Several civil society members and organisations on Tuesday condemned the passage of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, in Parliament. The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the bill with 99 votes in favour and 84 against. It was passed in the Lok Sabha on July 25, and now awaits presidential assent.
The bill makes the practice of instant triple talaq – which allows Muslim men to divorce their wives by uttering the word “talaq” thrice 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.
However, members of civil society claimed the bill was a “complete charade” and said they would petition President Ram Nath Kovind urging him not to sign it into law. “We the undersigned groups and individuals condemn the government’s attempt to criminalise Muslim men in the guise of protecting Muslim women,” the statement read. “We stand today in strong opposition to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Bill, 2019, which has been pushed through the Rajya Sabha in great haste by this government. Why was it not sent to a select committee?”
The signatories included organisations such as Bebaak Collective and United Against Hate. Writer Farah Naqvi, historian Uma Chakravarti, and activists Harsh Mander, Arundhati Dhuru and Kalyani Menon-Sen were also among the signatories.
The statement claimed that the government was pretending to save Muslim women even as Muslims were being lynched daily. “After the Supreme Court in 2017 already made the pronouncement of talaq in a single setting void in law, it is an absurdity to make a person uttering it criminally liable, facing 3 years of imprisonment,” the statement read.
These members of civil society said the bill did not really care about justice for Muslim women, as imprisoning the husband for three years left the woman at the mercy of her matrimonial family. They said the bill did not provide for financial security of the woman and her children.
The signatories added that personal laws were civil and not criminal matters. “This is the first time in the history of India, that we are witnessing criminal provisions in matters of marriage and divorce,” they said. “In its intent and target, it is clear that this is not a pro-woman but an anti-minority bill.”
The statement also criticised the ineffectiveness of the Opposition, which was unable to stop the passage of the bill. “The time opposition leaders have spent in making passionate speeches against this bill would have been better spent in reaching out to all parties and ensuring their presence for this vote,” it said.
“This is not the kind of opposition that many Indians voted for, and we deserve and demand better,” the statement added. “We urge the opposition to stand up to its constitutional duty and protect Indian democracy that is being eroded by the day, with the number of anti-people legislations that are being passed by the government.”
In August 2017, the Supreme Court had struck down instant triple talaq, calling the Islamic practice unconstitutional and in violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which provides for equality before the law. The Centre then brought a bill, which the Lok Sabha passed multiple times but one that kept getting stuck in the Rajya Sabha. However, the government kept promulgating ordinances to the effect.