The Modi government has approved an ordinance making triple talaq - a practice of instant divorce among sections of the Muslim population - a punishable offence. Earlier this year, the government had tried on two occasions to pass The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 in the Rajya Sabha, after its passage in the Lok Sabha last December, but it could not see the light of the day.
"There was an overpowering urgency and a compelling necessity to bring the Ordinance as the practice continued unabated despite the Supreme Court order previous year", Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said while addressing a presser after the Cabinet met earlier in the day. Under a compoundable offence, both parties have the liberty of withdrawing the case.
With the Ordinance, the government has cleared the decks and criminalised the act of pronouncing triple talaq, declaring it void and illegal.
AIMIM chief and Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi told reporters, "This Ordinance is against Muslim women". In 2002, for instance, the Supreme Court invalidated a divorce through triple talaq in a case called Shamim Ara vs State of UP.
The offence is also bailable, and Magistrate can grant bail, but only after hearing the wife.
The police would lodge an FIR only if approached by the victim (wife), her blood relations or people who become her relatives by virtue of her marriage.
"Talaq" for the purposes of the Ordinance means as "talaq-e-biddat or any other similar form of talaq having the effect of instantaneous and irrevocable divorce pronounced by a Muslim husband". For all these years, the Congress politicised the Triple Talaq issue for vote bank politics, he said at a press conference at the party office in Delhi.
The government has on several occasions sought to corner the opposition, particularly the Congress, for not taking a stand in favour of Muslim women. "We do not agree with the government's decision to make it a criminal offence".
Human rights activist Javed Anand also expressed concerns about criminalisation of triple talaq, even as he expressed relief about the amendments that softened the stringent original version of the bill. Meanwhile, he said, the man would be provided with food, clothing and shelter in prison.
"When triple talaq has been quashed, the next issue is of providing justice to Muslim women". "How will trials be conducted?" asked Audrey D'Mello, a lawyer at Majlis, which has been one of the most vocal critics of efforts to criminalise triple talaq.
After this, the government tabled a proposed law in Parliament during the winter session past year. "But I suspect that the police will now encourage Muslim women to file cases under the triple talaq law, because it is against Muslim men", she said.