From suo motu to judgment: The arguments for and against triple talaq

Centre’s stand on triple talaq based on gender justice: Ravi Shankar Prasad

Ravi Shankar Prasad is helming the Law Ministry at a time when there is a serious legal challenge to the validity of triple talaq and with the Law Commission holding a consultation on the possibility of a uniform civil code. File photo  

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said the Centre’s affidavit on the triple talaq issue, which is being heard in the Supreme Court, was based on the principles of assuring gender justice, gender equality and dignity. The Minister stressed that the right to freedom of religion did not enjoin “every pernicious practice” as being integral to it.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, the Minister, who has been deeply involved in the framing of the government’s response to the Supreme Court on the matter, said the Law Commission’s wider consultation on the question of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) was separate from the triple talaq issue.

“You have to understand that certain victims of triple talaq from the Muslim community had gone to the Supreme Court challenging its validity. The Court had asked for a response from the government. Ours is a well thought-out response. It is fundamentally based upon gender justice, gender equality and gender dignity. All these three flow directly from the fundamental values of our Constitution,” Mr. Prasad said.

The Minister said the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s assertion, that the Modi government was intent on interfering with Islam rather than any other minority community, including the Jains, in terms of religious practice, was “baseless.”

‘Uniform Civil Code not ideology-driven’

Mr. Prasad denied that uniform civil code was part of the ideological core of the BJP. The Minister stressed that the government had taken this stand.

“We don’t see it (UCC) just as part of the manifesto. Article 44 is part of our Constitution enjoining UCC. The framers of our Constitution were big leaders like Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Dr Ambedkar; 99 per cent of the founding fathers were of the Congress school of thought and they were clear that we must steadily progress towards a UCC,” he said.

“Any need for an observation on the UCC from our side will emerge only when there is a report from the Law Commission, based on the widest public consultation. It is not fair for some groups to say they will not give their views. It is for groups that boycott to reflect on the kind of language they are using with regard to women’s rights in the 21st Century,” the Law Minister said.

Explaining the Centre’s stand in court recently over the issue of the triple talaq, Mr. Prasad said,“We stated our view when asked by the Supreme Court, in the case of religious practices of other communities, if there is a challenge in court, we will state our position,” he said.

“If you look at the way Hindu personal laws developed, it was in this fashion. Sati was abolished, the age of consent for marriage amended by the Sharda Act, Dowry prohibition laws came in after there were challenges to these practices,” the Minister said. “It also shows, therefore, that evolution of law, consistent with these norms of gender justice is integral to India’s ethos,” he added.

Constitutional guarantees

“Right to equality, non-discrimination on the grounds of sex and the right to live with dignity were part of our Constitution before the Western world granted these rights to women in their countries and before international covenants on this were signed globally. Our founding fathers had envisioned these values and made it the foundation of our Rights. The second core of our response is that India is a secular country, secularism has been held to be part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

“By basic structure, we mean that we, sitting in Parliament, cannot amend that feature; it is a limitation on our amending power. That being the case, can we, in a secular country, countenance a scenario where a big chunk of women feel deeply vulnerable only because they belong to a particular religion? ” he said.

Full text of the exclusive interview:

The government has been maintaining that the issue of challenging the validity of triple talaq is separate from that of debating a uniform civil code. Please explain.

You have to understand that certain victims of triple talaq from the Muslim community had gone to the Supreme Court challenging its validity. The Court had asked for a response from the government. Ours is a well thought out response. It is fundamentally based upon gender justice, gender equality and gender dignity. All these three flow directly form the fundamental values of our Constitution. Right to equality, non-discrimination on the grounds of sex and the right to live with dignity were part of our Constitution before the Western world granted these rights to women in their countries and before international covenants on this were signed globally. Our founding fathers had envisioned these values and made it the foundation of our rights. The second core of our response is that India is a secular country, secularism has been held to be part of the basic structure of the Constitution. By basic structure we mean that sitting in Parliament we cannot amend that feature, it is a limitation on our amending power. That being the case, can we, in a secular country, countenance a scenario where a big chunk of women feel deeply vulnerable only because they belong to a particular religion? Allied to this issue is, we recognise the right to faith or religion as a fundamental right, but every pernicious practice is not integral to religion or unfair or unreasonable practice. Nobody following any religion can, for example, practice untouchability as part of it. Admitted Islamic countries have legislated on triple talaq, countries like Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia, Indonesia, Egypt and Pakistan to name a few. If declared Islamic countries can regulate triple talaq as not being violative of Sharia, how can such an argument be relevant in a secular country.

That is the triple talaq affidavit that we have filed. The Law Commission as a statutory body has asked for a consultation on UCC, which is separate from this legal case.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board and other Muslim organisations have termed your government’s move as undue interference into the practices of the Muslim community while leaving other minorities, like the Jains for instance, free to do whatever they want.

We stated our view when asked by the Supreme Court, in the case of religious practices of other communities, if there is a challenge in court, we will state our position. If you look at the way Hindu personal laws developed, it was in this fashion. Sati was abolished, the age of consent for marriage amended by the Sharda Act, dowry prohibition laws came in after there were challenges to these practices. It also shows, therefore, that evolution of law, consistent with these norms of gender justice is integral to India’s ethos.

Your party mentioned the pursuance of a UCC in its manifesto in 2014, and it has been one of your core issues. It is being said that, with a simple majority in Parliament now, this will be pushed through.

We don’t see it (the UCC) just as part of the manifesto or our ideology. Article 44 is part of our Constitution enjoining UCC. The framers of our Constitution were big leaders like Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Dr Ambedkar, 99% of the founding fathers were of the Congress school of thought and they were clear that we must steadily progress towards a UCC.

What will be the government’s stand then for a UCC, and when Muslim organisations have so vehemently opposed it?

Any need for an observation on the UCC from our side will emerge only when there is a report from the Law Commission, based on the widest public consultation. I will appeal to all stakeholders It is not fair for some groups to say they will not give their views. It is for groups that boycott to reflect on the kind of language they are using with regard to women’s rights in the 21st Century.

As a lawyer, what is your observations on UCC?

Purely as a student of law, not as the Law Minister of this country, I must point out the way that India has evolved over the years. All criminal laws are common, we have a common code on civil litigation, there is a common Transfer of Property Act, a common Contract Act — the laws governing the day to day discourse for Indians in many cases is substantially common to all. All means all. As Law Minister, I can say that we come into the picture only when the law commission comes out with a report.

What is the legislative path ahead for a UCC?

After the Law Commission sends its report, depending on the nature of the report, there can be other consultations, we may put it to the Cabinet, call an all-party meeting, we will take a call only then.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 10:43:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Centre%E2%80%99s-stand-on-triple-talaq-based-on-gender-justice-Ravi-Shankar-Prasad/article15573561.ece

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