By Akash Vashishtha
The Indian government on Friday approved draft legislation banning and criminalizing a controversial practice of unilateral divorce among Muslims, an official said.
The government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), cleared the draft of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 on the first day of the parliament’s winter session.
The bill makes the practice of instant triple talaq, which allows a Muslim man to part from his wife by uttering or writing the word “divorce” three times, a non-bailable criminal offense carrying a prison term of three years, Law Ministry spokesman N.N. Kaul told BenarNews.
“It has been cleared by the government today,” he confirmed, adding that the bill will adjudicate cases of triple talaq across all Indian states except the disputed Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the proposed legislation, which will become a law only after it clears by both houses of the parliament, a victim of triple talaq can seek custody of her minor children as well as maintenance from her husband.
The draft was framed by a group of BJP ministers appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the Supreme Court ruled in August that instant triple talaq was unconstitutional and illegal.
Despite the landmark verdict, several instances of the practice were reported from different parts of the country, prompting the government to come up with the bill, a government source told BenarNews.
Activists support bill
Muslim women’s rights activists, who had been pushing for tougher laws to deal with the practice, hailed the government’s draft legislation.
‘It is a welcome move that was long overdue. Although the Supreme Court had termed triple talaq illegal months ago, it was not a substitute for a law,” Noorjehan Safia Niaz of the Mumbai-based Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan told BenarNews.
“We had initially made a draft for the law which was circulated among all parliamentarians. But we don’t know if our suggestions have been included in the government’s draft. We have yet to see it,” Niaz said.
Shaista Ambar, president of the Uttar Pradesh-based All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, said she was thankful to the government for preparing the bill within six months of the court ruling.
“Though we haven’t seen the draft, we know that most of our suggestions, such as quantum of punishment, maintenance and custody of children, have been incorporated,” she told BenarNews.
While citing the Quran, Ambar said in Islam divorce can be pronounced only after a couple has undergone counseling for three months and all efforts to reconcile have failed.
“But a lot of Muslim men have misused this, and have divorced their wives by uttering the word divorce in a letter, email and even on Whatsapp, leaving the woman and their children to fend for themselves,” she added.
“All Islamic nations have banned this practice because Islam does not approve of it. Why should women and children suffer because a man suddenly decided to leave his wife,” Ambar said.
Influential Muslim groups including All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, which had opposed the ban on triple talaq, could not be reached for comment.
But Mohammad Wali Rahmani, AIMPLB’s general secretary, previously told BenarNews: “triple talaq is part of our religion, and freedom to practice our respective religions is a fundamental right of every India citizen, according to the constitution.”