NEW DELHI — India’s powerful lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, Dec. 28 approved a bill making the practice of triple talaq illegal and punishable with up to three years imprisonment for offending husbands.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 was passed by a voice vote after a resolution moved by Revolutionary Socialist Party member N.K. Premachandran that the legislation be circulated for public opinion was rejected.
The bill came months after India’s Supreme Court ruled that the Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce their wives was unconstitutional.
Several opposition parties criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for not discussing the legislation with them before introducing it in Parliament Dec. 28. The approved bill will now go to the upper house of parliament, where it needs to be approved before it becomes law.
Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who introduced the bill and later piloted it in the Lok Sabha, said history was being created.
He said the issue was not of religion or faith but of "gender justice and gender equality" and appealed to all parties to rise above political considerations and the politics of vote-bank.
"Women are seeing that justice will be done to them. Let us speak in one voice that we are for gender justice and gender equity and pass the Bill unanimously," Prasad said.
More than 20 Muslim countries, including neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the practice. But in India, the practice has continued with the protection of laws that allow Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities to follow religious law in matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption.
While most Hindu personal laws have been overhauled and codified over the years, Muslim laws have been left to religious authorities and left largely untouched.
Women’s rights activist Zakia Soman said it was a much needed law for Muslim women, who have suffered legal discrimination with Hindu and Christian women enjoying protection under separate laws.
Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar said time was now ripe for the passage of the legislation in the interest of Muslim women. He recalled an interview with the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during which a British journalist asked him – following the passage of the Hindu Code Bill – when the government would introduce reforms in Muslim laws.
Nehru was not opposed to reforming Muslim personal laws but merely said the time was not opportune.
"That time has come now," Akbar said.
Most of the 170 million Muslims in India are Sunnis governed by Muslim Personal Law for family matters and disputes. Those laws include allowing men to divorce their wives by simply uttering the Arabic word “talaq,” or divorce, three times — and not necessarily consecutively, but at any time, and by any medium, including telephone, text message or social media post.
Prasad noted that triple talaq has continued despite the Supreme Court’s August ruling that the practice is unconstitutional.
"We had hope. The judgment came on Aug. 22. There were 300 triple talaq cases in 2017 of which 100 had taken place after the Supreme Court verdict. This raises a big question," Prasad said.
Kamal Farooqi, a leader representing the All India Muslim Personal Board, a top grouping of Islamic organizations, said the organization was opposed to the practice of instant divorce but argued against the government or courts interfering in religious laws.
He said the board was in favor of leaving the divorce issue to the Muslim community to tackle. But several progressive Muslim activists decried the board’s position.
-With inputs from IANS