The Big Story: Talaq, talaq, talaq

Instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat is a form of instant, oral divorce that was, till recently, available to Muslim men in India. The practice was unfair to women, giving them little security in a society where men mostly control a family’s finances. Triple talaq had already been abolished in most other countries where Muslim law held sway, such as Pakistan or Bangladesh. It took a Supreme Court decision in August to abolish talaq-e-biddat from Indian Muslim personal law.

This should have been the end of the matter. But it wasn’t. Within months, the Union government started to draft a law that made talaq-e-biddat a criminal offence. A Muslim man might face three years in prison for uttering the word “talaq” three times, even though this act has no legal power anymore. Moreover, unlike in other types of crimes committed within the framework of marriage, the draft bill made instant triple talaq a cognisable offence – which means anyone can file a complaint. The offence is also a non-bailable one.

In sum, a Muslim man could be put in prison if anyone alleges that he has said a word three times, even though that word has no legal weight. In a legal system that already acts against Muslims, this law opens avenues for further abuse, allowing for arbitrary prison time and for the break up of families based on an external complaint or even suo moto police action.

The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. Like the provisions in the proposed law, the manner in which the bill was passed was highly irregular. Even as Muslims groups across the board spoke out against the law, no experts or special interest groups were consulted. In fact, the Bebaak Collective, a women’s rights group that was key in the Supreme Court case that made the practice illegal, warned that “the move to imprison Muslim men will add to the prevailing insecurity and alienation of the Muslim community”.

The Lok Sabha saw little pushback from the Opposition. While the lower house has a clear government majority, the situation is different in the Rajya Sabha, where the bill will be introduced on Wednesday. The Opposition has already demanded that the bill be sent to a Select Committee. It has the numbers in the House to ensure that its demand is carried out. Efforts must be made to revise the draconian measures of the bill that seek only to victimise a minority.

The Big Scroll

  • The triple talaq Bill is hasty, impulsive and cruel – much like the act it seeks to criminalise, argues Abhishek Sudhir.
  • As triple talaq Bill heads to Rajya Sabha, Opposition unity will be put to the test, reports Anita Katyal.

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