. PTI

"The triple talaq bill is against the Constitution. It is also against fundamental rights. They got the bill passed in haste in Lok Sabha as general elections are approaching," he told PTI after the bill was passed in Lok Sabha.

Kharge said the bill was similar to the one which was brought earlier by the government, which had not listened to the Congress's demand for sending the proposed legislation to a joint select committee of both Houses of the Parliament.

AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi also sought to contrast the government's stance on criminalising triple talaq with its stance on decriminalisation of homosexuality and adultery.

He said, "You (government) did not have a problem when the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality, you did not have a problem when adultery was decriminalised, but you want to criminalise triple talaq. When a Hindu man can be jailed only for one year, why should a Muslim be imprisoned for three years?"

Interestingly, in 2017, the then minister of state for external affairs MJ Akbar was among the foremost voices for the government's stand in the Parliament. He was then quoted by News18 as saying, "This slogan 'Islam khatre mein hai' was used before independence to divide India and is now being used to divide society, poison is being spread. You change the law easily when it comes to men but you remember Allah when it comes to women."

On Thursday, Akbar, who has now resigned from his post, found an indirect mention in the Parliament by Owaisi, who said, "All across the country, women took the lead in the #MeToo movement. Where is the minister who was present here last time? You (BJP) had sheltered him, while he should, in reality, have been thrown out of the party. You are now trying to show us the mirror?"

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Dec 27, 2018 23:27:08 IST