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.”