Months after the Supreme Court held the practice of talaq-e-biddat, popularly known as triple talaq, unconstitutional and struck it down with a 3-2 majority, the Lok Sabha passed a Bill criminalising the practice. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 declares all ‘instant’ and ‘irrevocable’ forms of talaq as illegal and void. It goes on to make the offence cognisable and non-bailable. A man who has declared such a talaq can be imprisoned for up to three years.
This Bill, a terse affair of seven sections, was passed with barely any discussion. In fact, few outside the Centre had reportedly seen the Bill before it was tabled. The Bill was sent to states for consultation and feedback, but on such short notice that only a handful managed to respond within the deadline. The alacrity to pass a piece of legislation, vague and with glaring gaps in logic, is baffling.
While there are women adversely affected by the practice, it must be asked as to how justice will be served to them by locking away their husbands. Given that the Bill declares triple talaq void to begin with, it will be a wife—not a divorced (and free) woman—who will be on the other side of the jail cell. In short, the marriage would not have been dissolved but a separation would have been enforced by the very state that ought to protect vulnerable women.
How will the husband provide a maintenance for his wife while imprisoned? What chance of reconciliation is there if the husband is imprisoned for saying something that has been declared illegal and void at the outset?
These are gaps that could have been addressed if the government had shown a commitment to democratic principles and ensured a role for stakeholders and experts in drafting legislation in the already tricky area of family law. The best the Centre can do now is to heed the call of some MPs and send the Bill to the standing committee. It is better to wait and draft a meaningful legislation than to rush ahead and risk ruining the lives of men and women across the country.