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In a big win for Modi govt, triple talaq bill gets RS nod

Last updated on: July 31, 2019 00:52 IST

Rajya Sabha also rejected an opposition sponsored motions to send the bill to a select committee of the House and for making triple talaq a civil offence with 100 votes against it as compared to 84 in favour. 

In a major success for Modi government, Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill that makes instant triple talaq among Muslims a criminal offence after the contentious legislation was passed by Rajya Sabha following support from Biju Janata Dal and walkout by National Democratic Alliance constituents, Janata Dal-United and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill was passed by 99 votes in favour and 84 against, as the ruling NDA, which lacks majority in the Upper House, was also helped by the absence of some members of the opposition the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party as well as six members of Telangana Rashtra Samithi and two MPs of YSR-Congress.

Lok Sabha had passed the bill last week and once granted assent by the President, the practice of Muslim men instantly divorcing their wives by uttering 'talaq' thrice will become a criminal offence, punishable by jail term of up to three years.

The bill will replace an ordinance promulgated on February 21 to the same effect.

Rajya Sabha also rejected an opposition sponsored motions to send the bill to a select committee of the House and for making triple talaq a civil offence with 100 votes against it as compared to 84 in favour.

While BJD's seven members supported the legislation, JD-U's 6 MPs and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam 11 members walked out, lowering the majority mark which normally stands at 121.

The ruling NDA has 107 members in the 242-member Rajya Sabha.

The same strategy had helped the government push through the contentious amendment to the Right To Information Act last week despite lacking numbers in the Upper House.

The NDA was also strengthened by absentees in the opposition ranks.

 

Oscar Fernandes and four other Congress MPs as also Nationalist Congress PArty leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel were absent.

Two Samajwadi Party MPs, Ram Jethmalani of the RJD, two Trinamool Congress MPs and one member of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) were also not present.

Replying to a four-and-half-hour debate on the bill, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad cited jail provisions in the legislations that ban dowry and multiple marriages by Hindu men to justify the three-year jail term for Muslim men practices triple talaq.

To Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, who termed the bill as a politically motivated move to destroy Muslim households with domestic fights, the minister said the Congress leader should think why his party could never win majority following the peak of 400-plus seats it won in 1984.

He saw the 1986 Shah Bano case, where the Congress did not stick its neck out to support women rights, as the main reason for the downfall of the party.

The law, he said, was not being brought due to the Supreme Court ruling of 2017 declaring talaq-e-biddat, commonly referred to as instant triple talaq, unconstitutional.

"I am a minister of Narendra Modi government and not Rajiv Gandhi government," he said citing the Shah Bano case of 1986.

The minister said he cannot leave in lurch women who have been divorced by triple talaq via WhatsApp or other such means.

"Should I leave them (Muslim women) crying and sobbing on the foothpaths," Prasad said adding the government will not hesitate to stand by them and do justice to them.

On opposition charge of BJP being anti-Muslim, he said no religion centric issues were raised when reforms in Hindu Marriage Act were carried out in wholesale.

Jail term was prescribed when a Hindu man married another women. "At that time no one raised the question about how the family will be run," he said.

Also when anti-dowry act provided for jail, no one raised question about running of the family. "Why are these questions (about who will run the family when husband is jailed) are being raised when the issue is about the Muslim daughter," he said.

When Muslim world is trying to reform, why can't a democracy do the same, he said.

IMAGE: Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad flashes the victory sign as he comes out after the passage of triple talaq bill in Rajya Sabha in New Delhi. Photograph: /Kamal Singh/PTI Photo

The law minister said BJP may be getting a little less votes from the Muslim community but it considers them very much a part of the country and works on the principle of 'sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas'.

He said his party gave the nation a President from the same community.

Prasad said the bill should not be seen through a political prism as it is a matter of humanity, woman empowerment and gender equality.

"More than 20 Islamic nations have regulated triple talaq," he said.

Azad said the opposition has been forced to vote against the bill after the government did not accept their demand to send it to a select committee and make triple talaq a civil offence.

The triple talaq bill could not make it through the Upper House earlier this year during the first term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, although it was passed by Lok Sabha.

The bill was again passed by Lok Sabha last week amid a walkout by several opposition parties including the Congress and the Trinamool Congress.

The opposition parties say in its current form, the proposed law could be misused to harass Muslims and wanted it to be reviewed by a parliamentary committee.

The triple talaq bill makes declaration of talaq-e-biddat or pronouncing talaq three times in spoken, written or through SMS or WhatsApp or any other electronic chat in one sitting illegal.

Criminalising the offence, it gives a police officer powers to arrest the offender without requiring a warrant.

To check misuse of cognisable nature of the offence, the triple talaq bill makes declaration of talaq-e-biddat only if the complaint is filed by the aggrieved woman or any of her relation by blood or marriage.

A magistrate can grant bail only hearing the aggrieved woman.

The aggrieved woman is entitled to demand a maintenance for her and her dependent children under the bill.

Opposing the bill, Azad said a law should not be made to "finish one particular religion" and claimed that the "cat has come out of the bag".

He said the government should not target one section by framing an "unconstitutional" law but instead provide 33 per cent reservation to women in legislatures for their empowerment, the way Congress government had earlier brought in reservation for women in panchayats, corporations and local bodies.

He sought to know if the government will provide sustenance allowance to women whose husbands would face prison under the provisions of the proposed legislation.

Azad accused the government of "double speak" and said it is not just Muslim women, but also Hindu, Christian and Jain women who need empowerment.

While participating in the debate, Congress leader Digvijay Singh said the Muslim community has not been taken into confidence.

He said the bill was aimed at creating a divide between the Hindu and Muslim communities. He said several lakh Hindu women are deserted by their husbands and asked whether the government is going to bring any legislation to help them.

Taking a dig at the Prime Minister, Singh said: "Would you ask the pradhan sevak to help pradhan sevika to get justice (Kya aap pradhan sevak se kahenge ki wo pradhan sevika ko nayay dilaye)."

Bhupender Yadav of BJP said the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill is not of a particular party but intends to honour the lone woman who fought the long legal battle up to the Supreme Court on this issue.

Trinamool Congress MP Dola Sen said,"Both Houses have passed 16 bills together in the current session and only one has been sent to select committee. Earlier Lok Sabha sent 60 to 70 per cent bills to select or standing committee for scrutiny."

She said, "Just because an ordinance (to ban instant triple talaq) has been brought, it does not mean that it has been scrutinised... We have not become Presidential form of government or dictatorship... till that happens, let's
function as Parliamentary democracy."

Talking about women empowerment, she said, "14 per cent of the members in Parliament are women. Government says it is historic.

She demanded that if the government is so keen on women empowerment then it should extend the session by one more day and bring Women's Reservation Bill as it would benefit 60 crore women.

Elaborating on why the bill should be sent to select committee, she explained, "The husband can be jailed for three years under the bill. Will that mean that women would not be allowed to marry for three years. How the maintenance will be paid."

She demanded that the criminality clause in the bill be removed and the bill referred to select committee.

SP member Javed Ali Khan made the same demand.

He alleged that the the government is having a "hidden agenda" in the garb of the bill which was directed to "score a point" with its vote bank.

He also asked the Law Ministry about the status of the group of minister on women empowerment formed in October 2018 which had to submit its report in three months.

He said one of the ministers on the panel had found a mention in the 'Metoo' campaign with allegations that he had exploited women.

"The (then) minister was the man of the match of the Metoo 20-20 match," he said.

He also said that an act can be categorised as offence in law only when it causes public disorder, but as per experts triple talaq does not do that.

AIADMK MP A Navaneethkrishanan claimed Parliament has "no legislative competence" to entertain this bill.

He explained that marriage in Muslim law is a civil contract and breach of contract (divorce) cannot be criminalised.

He said that when Supreme Court has decided that instant triple talaq is null and void then it cannot be declared as offence.

Strongly opposing the bill, he demanded that the bill be sent to select committee.

Echoing similar views, CPI-M MP Elamaram Kareem said that the Supreme Court has already set aside instant triple talaq saying it is void and unconstitutional and nowhere the apex court has said that instate triple talaq needs to be criminalised.

He said that this bill is an encroachment on the rights of the people.

RJD member Manoj Jha claimed the bill is a "violent tampering with the Article 14 of the Constitution (equality before law). You want to demonise Muslim men. Don't get the bill passed by managed majority."

DMK MP Tiruchi Siva also alleged that there was a hidden agenda behind the bill and "one group is being targeted".

He also opposed criminalising the instant triple talaq and demand that the bill should be referred to select committee.

BJD MP Prasanna Acharya supported the bill but opposed the criminalisation of instant triple talaq.

He said that the provision that any blood relation of a women can be complainant, could be misused.

Ealier particiating in the debate, Amee Yajnik of Congress said through this bill, the government has thrust women into a criminal magisterial court for settling family matters.

Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena supported the bill, terming it "historic" and said it will impart strength to Muslim women.

"After this, (Article) 370 will also go, (Article) 35A will also go," Raut said, referring to provisions that give special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

V Vijayasai Reddy of the YSRCP opposed the Bill.

According to him, sending husband to prison for three years is virtually shutting the door for reconciliation.

Saroj Pandey of the BJP said that on April 23, 1985, the Supreme Court had given the judgement in favour of Shah Bano, but the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did not stand with the decision.

She said those who oppose Triple Talaq Bill are anti- women.

TKS Elangovan of the DMK said he welcomes the Supreme Court order on Triple Talaq but opposes the bill, terming it "faulty".

Nazir Ahmad Laway of PDP also opposed the bill.

NCP's Majid Memon said his party is unable to accept the proposed legislation for various reasons.

Supporting the bill, nominated member Swapan Dasgupta said an attempt has been made to address Muslim social reforms through the proposed legislation. Narendra Jadhav (Nominated) also endorsed the bill. 

Some of the opposition members also raised the issue of Unnao rape victim and Kathua incident saying if the government was really serious about the welfare of women, it should ensure justice to them also.

Many raised the issue of mob lynching during the debate.

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