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.”

China building a hospital to treat virus, expands lockdowns

Updated 53 min 6 sec ago

China building a hospital to treat virus, expands lockdowns

  • The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China
  • Hospitals in Wuhan were grappling with a flood of patients and a lack of supplies

BEIJING: China is swiftly building a 1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with a new virus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities during the country’s most important holiday.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down Friday in at least 10 cities with a total of about 33 million people. The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and nine of its neighbors in central China’s Hubei province.

“To address the insufficiency of existing medical resources,” Wuhan authorities said in a Friday notice, the city is constructing a hospital modeled after the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing. The facility will be a prefabricated structure on a 25,000- square-meter (270,000-square-foot) lot, slated for completion Feb. 3.

The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China to more than a dozen countries and killed about 800 people. The hospital featured individual isolation units that looked like rows of tiny cabins.

Normally bustling streets, malls and other public spaces were eerily quiet in Wuhan on the second day of its lockdown.

Masks were mandatory in public, and images from the city showed empty shelves as people stocked up for what could be an extended isolation.

Train stations, the airport and subways were closed; police checked incoming vehicles but did not entirely close off roads.

Hospitals in Wuhan were grappling with a flood of patients and a lack of supplies. Videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for checks. Some users on Weibo said their family members had sought diagnoses but were turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.

At least eight hospitals in Wuhan issued public calls for donations of masks, googles, gowns and other protective medical gear, according to notices online.

Administrators at Wuhan University People’s Hospital set up a group chat on the popular WeChat messaging app to coordinate donations.

The “Fever Control Command Center” of the city of Huanggang also put out a call for donations publicized by the state-run People’s Daily, asking for medical supplies, medicine and disinfection equipment. The notice added that at the moment they wouldn’t accept supplies from foreign countries.

Authorities were taking precautions around the country. In the capital, Beijing, major public events were canceled indefinitely, including traditional temple fairs that are a staple of Lunar New Year celebrations. Two major tourist destinations, Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai Disneyland, announced they will close indefinitely on Saturday.

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has risen to 830, the National Health Commission said. Twenty-six people have died, including the first two deaths outside Hubei and the youngest recorded victim.

The health commission in Hebei, a northern province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died there after returning from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. Heilongjiang province in the northeast confirmed a death there but did not give details.

While the majority of deaths have been older patients, a 36-year-old man in Hubei was admitted to the hospital earlier this month after suffering from fever for three days. He died following a sudden cardiac arrest on Jan. 23.

Initial symptoms of the virus can mirror those of the cold and flu, including cough, fever, chest tightening and shortness of breath, but can worsen to pneumonia.

The vast majority of cases have been in and around Wuhan, but people who visited or had personal connections to infected people were among the scattered cases counted beyond the mainland. South Korea and Japan both confirmed their second cases Friday and Singapore confirmed its third. Cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the United States, Thailand and Vietnam.

Many countries are screening travelers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms.

The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.

Chinese officials have not said how long the shutdowns of the cities will last. While sweeping measures are typical of China’s Communist Party-led government, large-scale quarantines are rare around the world, even in deadly epidemics, because of concerns about infringing on people’s liberties.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as SARS and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which is thought to have originated from camels.

The Wuhan outbreak is suspected to have begun from wild animals sold at a food market in the city. The market is closed for investigation.

Across China, a slew of cancelations and closures dampened the usual liveliness of Lunar New Year.

One Beijing subway station near a transport hub conducted temperature checks at its security checkpoint Friday. Some security personnel were clad in full-body hazardous material suits.

Schools prolonged their winter break and were ordered by the Ministry of Education to not hold any mass gatherings or exams. Transport departments will also be waiving fees and providing refunds for ticket cancelations.