The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 or the commonly known Triple Talaq Bill should go down in history as a bill of pure spite than a necessary law.
The bill is discriminatory to the core and ironically, it will act as a hindrance to the much-needed Uniform Civil Code (UCC).
Amid the euphoria of the government and the shrill opposition by the clueless Opposition on the removal of Article 370 and 35(A), everyone seems to have forgotten the highly discriminatory law that the Parliament passed with little hue and cry.
It is unfortunate, but also unreal to expect the Grand Old Party to provide a credible opposition when it is floating rudderless and the rusted ship is on the verge of sinking.
Triple talaq is a condemnable practice and it has no place in a civilised society. The Supreme Court had declared the practice unconstitutional and such divorces as illegal and void.
To enforce the Supreme Court’s judgement, the government brought a bill, first as an ordinance and after two failures to get it passed in the last term, made it into law this time.
The issue is not with the enforcement of the SC order, but the criminal clause in the same which the court hadn’t mandated.
And as it has been a pattern in recent times, anyone opposing this clause is being called out as a ‘supporter of triple talaq’, minority appeaser or even worse, anti-national.
The problem with the present Opposition is that they are guilty of minority appeasement when they went ahead with a constitutional amendment when faced with a progressive court order in the Shah Bano case, thus losing the moral high ground, if they had any.
The 2011 Census (Marital Status by Religious Community and Sex—2011, C3 table) shows that the percentage of separated and abandoned women is the least among Muslims in India.
And the culture of remarriage and widow remarriage is the highest among Muslims. In absolute numbers, there are close to 20 lakh abandoned Hindu women when compared to 2.8 lakh Muslim and 0.9 lakh Christian women.
The plight of the abandoned women among Hindus is the most pathetic as they cannot remarry or start a family.
They get no maintenance. Even getting a passport is next to impossible as there isn’t any formal divorce, civil or otherwise.
The irony is only the Muslim man and none of the Hindu, Christian, Sikh or other community husband faces criminal charges for abandoning their spouses.
And the law isn’t clear about the Muslim husband, getting inspired by their Hindu brethren, walking out of their marriage without uttering the word talaq. The quirkiness of Muslim Personal Law even allows him to marry again, without abandoning his wife.
Also, the triple talaq law doesn’t touch on the regressive practice of ‘Nikah Halala’ where a divorced Muslim woman has to marry another person, consummate the marriage and then get a divorce from him before being allowed to marry her divorced husband again.
The act does nothing to enhance the position of Muslim women and the criminal clause and three years of jail for the husband will be useful only to settle scores and nothing more.
What the act does is to make the opposition against the much-needed UCC stiffer, which is unfortunate. Article 44 of the Constitution lays down that the state should endeavour to establish a UCC for its citizens.
The Code isn’t a Hindu-Muslim issue as it is made to be by the politicians. The stiff opposition against UCC from the Muslim clergy is not different from what the Hindu code bills faced from conservative Hindus.
That is to be expected as all religions and traditions, including the tribal ones, are mostly patriarchal and discriminatory in one form or another.
Even the Hindu code bills, which brought the light of reason and freedom in the regressive Hindu household, remains discriminatory against women. As per the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, if a women dies intestate, her self-acquired property goes to the husband’s heirs and not her parents. In case of a man, it goes to his relatives.
The Hindu code reforms of 1955-56, though a vast improvement from the Anglo-Hindu law, did not place Hindu men and women in positions of equality.
It was the 2005 amendments that brought some equality by including agricultural land in the women’s right to inherit property. Tribal women have so far been excluded from the benefits.
The Muslim Personal Law is a colonial construct. It was codified in 1937 in order to impose uniformity in British India. Until then, various Muslim communities followed their own personal law.
For example, the Moplahs of Kerala, with some exception, followed matrilineal system of inheritance like their counterparts in Malabar, Kochi and Travancore.
What the uniform Muslim Personal Law did was to impose the Anglo-Muslim interpretation of Sharia as per their convenience and as this gave tremendous power to the clergy, it became the norm.
That is why we have many clauses in Muslim Personal Law that is not found in many Islamic nations. Until Hindu code bills came into vogue, the Muslim law was far ahead in protecting the interests of the Muslim women and the stagnation happened due to political reasons of independent India.
The pampering of the most regressive elements in the Muslim clergy for votes ensured that no major reforms like the Hindu code bills would ever happen in Muslim Personal Law.
The way forward isn’t imposing bills such as Triple Talaq. The previous NDA government had shown a much wiser way. In 2001, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government overhauled Christian divorce law and removed the discriminatory clauses against Christian women.
This was done through extensive consultation with Christian groups and engaging with the progressive-minded reformers. The way forward is to encourage the reformist voices among Muslims and bring the UCC as per the Constitutional direction.