Uncertain future of Triple Talaq Bill and gender equality

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The issue of Triple Talaq is a tussle between morality and religious beliefs on one hand, and of equality and justice on another.

The much-awaited and controversial Triple Talaq Bill was tabled at the winter session of the Parliament on 28 December 2017. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 is introduced to make Talaq-e-biddat, also called Triple Talaq, a cognizable and non-bailable offense. The Bill was already passed by the Lok Sabha, but could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha. The bill contained within itself provision for a three-year jail term and a fine for any Muslim man who divorces his wife by uttering talaq thrice in one sitting, verbally, in written or in electronic form. It also allowed subsistence allowance for Muslim women and custody of minor children.

The bill was drafted after the Supreme court, in its landmark 3-2 judgment on 22 August 2017, called the practice un-Islamic and ‘arbitrary’ by refusing to view it as an integral part of Islam. The government while drafting the bill did not take into consideration the opinion of Muslim boards because they felt that the bill dealt with the matter of justice and gender equality, where the opinions of religious bodies and leaders are not required.

Several debates have sparked amidst Supreme Court’s ruling and the drafting of the bill. Different strands of opinions have come to the surface vis-à-vis the bill. An undergraduate student from Kolkata opines that the law is divinely created with a purpose which is misunderstood by the majority today. She further adds that the law prevents the two partners in a relationship from ‘taking each other for granted’. Whereas some believe that the bill is too extreme a step for the men as it risks defeating the objective of preserving the husband’s legal obligations, taking into consideration how he will look after the livelihood of his wife and children, once behind the bars. From an angle, perhaps personal law might supersede the state law for some, as they believe that the bill contradicts their moral and religious belief systems.

“Men, single-handedly being given the power to put an end to marriages, are upholding anything but equality”

Where one set of people are against the bill, others are gender neutral. Zehra Izhar, the Marketing Associate at the Confederation of Indian Industry, feels that marriage ‘is a contract between two parties’ and that men being able to make the contract void, through their verbal statement, ‘is wrong’. Men, single-handedly being given the power to put an end to marriages, are upholding anything but equality. Instant triple talaq leaves no room for reconciliation, which is more unjust for females as a decision taken in haste or out of some hidden agenda of men, might lead to undesirable repercussions. This practice as held by a group of Muslims is considered to be ‘regressive’, which has no place in the modern era.

However, there is yet another group which feels that criminalization of Triple Talaq, at its heart, will not solve the issue of unilateral divorce. Even after the legislation and implementation of such a law, the issue of gender equality and neutrality will be questionable.

Despite being passed at the lower house of the Parliament, the bill faced obstacles by the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Congress, along with others insisted on referring the bill to a select committee for further scrutiny before it takes the form of a law. At this juncture, the non-NDA parties were greatly criticized by Leader of the House, Arun Jaitley and Union Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, who called this sudden change in attitude of these parties as an act of hypocrisy and the motion of setting up a select committee as ‘invalid’, for the bill did not originate from the upper house. The heated debate and irreconcilable differences caused an outburst at the Parliament session which ultimately resulted in the adjournment of the House.

The controversy surrounding Talaq-e-biddat, which has been one of the most highlighted issues in 2017, is yet to see its climax. It is, indeed, a tussle between morality and religious beliefs on one hand, and of equality and justice on another. Amidst such a situation, the principle of ‘Greatest good for the greatest number’ must ideally be upheld.