The more the proposed law related to triple Talaq - instant divorce by mere word of mouth or in writing by Muslim men against their wives in case of estrangement between the parties - drags, the more polarising effect it would have upon an already communally divided and surcharged society. This became palpably clear as the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 could not be taken up on the last day of the Parliament monsoon session due to the lack of consensus among parties. And, thus, it will have to wait until the next Parliament session.
Strangely, a minority versus majority angle has come to be attached to a law which is meant for Muslims alone. This is so because politics over the years has taken a communal turn where the plight of Muslim women outweighs that of Muslims in general and it suits politicos, more so those from the ruling party, to ride through a divide between the sexes and meet their electoral needs.
Painting Muslim men as misogynists can be made to look gratifying to the majority in times of elections, and this can easily be played up through election speeches to beat Muslims as well as Opposition by blaming it to be their backers and appeasers.
It is in this backdrop that the bill has been lingering on since last December when it got the Lok Sabha’s nod amid rejection of amendments moved by several members from the Opposition. And when it came to the Rajya Sabha where the BJP is still short of majority, the Opposition’s views had to be taken note of by the Government.
The bill makes divorce by Muslim men by pronouncing the word Talaq thrice against their wives amid any differences or quarrel a punishable offence. The Union Cabinet discussed the provisions of the bill in the light of Opposition’s reservations as late as August 9, and agreed to amend the bill to give the right to grant bail in the wake of arrest of a husband divorcing his wife summarily through triple Talaq to the magistrate as per or in accordance with his discretion.
A law was necessitated after the Supreme Court hearing a number of divorce cases related to Muslims struck down the practice of Triple Talaq and put the onus in the legislature’s court last August by calling upon it to frame a suitable legislation in this regard. Since, Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed keen interest in bringing a law to end the unseemly discrimination that Muslim women can be put through in the hands of their estranged husbands because of the ostensible religious sanction to the practice of triple Talaq.
In fact, it was the judiciary that deserved praise and not PM Modi for scrapping a discriminatory social more like triple Talaq. Despite hailing the court’s verdict, the Modi Government could not get the law passed even after a year the court’s move against the way Muslim women face the threat of divorce because of one-sided practice that is clearly in favour of the male members of the community.
Yet, ever since the apex court’s judgment, Modi has often sworn at public platforms and in Parliament to empower Muslim women. This is in sharp contrast to the BJP governments’ record vis-à-vis women in general and Muslim women in particular. The recent women’s shelter home cases in Bihar and UP point to the worst kind of horror that women have to face under the BJP rule both at the Centre as also in the two states. More so since the Bihar Government is also supported by the BJP.
As for Muslims, it took a Gujarat riot victim and a rape survivor Bilkis Bano a decade-and-half to get justice. In May last year the Bombay High Court convicted 12 accused and quashed the acquittal of seven other suspects in one of the worst cases of rioters targeting a Muslim woman. After the High Court judgment, Bilkis travelled to Delhi to complain at a Press conference about the harassment she faced for 15 long years after the 2002 riots allegedly at the behest of the accused persons where she had to change her residence several times to avoid pressure put from the defendants’ side. Thus, the BJP’s credibility towards ensuring women’s rights has not been as great as PM Modi often vouches to be in case of what he calls to be his Muslim sisters who need a foolproof law to avoid discrimination because of Muslim men.
Yet, it is true that the divorce law has been amended in as many as 20 Muslim countries since it has been found detrimental and discriminatory to women’s genuine rights as equal citizens. Back home, it sadly lingers through because of Muslim clergy’s reluctance to allow it to be changed. This is so despite the fact that in the past this had led to political haggling when a poor divorced woman Shah Bano was given a little alimony by the Supreme Court which her former husband was supposed to foot.
A progressive ruling given by the apex court was somehow reversed in the late Rajiv Gandhi’s time giving the BJP a stick to beat the government at its game. The BJP leadership since the 1980s in the wake of the Shah Bano case had argued that when the rule of law can be rewritten as per the sentiments of the minority community, why couldn’t this be so in the case of Babri Masjid which as per Hindu public sentiments was the birthplace of Lord Rama?
Ever since, a communal divide has been taking deeper roots and this has brought the entire society to a virtual edge with the result of perpetual acrimony on communal lines, intermittent riots and development of political stakes in religious divisiveness. So, the sooner the debate over the present divorce bill is sorted out, the better.