The Opposition on Thursday ridiculed the government claim that the triple talaq bill was motivated by a commitment to justice for Muslim women, but the BJP’s numerical strength ensured that the Lok Sabha passed the controversial legislation.
Arguing that the bill was part of the BJP agenda to harass Muslims, the Opposition expressed deep concern at the provision that allows the husband to be jailed if he pronounces an instant triple talaq.
It asked the government why it was not concerned about the lynching of Muslims and the education and health of Muslim women if its objective was to deliver justice to the community.
Earlier, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said: “Don’t see this issue through the prism of religion and politics; this issue is about humanity and a woman’s dignity.”
Prasad added that the provision for jail was necessary to punish the errant husbands. He claimed there had been 345 instances of the instant talaq even after the Supreme Court banned the practice in August 2017.
“Should we leave these women on the roads? I am a minister in the Narendra Modi government and not in the Rajiv Gandhi government,” he said.
Rajiv’s government had passed a law to overturn a Supreme Court judgment upholding divorced Muslim women’s right to maintenance.
The Opposition members, however, argued that through the jail provision, the government was trying to separate husband and wife when the instant talaq had no legal validity. BJP ally Janata Dal United opposed the bill and walked out.
The Lok Sabha had passed the triple talaq bill last year but it got stuck in the Rajya Sabha, where the government lacks the numbers. The bill had lapsed at the end of the previous Lok Sabha’s term and has been introduced afresh. It now faces another test in the Upper House.
Congress member Mohammad Jawed had countered Prasad, saying: “The Supreme Court has already declared the triple talaq illegal but did not ask the government to criminalise the offence. If the husband is in jail, how will he give maintenance?
“The punishment for causing death by negligence is imprisonment for two years but in this law, the punishment is three years. It is the BJP’s political intention to show Islam in a bad light and harass Muslim men. Why are you not thinking of the abandoned Hindu women?”
“You say your government is concerned about Muslim women. Are you concerned about Shaista whose husband Tabrez (Ansari) was lynched recently in Jharkhand? Do you want to give justice to the mothers and wives of the other lynching victims — Akhlaque, Junaid and others?”
Jawed accused the government of trying to create “a hostile atmosphere for Muslims so that they are branded terrorists, lynched on the street or sent to jail in matrimonial disputes”.
Kanimozhi of the DMK asked the government to bring in the women’s reservation bill and crack down on honour killings if it wanted to empower women.
“Why are Hindu men not being sent to jail for abandoning their wives? We oppose the bill; we are not going to leave the minorities of this country to live in fear.”
Trinamul member Sudip Bandyopadhyay told the government: “If you are worried about Muslim women, think of their education and health.”
Indian Union Muslim League member P.K. Kunhalikutty asked whether the government had consulted any Muslim organisation before bringing the jail provision in. He accused the government of a double standard in relation to apex court judgments, citing the BJP’s opposition to the Sabarimala order last year.
RSP member N.K. Premchandran, who had given a notice to stop the bill’s introduction, said: “The Supreme Court has not given you any directive to frame a law on the triple talaq but the Supreme Court has given you a specific directive to make a law on mob lynching.”
He added: “Yours is a clear political motive to target the Muslim community. Why three ordinances on triple talaq? Ordinances are brought under extraordinary situations….
“The instant triple talaq has already been scrapped. Why are you criminalising a civil matter? Why are you not influencing the divorce process in other communities? If the triple talaq is illegal, why are you separating the husband and the wife on that basis?”
Without mentioning the jail provision, BJP member Meenakshi Lekhi said: “(Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s problem is creating a secular state among religious communities. (Jawaharlal) Nehru also worried about creating a just society based on just laws. People who think religious laws are immutable are wrong.”