Amidst protests from a few political parties, including those close to the BJP, the Lok Sabha on Thursday passed by voice vote the Bill that makes instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat a criminal offence, with a jail term of up to three years.
The proposed law would be applicable to the entire country, except in Jammu and Kashmir. It would make instant talaq punishable and would be a cognisable, non-bailable offence.
Historic step: Prasad
Calling it a historic step, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Bill — The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 — will act as a deterrent since there have been 100 cases of triple talaq even after the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court delivered in August this year.
He said that while 22 Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, had regulated instant triple talaq, there was no effective law in India. Neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Congress president Rahul Gandhi was present in the Lok Sabha when the Bill was passed.
The Minister turned down demands from the Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge to refer the Bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice.
Members from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the CPI(M), the Samajwadi Party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen and the All India Muslim League, as also parties considered close to the BJP, such as the Biju Janata Dal and the AIADMK, opposed the Bill, saying it was arbitrary and a faulty proposal being passed in haste.
Not having BJD and AIADMK on board will impact the bill's smooth passage in the Rajya Sabha as the Opposition has more numbers than the NDA.
E.T. Mohammed Basheer of the Indian Union Muslim League and Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM alleged that through the Bill the government was trying to bring in a Uniform Civil Code.
Sushmita Dev, articulating the Congress’s support for the Bill, also raised key questions to the government such as who would pay the subsistence allowance mentioned in the Bill to the wife if the husband was sent to jail. Ms. Dev asked the Law Minister if the government would create a corpus to help the victims.
“In law, you have to prove mens rea or guilty intention. If the husband says I had no intention but I was upset, I was angry, what happens then,” Ms Dev asked
Speaking on behalf of her party, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi made an impassioned appeal in support of the bill and attacked the Congress by reminding the party that it had opposed the Shah Bano judgement of the Supreme Court in 1986.
“They were opposed to an allowance of ₹125 in the Shah Bano case and our Muslim sisters and the country suffered. After a gap of 30 years, there is an opportunity to correct it,” said Ms. Lekhi.
Members opposed to the Bill voiced three major concerns, arguing that the Opposition to the bill could be categorised as expressing three major concerns. Most of the opposing parties argued that the Bill had legal flaws and was being passed in hurry.
Apart from Congress, other parties that took this position included CPM, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and even parties friendly to the BJP like the Biju Janata Dal and AIADMK were in this group.
Despite being second largest opposition party in Lok Sabha, Trinamool Congress members didn't take part in the debate despite being present.
Many parties who in principle supported the bill expressed concerns about making the civil issue of instant divorce a criminal offence and with little scope of reconciliation.
“Every family dispute should not result in a criminal action,” said Supriya Sule of the Nationalist Congress Party.
Another set of political parties like Badruddin Ajmal's AIUDF, Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM and the Kerala-based Indian Union Muslim League that the bill was politically motivated and encroached on Muslim personal law.
Joining issue with the Law Minister's assertion that 22 Islamic nations have regulated triple talaq, Mr Owaisi no country has penal provisions.
He said triple talaq was an emotional and verbal abuse and provisions of the domestic violence act was enough to deal with it. “This is the first step to take away all my personal laws that Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees,” he said.