In August 2017, the highest court of the country, the Supreme Court declared “Talaq-e-Biddat” as void and unconstitutional. It was widely celebrated by the BJP government as a massive victory for the women of a community they have actively persecuted and vilified. In the December of the same year, a bill seeking to criminalise Triple Talaq was introduced in the parliament by the Modi government which failed to move past the Rajya Sabha.
An archaic and medieval practice has finally been confined to the dustbin of history!
Parliament abolishes Triple Talaq and corrects a historical wrong done to Muslim women. This is a victory of gender justice and will further equality in society.
India rejoices today!
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 30, 2019
It elicited massive outcry in the Muslim community that saw it as an effort to interfere in the personal codes of the community. The Muslim community had afterall, openheartedly accepted the judgment of the Supreme Court, had acknowledged the great social evil that had been allowed to perpetuate in the community, why then was the government was so eager to bring up an issue that has already been done and dusted?
Why, for probably the first time, was the government so keen to criminalise a civil issue like marriage, why would a criminal court take up a case meant for civil courts? If the supreme court does not recognise the validity of Triple Talaq, how can the government seek to implicate and convict “criminals” for a crime he hasn’t committed i.e. has not divorced his wife by way of uttering “talaq” thrice. The divorce is invalid, so for what crime is the hefty punishment being meted out?
In July of 2019, the Triple Talaq bill was passed by the parliament while the opposition played a dirty joke on the minorities and couldn’t perform the one job expected out of them: offer an opposition.
The bill was passed with 99 votes in favor, while 84 votes were in the opposition of the move. As several members of the opposition abstained, absented and even voted in favor of the bill, the BJP found it a cakewalk to pass a draconian law as such that sentences a Muslim man to three years of prison and a hefty fine in case he is found guilty of attempting to divorce his wife by triple talaq which isn’t even valid in the first place.
Further, it is absurd in the sense that a three-year jail-time along with a fine ensures that the marriage of the couple becomes unsalvageable. The woman this government claims to protect with the law will be required to run from pillar to posts for three years in order to free her husband. No provision of any maintenance for such women has been allocated by the law during this period.
Ironically, this bill makes sure that it reverts the supreme court’s decision despite the government’s claims of upholding the verdict of the Supreme Court (In the lengthy verdict released by the apex court, nowhere has the jury made any mention of the need of criminal procedure in a civil issue). While the supreme court’s decision was meant to continue the marriage and nullify the divorce, this bill makes sure the marriage could not be saved, the men have a criminal record against them, several women are left without any sustenance.
On August 2, the first “criminal” under this law was arrested in Thane, Maharashtra.
It is not just naïve to assume that the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) does what it is named as, that is, “protection of rights”; it is cunningly obscurantist to perpetuate the belief that the bill was introduced for Muslim women. The bill is one of the several experiments that the right-wing government has been carrying out against the minority community in order to check the waters, test the boundaries.
नारी शक्ती pic.twitter.com/G5NfShdVF6
— Sanjay Raut (@rautsanjay61) July 31, 2019
“This bill is just the first step, then you’ll see, Article 370 and 35A will also go.” Sanjay Raut, the MP of BJP ally Shiv Sena was quoted as saying. One who does not have an idea of the right leanings of the party might wonder what the political crisis in Kashmir has got to do with the civil issue of Muslim marriages? But there lies the answer.
Be it the Triple Talaq bill, be it the Article 370 and 35A of Kashmir, be it the extension of NRC from Assam to the rest of the country; from civil cases to political and territorial disputes to citizenship ambiguity all of these seemingly varied issues boil down to one aim. That being of targeting and weakening the social fabric of the Muslim community.
Out of all, the Triple Talaq bill is the most difficult to the masses because it presents a facade of women empowerment opposing which you are required to fight a battalion of right-wing feminists who either do not understand or pretend to do not understand the ulterior motives of the bill. The newspapers celebrated the criminalization of what they called “Talaq-e-Biddat”. Anyone with a basic knowledge of Arabic would tell them “Biddat” literally translates into heresy or illegal.
Talaq-e-biddat means an illegal form of divorce that is not recognized in the religion, is already classified as a social evil. The headlines read how Islamic talaq-e-biddat was invalid now, whose translation gives “Islamic invalid divorce is now invalid.”
Forget the intricacies, let’s ask the technical questions. According to a survey conducted by CRDDP (Central Board of Debate and Development Policy), out of all Muslim divorcees in India, 36% divorced in a constitutional manner, 24% divorced via Khoula (woman initiating the divorce), 21% with the help of Indian courts, 16% via panchayats and only 0.3% divorces were carried put by Triple talaq .
If we go by the amount of footage and space the discussion on triple talaq has been given, it would seem it is an issue bigger than that of daily lynchings of Muslims, the displacement of thousands of Muslims in Assam, the steady downward mobilization of the Muslim community on all social indicators, the lowest literacy rate among all communities, the volatile situation of Kashmir, so on and so forth.
When we should ask, “ Why does the government seek to imprison more men from a community that is already over-represented in the prison?”, “When Muslim men are already imprisoned under false cases for years, wouldn’t this bill further aggravate the situation?” We have been entangled in trying to defend our resistance from claims of anti-feminism. No doubt the triple talaq is an evil and no doubt the Muslim community accepts the verdict of the supreme court but in no way is the matter so huge to accept a bill that grants a free hand to an islamophobic government to imprison Muslim men. We do not throw the baby with the bathwater.
The Triple Talaq bill is a statement from the government to the Muslim community; a statement of interference and a statement of power. As the intricacies of the law and what it entails are so entangled that when we try to argue against the unprecedented and irrationally harsh punishment for a “void” statement and question the actual motives behind it, the resistance is accused of being anti-women.
Presently several Muslim groups as well as activists like Arundhati Roy and Harsh Mander have spoken and have been signatories of the resistance and opposition to the bill. It is to be kept in mind that the opposition is only against the bill and not the Supreme court’s verdict. The opposition to the draconian bill is no way the same as the support of the social evil of triple talaq.