The Big Story: Talaq, talaq, talaq

The Union Cabinet on Friday cleared a bill that criminalises the practice of instant triple talaq, a convention that permits Sunni Muslim men to divorce their wives simply by pronouncing the word “talaq”, meaning divorce, three times in one sitting. The Supreme Court had already struck down the practice in August. If passed into law by parliament, the bill would make triple talaq a non-bailable offence and carry a jail sentence of up to three years.

Till the Supreme Court struck it down, India was one of the few countries that permitted instant triple talaq. Pakistan, for example, did away with the convention in 1961. This legal position makes eminent sense, given that instant triple talaq is clearly unjust, placing women at the whims of their husbands. Yet, it is odd that the Union government should move to criminalise the practice, given that the Supreme Court has already struck it down.

The move – criminalising the civil matter of marriage – will do little to help Muslim women. In fact, it could end up harming them. The very purpose of banning triple talaq was to allow women greater security in the institution of marriage by allowing for due process in divorce. How will that purpose be served if the husband is sent to jail? And how will a jail term allow the husband to provide maintenance to his ex-wife – a crucial provision in India where many women are financially dependent on their spouses.

Moreover, the practice of instant triple talaq is already regulated under the Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code – a fact pointed out by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development. Others have noted that the three years of jail time provided under the bill seems harsh. To put that in context, under the Indian Penal Code, the crime of rioting carries allows for imprisonment of up to two years.

While the new bill may not help Muslim women, it will help the Bharaiya Janata Party. The BJP’s frequent allegation that India’s Muslims are “being appeased” rests on the existence of Muslim personal law. The party first began to make this accusation in the 1980s, basing its spurious claim on the decision of the Congress government to pass a law to ensure that maintenance was not paid to an elderly Muslim divorcee named Shah Bano.

While there are good reasons to support Shah Bano in her fight, it seems unlikely the BJP – given its stridenly communal politics – is being driven by concern for Muslim welfare. It is instead motivated by a patronising majoritarian impulse to save Muslim women from the baser instincts of the men of their own community. The move may earn the BJP Hindu votes, but it is unlikely to do much to help vulnerable Muslim women.

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With an eye on the state assembly elections, the BJP is raising communal temperatures, triggering fear among Muslims, reports TA Ameerudheen.

“Even after the state government handed over the investigation into Mesta’s death to the Central Bureau of Investigation on December 13, the BJP refuses to scale down its protests. For the coming week, it has announced a ‘jail bharo andolan’, calling upon people across Karnataka to court arrest to protest the Congress government’s policy of favouring Muslims. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has accused BJP of using Mesta’s death to create trouble for political gains.

The communal tensions come at a time when political parties are preparing the ground for Karnataka assembly elections to be held in the first half of 2018. In 2012, BJP had won in just one of the six constituencies in Uttara Kannada district and one of the eight constituencies in neighbouring Dakshina Kannada district. The 14 seats in coastal Karnataka will prove crucial in deciding the winner of next year’s election.”