On triple talaq bill: Re-examine the Bill

Concerns about the triple talaq Bill must not be dismissed as an attempt to sabotage it

Published - January 08, 2018 12:05 am IST

The winter session of Parliament saw more political positioning than appraisal of a legislation to make instant triple talaq a criminal offence. With the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill pending in the Rajya Sabha, the best option would be to refer it to a select committee to help bring about a consensus on how to address the problem of talaq-e-biddat, as there is no serious opposition to the principle that it is morally abhorrent and legally impermissible. The core question is whether resorting to an illegal and arbitrary form of divorce should necessarily lead to a prison term for the offending husband. A three-year prison term, besides a fine, also raises the issue of proportionality. The Opposition has raised three concerns: whether a civil wrong, mainly a breach of a marriage contract in an arbitrary manner, ought to be treated as a crime; whether it is not a contradiction of sorts for the law to jail a husband for pronouncing instant talaq and also mandate that he pay a subsistence allowance to the wife; and whether making it a cognizable and non-bailable offence would lead to it being misused against Muslim men. Further, some see an internal contradiction in the way the law is sought to be framed. On the one hand it says instant triple talaq in any form is void, thereby declaring that the marriage continues to subsist; but it also talks of issues such as the custody of children and maintenance, which would arise only after a divorce. These are valid concerns and cannot be dismissed by the BJP as arguments aimed to sabotage the Bill.

The Bill is now in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP and its allies do not have a majority. Some of its key allies, such as the AIADMK, the Telugu Desam Party and the Biju Janata Dal, are against the penal provision. The Congress, the main Opposition party, let the Bill sail through in the Lok Sabha, but has taken the position that referring it to a parliamentary committee may help remove some lacunae. Initially the party appeared to question the prescription of a jail term, but it has raised a new question. It wants to know whether the government would take care of the sustenance of the woman concerned if her husband is jailed for uttering triple talaq. The dilemma before the Congress is that it cannot be seen as reprising the role it had played over 30 years ago in the Shah Bano episode , when it brought in legislation to scupper a Supreme Court verdict in favour of a Muslim woman’s claim for maintenance. However, hasty legislation passed in the commotion of a divided House may not help the cause. A sound legal framework to deal with all issues arising from instant talaq ought to be crafted after deeper consideration.

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