Wedded to the cause: Lok Sabha passes revised triple talaq Bill

The Lok Sabha (LS) on Thursday passed the revised triple talaq Bill amid nearly the entire Opposition staging a walkout.

Opposition members said the contentious Bill suffered from loopholes. They argued the Bill aimed at criminalising what is essentially a civil matter, when the Supreme Court (SC) has already invalidated the practice. The Opposition demanded the Bill be referred to a joint select committee of Parliament.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Bill was not about politics but empowerment and justice for women. He rejected the Opposition demand to send it to a joint select committee and asserted the revised Bill has addressed the concerns that Opposition members had earlier raised, including incorporating bail provisions.

Prasad said the Opposition is opposing the Bill for “vote bank politics”. After much of the Opposition walked out, the House passed the Bill with 245 votes in favour and 11 against it.

In August 2017, the SC had struck down the practice of instant triple talaq, or talaq-e-biddat, as unconstitutional. Subsequently, the Narendra Modi government brought the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, more popularly known as the triple talaq Bill, in the LS.

It provided for imprisonment of up to three years for Muslim men found guilty of instant triple talaq. The LS passed the Bill, but it was stalled in the Rajya Sabha (RS). In September 2018, the government issued an Ordinance with amendments. The current revised Bill, once passed by the RS, will replace that Ordinance.

Prasad told the LS that the Bill has made the offence compoundable, meaning that the case can be withdrawn if the man and his estranged wife reach a compromise. Prasad said fears about the misuse of the proposed law were unfounded as only the wife and her close relatives can file a first information report.

However, Opposition leaders said they would push that the RS refers the Bill to a select committee, as and when the government tables it in that House. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance is short of the majority mark in the RS.

On Thursday, only the BJP and its closest allies, like the Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal, supported the Bill. Others, particularly Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party, did not participate in the debate. Even those not part of the Congress-led Opposition, including Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Telangana Rashtra Samithi, opposed the Bill.

BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab appreciated the government diluting the earlier Bill, but opposed the provision of imprisonment as unreasonable and unfair.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Asaduddin Owaisi said the government was criminalising triple talaq while it has supported decriminalisation of homosexuality, and the SC has decriminalised adultery. He moved an amendment, which was eventually defeated, to make desertion of wife by a husband a criminal offence.

Arvind Sawant of the Shiv Sena demanded the Modi government should display similar audacity, as it has with triple talaq, to bring legislation on the Ram temple.

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