All you need to know about the instant triple talaq Bill
The Bill that seeks to make instant triple talaq a criminal offence provides for imprisonment of up to three years and the imposition of a fine for divorcing a woman through talaq-e-biddat.
The Lok Sabha is likely to pass a Bill that seeks to lay down punishment for the practice of instant triple talaq (talaaq-e-biddat), two years after the Supreme Court outlawed the practice in its judgment in the Shayara Bano vs. Union of India case.
The Bill, which makes instant triple talaq a criminal offence, provides for imprisonment of up to three years and the imposition of a fine for divorcing a woman through talaq-e-biddat. Under this practice, which was declared null and void by the Supreme Court, a Muslim man could divorce his wife by pronouncing the word ‘talaq’ thrice in quick succession.
The BJP has issued whip to its members of Parliament in the Lower House to be present for voting.
The Bill is likely to sail through the Lok Sabha, where the government has a brute majority. However, it will face problems in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP does not have a majority on its own. Even ally Janata Dal (United) is not pleased with the Bill in its present shape.
What are the problems with the Bill, which comes with the stated intent of furthering the cause of gender justice?
Many activists and Opposition members believe that the Bill is a “class legislation” singling out the practice of patriarchy in Muslim families while excluding other communities from its purview. They argue that women are oppressed, and even abandoned, across caste and community, but the Bill focuses only on Muslim women.
This apart, questions have been raised about its specific content too.
The Bill makes instant triple talaq a criminal offence, something that has been criticised by many lawyers. The critique: the banned practice should be a civil offence. If instant triple talaq has been accompanied by domestic violence, there are already provisions in law to deal with it, says lawyer Keerti Singh, who has worked on domestic violence. The Bill itself, say critics, should make instant triple talaq, a civil wrong.
However, supporters of the Bill argue that deterrence is a must, an argument that may or may not hold true as deterrence hasn’t prevented serious crimes from taking place.
The Bill has been watered down after its earlier version – the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 -- was criticised as too harsh. The original Bill made triple talaq a cognisable offence – meaning, one in which a police officer could arrest a person without warrant – and anyone could file a complaint. The present Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha, makes it a cognisable offence, but with the rider that only the married woman or a relation of hers by blood or marriage can file a complaint.
Significantly, no person arrested under the proposed law can be granted bail unless the magistrate, upon application filed by the accused and after hearing the woman, decides that there are reasonable grounds to grant bail. The latest Bill also makes the offence compoundable, meaning that the two parties can stop the legal proceedings and settle the dispute on terms and conditions determined by the magistrate.
The Bill also says that a married woman shall be entitled to receive a subsistence allowance for herself and her dependent children from her husband. It adds that she shall be entitled to the custody of her children. Both these provisions would come into force on terms and conditions determined by the magistrate.
One criticism of the Bill has been that the provision of a subsistence allowance and the provision of imprisonment for up to three years are at odds with each other. For, critics ask, how will a man who is behind bars earn to provide subsistence allowance to his wife and children?
The Modi government’s effort to steer a law to make instant triple talaq a criminal offence has faced opposition from the beginning.
A Bill to do so – more stringent than the one now – was passed in the Lok Sabha in 2017 but was pending in the Rajya Sabha.
An Ordinance to punish the practice of talaq-e-biddat was promulgated in 2018. A Bill to replace this Ordinance was passed by the Lok Sabha in December, 2018, and could not go through the Rajya Sabha till both Houses were adjourned. Thus, another Ordinance was promulgated in January, 2019.
Thereafter, necessary amendments to the Bill were moved in the Rajya Sabha but could not be passed. Another Ordinance was subsequently promulgated but no Bill to replace it could be introduced, as the Lok Sabha was dissolved and the Bill lapsed.
The Bill has been introduced again -- as the first Bill introduced by Modi government 2.0 -- in the Lok Sabha on June 21, 2019, to replace the Ordinance. On Thursday, the Lok Sabha was debating the Bill till late in the evening.
The Bill will face its real test in the Rajya Sabha, and the only option with the government in case of its being rejected there will be to pass it in a joint sitting. Else, the Bill will fail to become law.