The government tabled the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill in the Lok Sabha on Friday, ANI reported. The bill seeks to make the practice of instant triple talaq – which allows Muslim men to divorce their wives by uttering the word “talaq” three times in spoken or written forms, or via electronic communication – a penal offence. It prescribes a penalty of imprisonment up to three years for the offence, and provides for subsistence allowance to married Muslim women and their children.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad moved the bill amid ruckus, and said the legislation would protect the rights of Muslim women. The issue was not religion but about protection of women, he added. Prasad quoted Article 15 of Constitution to emphasise his point, The Indian Express reported. The bill was introduced after 186 members supported it and 74 opposed it.

Speaker Om Birla urged Opposition legislators to maintain decorum of the House and reprimanded them. As members from Opposition benches kept up their protests, Prasad said Parliament’s job was to pass legislation. “We were elected to make laws,” he said. “Do not turn Lok Sabha into a court. Arguments can happen in the court.”

Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor said “the bill does nothing to improve the status of Muslim women,” NDTV reported.

Prasad later said it was a “matter of great distress” that the Congress chose to oppose the bill. “Earlier they had not opposed it, last time they had walked out from Lok Sabha,” ANI quoted him as saying. “But today they were siding with the likes of Mr Owaisi who were opposing it.”

“A woman leader like Sonia Gandhi is the leader of Congress party, yet Congress party takes an anti-women position in the Lok Sabha, opposing even the introduction of the Bill,” Prasad added. “I must say it is not only painful but deeply regrettable.”

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All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi said the bill violates Articles 14 and 15 of Constitution. He alleged the government does not care about Muslim women, News18 reported. He brought up the Sabarimala matter to question the government’s track record on women rights.

“We already have Domestic Violence Act 2005, CrPC Section 125, Muslim Women Marriage Act,” Owaisi said according to ANI. “If triple talaq bill becomes a law it will be even greater injustice against women.”

Owaisi wondered how a man jailed for pronouncing triple talaq could provide allowance to his wife from prison. “He’ll be jailed for 3 yrs but marriage will be intact! What law is Mr Modi [prime minister] forming?” the AIMIM chief asked. Owaisi also said that while a non-Muslim man faces one year in prison for the same crime, under the triple talaq bill the term of imprisonment for a Muslim man is three years.

The Union Cabinet had approved the triple talaq bill on June 12, paving the way for the legislation to be introduced in the current session of the Parliament.

The bill has provisions for severe penalties. The Congress has decided to oppose the bill. The Janata Dal (United), an ally of the BJP, has also signalled its opposition.

Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan claimed his party would support what was in the Quran, according to ANI. “No religion has given more rights to women than Islam 1,500 years ago,” he said. “Islam was the first religion to have given the right of equality to women. Today we witness the lowest divorce rate and the lowest cases of violence on women in Islam. Women are not burnt or killed.”

“Triple Talaq is a religious issue, not a political issue and nothing is more supreme for a Muslim than Quran,” he added.

President Ram Nath Kovind, during his address to the joint sitting of the Houses on Thursday, had praised the government’s efforts to do away with the practice of triple talaq. “Removing practices like triple talaq and ‘nikah halala’ are essential to give equality to women,” the president had said.

The Centre had first promulgated the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Ordinance in September 2018. A bill to replace it was passed in the Lok Sabha in December, but remained pending in the Upper House. The government promulgated the Ordinance again after the Winter Session of Parliament but could not pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha during the Budget session. The ordinance lapsed on June 3.

The Opposition has demanded that the bill be sent to a select joint parliamentary committee before being passed into law. The government, however, has rejected this demand. The Congress claimed that the government was using the bill as a tool to imprison Muslim men and to create an atmosphere of confrontation between Muslim men and women. In March, the Supreme Court dismissed a batch of petitions challenging the re-promulgation of the Ordinance.

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