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'Politics took precedence over justice to women'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
February 22, 2019 10:31 IST
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'The government know very well how to pass a bill in the Rajya Sabha with consensus.'
'They got consensus from Opposition parties on the 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections.'
'In instant triple talaq, the BJP wanted to take sole credit.'
'They wanted to take credit and see that other parties suffer (political) loss.'
'Therefore, the bill got stuck.'

It was a historic decision in July 2017 when Supreme Court declared the practice of talaq-e-biddat (instant triple talaq) to be unconstitutional.

Soon after that, the Narendra Damodardas Modi government brought in an ordinance making the practice a cognisable offence punishable up to three years and later on in the month of December 2018, the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha.

However, the Opposition parties rejected it and wanted the bill to be sent to a joint parliamentary committee, stating that the bill needed more scrutiny and passing of the bill in a hurry was unconstitutional.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told Parliament in December 2017 that even after the Supreme Court judgment, there were 201 cases of instant triple talaq reported in the country and it needed to be stopped with a legislation.

But try as it might, the Modi government was unable to clear the numbers hurdle in the Rajya Sabha where it had only 80 votes as against the 123 needed to get the bill passed.

With the Opposition unwilling to relent, the government did not present the bill in the Rajya Sabha during the Budget session -- the government's final session before the nation went for a general election.

Earlier this week, the government re-promulgated the ordinance banning instant talaq.

Zakia Soman, founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, who spearheaded the movement to ban the practice, hopes that the next government at the Centre will "take the responsibility" of turning the bill into law.

"It is very unfortunate for our country that this issue was politicised," she told's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

After failing to pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha, the Modi government has re-promulgated the ordinance on instant talaq.

The problem is an ordinance is not a law. It has a temporary lifespan and it lapses after six months.

I really hope once the general elections are over, whoever forms the new government, takes the responsibility of passing a law against (instant) triple talaq to make the Muslim family law just like the Hindu Marriage Act.

We will renew our demand with the new government and will start engaging with them.

We will again run a campaign for a codified Muslim family law.

Will this ordinance make any difference?

It has limited validity. Normally the validity period is six months, but this ordinance's life will be only till May 2019.

Everyone thought that the ban on instant triple talaq will really become a law, but that has not happened as the Modi government was unable to pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha.

It is very unfortunate for our country that this issue was politicised.

If you look at the entire trajectory of the movement against instant talaq, you will see that politicisation took priority and justice for women was not so important for the political parties.

This is true for the government as well as Opposition parties.

The core concern of those who opposed the bill was criminalisation of instant talaq.

A lot of misinformation was spread by political parties. All other laws protecting women also criminalise the offence, be it the law against dowry or bigamy or domestic violence.

So this was not the first time it (crime against women) was criminalised. But because this law is pertaining to the Muslim community, there is a whole lot of brouhaha over criminalisation.

It is not that since this instant talaq ordinance is there, all Muslims will go to jail. That is not the case because how many people are actually jailed in the bigamy law or for that matter the domestic violence law?

Are these laws also non-bailable, like the one against instant talaq?

They are bailable and so was the instant talaq law.

We suggested this amendment and after that it was made bailable and compoundable.

Compoundable means a magistrate can allow a compromise and withdrawal of the complaint if the wife so desires.

In the final draft that went to the Rajya Sabha was this provision incorporated?

Yes. It was made bailable and compoundable plus an FIR would be registered only at the instance of the wife or (her) family members. This minimises the threat of misuse.

In such cases, what happens is that you are not giving legal teeth to the woman.

Despite the Supreme Court's judgment, we are seeing incidents of instant talaq taking place.

When two cases came to us from Rajasthan, we got the husbands arrested on the basis of ordinance, but then in both cases they were out in four days.

So on the ground, people have actually got bail because of the amendment. And those who keep saying that this is a plan to send Muslims to jail should ask, why do Muslim men commit a wrongdoing by unilaterally divorcing their wives?

Why is nobody saying what they are is doing is wrong according to the Quran, and legally too?

To view this entire issue through the prism of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) being in power (is not good).

The government brought the bill, but the Opposition parties threw the baby out with the bathwater.

The government could have consulted more with the Opposition parties. However, there is no doubt about that that the Opposition parties are in no mood to support this law.

Are any of them saying categorically 'Yes, we need a law on instant talaq'?' The Congress party and other Opposition parties must say clearly that a law against instant talaq is required. But they are not saying that.

They are opposing the bill which has been brought in by the government. We found errors in the bill and suggested three amendments and all of those amendments were accepted.

Why could the government not convince the Opposition parties about the final version of the of instant talaq bill?

Because it is political.

As this government has kept quiet when gau rakshaks have done violence. They also kept quiet during violence in the name of love jihad.

There is generally marginalisation of Muslims which is very blatant. There is a perception that the Modi government is not Muslim friendly based on facts.

So the Opposition capitalised on that perception.

This was the possibility of a law as this opportunity came for the first time in 70 years of Indian Independence, but that opportunity was completely thwarted by the Opposition.

The Supreme Court has already ruled that instant triple talaq is illegal. This then is the law of the land, isn't it?

What is the significance of a judgment? The judgment says that instant triple talaq is null and void.

Now despite that if a Muslim man gives his wife instant triple talaq, where will the wife go?

She knows there is a Supreme Court judgment, then she goes to the police station and the police says, we sympathise with you, but we cannot take any action against husband as there is no legal framework to take action.

Judgments cannot make up for the absence of laws. We need a comprehensive law which lays down the procedure of divorce.

This was done by the Modi government, but now (after the instant talaq bill lapses) we will have to build a new movement again and press for this new law when the new Lok Sabha meets.

We thought history was made after the Supreme Court judgment and the passage of the instant talaq bill in the Lok Sabha.

Women themselves were committed to get a legal framework and they needed political support.

In our country. or for that matter in any democracy, law-making is in the hands of Parliament and elected representative, but this got politicised.

Antagonism by the government and Opposition parties took a toll on this legislation and after the election we will have to start our movement again.

Do you feel that there is a belief among the Opposition parties that politicians should not tinker with civil laws of Muslims in a pluralistic society like India?

That is true. We have the Hindu Marriage Act and the Christian Marriage Act and civil laws are as per every community's religious texts.

Even we are not saying there should be uniform civil code, but we are saying there should be a law based on Quranic injunction of justice and equality.

It should be a written and codified law.

You cannot say it is our Sharia, and what is Sharia? Any maulana decides laws according to his whims and fancies and that is the law according to him.

There are 10 different maulanas and they have 10 different interpretation of the Sharia.

What should the Modi government have done to pass this bill in the Rajya Sabha?

They should have created a consensus. They know very well how to pass a bill in the Rajya Sabha with consensus.

They got consensus from Opposition parties on the 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections.

They got consensus of every political party and they got support on reservations.

In instant triple talaq, the BJP wanted to take sole credit.

They wanted to take credit and see that other parties suffer (political) loss. Therefore, the bill got stuck.

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