Our fight has been a prolonged one -- for almost four decades, trying to talk about the patriarchal and discriminatory provisions of the religious personal laws. We, the grassroot level workers on Muslim Women’s issues voice our condemnation against the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill. We have seen the indifference of the so-called secular political parties and their negligence towards gender issues over prolonged periods of legislations. Today a religiously coloured government is trying to appropriate the concerns of the women of a community that they otherwise wish to criminalise and eradicate. We were one of the petitioners against Triple Talaq to the Supreme Court in 2017. But the Bill that was introduced and passed by the Rajya Sabha on July 30, 2019 attempts to criminalise Muslim men instead of assuring justice to the Muslim women.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was finally passed by the Rajya Sabha after multiple rejections where it makes the pronouncement of Talaq by a Muslim man to be considered as a cognisable offence. It makes the pronouncer a criminal in the eyes of law, who can be arrested by the police on a complaint being registered, having to undergo imprisonment for three years and fine, depending upon the magistrate’s order. It seems for the first time a personal law would have a penal provision. Three years of imprisonment and liable to fine as part of penalty, does this Bill really take into consideration the access of Muslim Women to justice? Three years of imprisonment of the husband not only would leave the aggrieved complainant at the mercy of their matrimonial family who are most probable to turn hostile towards the wife for putting him behind bars, but also the financial and social liberty of the woman would be compromised.
On one hand, we have growing digits of crimes and incidents of mob lynching against Muslim men across the country which the government is seemingly indifferent about, while on the other hand, we have an over-enthusiastic legislation drafting multiple ordinances claiming to secure marriage rights of the women of the same community.
One after the other, we saw Bills and amendments being passed by the Lok Sabha that are in direct conflict with the fundamental rights and Constitutional provisions of the people of the land. Despite being asked to be referred through select committees, multiple Bills were passed by the Lok Sabha without any democratic deliberations. This clearly reflects the hypocrisy of the present majoritarian government that aims at targeting minority communities, not just through violation of law but now even through the provision of it.
While we unequivocally resist this government’s move to criminalise the practice as we firmly believe that gender rights cannot be equated with criminalisation of violence, we equally resist the role of conservative Muslim voices who are mobilising women to defend the patriarchal practices and equating women’s rights with protection of the religion. Our engagement with AIMPLB has been for several years now, and it is astounding how they are mobilising women now and did not occupy the streets to protest beef ban or demand implementations of Sachar Committee report that talks about education, livelihood and economic condition of minority women. The government doesn’t talk about the women of those households where the Muslim men have been victims of communal violence. We see this as an attempt by the government to criminalise a community by putting the responsibility on the shoulders of the women of that very community. This framing of Muslim women within the context of marriage reinforces the institution of marriage as the sole location of women’s lives and marital crisis as the primary sites of violence going beyond the economic exploitation or other structural violence that disempower her.
This Bill stands rather in contradiction to what the SC judgment had been in 2017, invalidating the Talaq. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill only criminalises the man and makes no recommendation on the status of marriage. This instead of securing the position of the woman makes her more vulnerable and prone to further violence and insecurities. The stance of the government doesn’t seem to be protective as it claims but rather punitive. Laws when intended to threaten a community rather than being preventive, only inflict further polarisation within the community.
Founder, Bebaak Collective: Voice of the Fearless and Petitioner of Triple Talaq Bill in SC