Bill criminalizing ‘instant divorce’ among Muslims approved by Parliament

An Indian Muslim couple walks near Jama Mosque in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, July 30, 2019. India's parliament has approved a bill to end the Muslim practice of instant divorce nearly two years after the Supreme court held that it violated the constitutional rights of Muslim women. (AP)
Updated 30 July 2019

Bill criminalizing ‘instant divorce’ among Muslims approved by Parliament

  • Indian opposition slams move as way to ‘stigmatize Muslim community’

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Tuesday approved a controversial bill criminalizing “instant divorce” among Muslims.

Amid vociferous protests from opposition parties, the so-called triple talaq bill was narrowly passed in the Indian Parliament’s upper house making it illegal for a Muslim husband to divorce his wife by simply saying “talaq” three times.

In the future, a man breaching the law could face a three-year jail term if a complaint is filed against him by any relative of his wife.

Indian Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad described the passing of the bill as an “historic day” for the country. “Both houses (Parliament’s upper and lower) have given justice to Muslim women. This is the beginning of a transforming India.”

However, opposition groups said the bill was “politically motivated” to “stigmatize the Muslim community and its male population” and win more votes from Muslim women.

The Indian Parliament’s lower house had approved the bill last week. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government had tried to pass the bill in the previous term but could not muster enough support in the upper house.

But disunity among the opposition on Tuesday helped the government to garner 99 votes against 84, despite being in the minority in the upper house, with many opposition members deciding not to attend.

“The bill is politically motivated,” said Ghulam Nabi Azad, a leader of the Congress party and head of the opposition in the upper house. “When the Supreme Court of India had already nullified the triple talaq what was the need to bring the bill?”

Opposition parties argued that the law in its present form would be misused to harass Muslims and should be sent to the select committee of Parliament for further deliberation.

The political motive of the BJP is to get some votes of Muslim women through this move, but it is living in a fool’s paradise. No one is going to vote for them.

Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan, Chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission

Shaista Amber, of the All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board, welcomed the bill but said that the “criminalization of a civil contract between two individuals is really not in the larger interest of society. We wanted a bill which provided gender justice, but it has created anomaly in the Muslim society.”

Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan, chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission, described the bill as “wrong” and a “great injustice” to the Muslim community in India.

“It is not aimed at saving the family but destroying the family. If you put the husband behind bars, then how will that serve the interests of the woman and the family? The political motive of the BJP is to get some votes of Muslim women through this move, but it is living in a fool’s paradise. No one is going to vote for them,” Khan told Arab News.

Mahmood Madani, general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind, one of India’s leading Islamic organizations, said: “The decision to pass the triple talaq bill has been made with very bad intentions, and it is very wrong on the part of the government.”

Dr. Afroz Alam of the Hyderabad-based National Urdu University said the move would “neither bring social reform nor empower Muslim women. It will rather serve the interests of the elite political class within or without Muslims. In fact, it will invite conservative resistance from ordinary Muslims, scholars and clergy that will ultimately hurt the secular sense of majority.

“Through this law and many more, the cultural system of Muslims has been used as a playground for the populist needs of political parties. By finding more and more moral faults in the cultural system of Muslims, the BJP is trying to carve out a morally superior ‘Hindu vote’ or consolidate its majoritarian vote.

“Through this bill the BJP wants to keep the religious-cultural agenda alive to serve their existential need and reap political dividends by, first, inviting conservative response from the Muslims to prove their sense of disloyalty to the laws made by the Indian Parliament. Secondly, the polarizing agenda will serve as a smokescreen to hide its non-performance on economic and governance indicators,” added Alam.

Lucknow-based political analyst, Ram Dutt Thakur, said that “the government’s intention is no doubt suspect. Perhaps they want to garner the votes of the Muslim women.”

He added that the bill’s intent was “to stigmatize the Muslim community and its male population and show the whole community in a bad light. This will further help Modi in consolidating the majority community vote.”

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.