In an attempt to empower Muslim women, the Indian government has criminalised 'Triple Talaq' which is a personal law.
Talaq permits a Muslim man to dissolve his marriage by announcing thrice in oral, written or more recently electronic form without citing any cause. It is prevalent among the followers of the Hanafi Islamic school of law. Several Islamic scholars have argued that the right manner of initiating talaq would be in three different sittings which is not the usual case.
In 2017, more than 1 million Indian Muslims signed a petition to end this form of divorce. The Muslim Rashtriya Manch, an Islamic organisation affiliated to the right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh initiated it. In the same year, the Supreme Court ruled that the practice violates the constitutional rights of Muslim women. Islamic countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned this form of divorce.
In India, there is no uniform set of laws on marriage and divorce that applies to all citizens. The 170 million Sunni Muslims in India are governed by the Muslim Personal Law for family matters.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind has consented to the 'Triple Talaq' bill which criminalises the act of giving instant divorce with provisions of jail term upto three years. The bill was cleared in the upper house of the Parliament with 99 votes in favour of it. It has replaced the triple talaq ordinance promulgated in February 2019.
Due to strong opposition in Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Parliament), it took one year for the ruling party to pass the bill. Justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad noted that the bill was essential as several instances of this practice were still being reported despite the ruling of the Supreme Court two years ago. He also stated that the Hindu Marriage Act, Dowry Prohibition Act and Section 498A of IPC prescribe jail for crimes associated with marriage.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi heralded the ruling as 'a victory of gender justice'. Previously the Prime Minister has quoted that even Pakistan has banned the triple talaq.
The bill has been criticised by members of the Muslim community stating that the punishment is harsh and open to misuse. According to Dr Razia Patel, activist and specialist in Muslim women's rights, the bill makes no consideration of how a husband who is jailed would continue to provide maintenance for the wife and family. "The main question is whether this will provide justice to Muslim women. Clearly, the answer is no,". Ghulam Nabi Azad, a leader within the main opposition Congress party, said that the law was inherently discriminatory because no other religion in the country was being threatened with jail terms for irregular divorce practices.
There are no official statistics to suggest the practice of 'triple talaq'. A study by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) states that out of 4710 women, 525 were divorced and 404 of those were through instant divorces. Also, there is limited data on the number of divorces via electronic forms. Faizan Mustafa, vice-chancellor of the National University of Law, said "they have played it out of proportion. Media has further portrayed as if every Muslim is divorcing through SMS," "Nearly 41 % of women themselves wanted a divorce. If a woman herself wants to divorce and husband gives, it is out of mutual agreement. It is a divorce by consent. In Islam, it is known as Talaq-e-Mubarra. It's OK.
- Governments are changing repressive religious structures with an aim to provide women with equal rights and status. Also, the state has a responsibility for each citizen's constitutional rights that transcend the rights of religious groups.
- We feel that the bill can provoke the patriarchal, conservative forces with the Muslim community in order to protect Islamic Sharia laws
- Instead of empowering the women, it can lead to other communal issues such as abuse and force women into impoverishment. Also, the law does not provide guidelines on the custody of children.
- The present government has concentrated on gender-sensitive religious legislation, for example, Sabarimala, giving rise to differences within and outside the communities. We feel that the politics of gender and religion have taken mainframe.
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