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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 9 New Delhi February 16, 2019

Triple Talaaq Bill: Limits, Ambiguities and Politics

Sunday 17 February 2019

by Ananya Pathak

The Opposition stood in stark condemnation, as the Triple Talaaq Bill came to be passed in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, January 3, 2019. The Bill seeks to criminalise the practice of instant triple talaaq among Muslims. Under the law, the act of giving instant talaaq will attract a jail term of upto three years for a husband. The Opposition was demanding that the Bill be referred to a Joint Committee but walked out when its demand could not be met.

The ruling party asserted that the Bill was not a political statement but a gesture towards restoring the dignity of Muslim women and that the Opposition had been opposing it for the sake of its vote-bank.

As news channels bombard us with fiery speeches and a set of allegations and counter-allegations by the ruling and the Opposition parties, perhaps there are some far deeper concerns that we are missing amidst the rhetoric.

Women’s Agony: Seeing Beyond Islam

One of the most important concerns that must urgently be addressed is the fact that while in India, family laws allow a couple to opt for a divorce through legal procedures, it is not uncommon to find husbands walk out of marriages or abandon their wives without even offering an explanation.

It must also be asserted that this marital unaccountability is found across religious communities and has nothing to do with Islam in particular. The statistics on women abandoned in marriages that were not termed as legal procedures of divorce was 2.37 million as pointed out by the Census of 2011.

(http://censusindia.gov.in/)

It is difficult and an extremely significant task to find out what happened to the lives of these women after they were illegally abandoned/ separated from their husbands and often without having any alternative source of livelihood. As many as 1.9 million out of these ‘separated’ women are Hindus while Muslim women consist of 0.28 million.

This goes on to imply then that abandonment of wives is not a religious but a societal/cultural problem that must be addressed as much through legal mechanisms as through societal awareness and community vigilantism.

The allegation made by the Opposition that the Centre was merely trying to play on communal sentiments through the passing of the Triple Talaaq Bill and interfering with the Muslim Personal Law may be an exaggerated condemnation because it will drastically empower a lot of Islamic women who were divorced by a sudden utterance of the word ‘talaaq’ by their husbands without any solid grounds by now making it illegal and void and sanctioning imprisonment for up to three years for the husband.

The Bill is empowering for women to the extent that it will no longer let a husband have an easy way of abandoning his spouse and continue living unencumbered. It is indeed a moment of collective victory for Muslim women that after decades of suppression, this cruel and unjust practice will now be finished.

Flawed Law

But amidst the celebration and victory of what apparently seems like the end of an odious provision, what cannot be negated is the fact that there is a loophole which confirms that it has not much to do with gender justice.

The draft Bill does not take into consideration that there can be a Muslim husband who may treat his wife brutally and decide to throw her out of the house without saying ‘talaaq, talaaq, talaaq’ and he will happily escape without getting any punishment and will have to face no criminal sanction!

A woman abandoned like this will neither see her husband getting imprisoned nor will she be entitled to maintenance.

What this implies then is the fact that once the law is passed, an averagely aware, irresponsible Muslim husband will conveniently abandon his wife without uttering the Urdu words ‘talaaq, talaaq, talaaq’. He will kick her out, destroy her life and not be entitled to imprisonment or to giving her maintenance under the law just because he was cautious enough to not utter the three words.

In other words, a Muslim husband will now be sanctioned to take the same path his Hindu, Sikh, Christian or Buddhist counterparts took in many parts of the nation to illegally throw out their wives without offering an explanation, without ensuring her dignity.

It certainly is paradoxical that this law is inconsistent, absurd and intrinsically flawed. Surely, had the concern been women’s equality, the government could have done a far more nuanced drafting of the Bill.

No matter how desperate the government is about passing the Bill in the Rajya Sabha in its present form, what must not be overlooked is the fact that the need of the hour is a Bill targeted at protecting the rights of all Indian married women irrespective of their religion that protects them from being illegally divorced.

It is time for the government to be reminded once more that in India, wives are abandoned and ill-treated, violated and denied dignity regardless of religion and therefore to make gender justice and women’s welfare a realistic claim, a more nuanced and culturally mature Bill is needed. While the rhetoric of rescuing the abandoned Muslim wife may please many, India waits for a Bill that empowers married women irrespective of religion against illegal divorce.

Ananya Pathak is one of the Co-Founding Editors of the monthly magazine, The New Leam. She can be contacted at ananyapathak[at]gmail.com

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