Triple talaq law: A historic moment for social justice
Criminalisation is a key deterrent against triple talaq. Social reform must follow the legal change
The passing of the law against instant triple talaq is a historic moment. Reform in Muslim personal law has been mired in politics and patriarchy for decades. Gender justice for Muslim women in marriage and family has been of no interest to anyone. But this unfortunate reality began to change in the last 10 to 12 years, with Muslim women raising their voice, and demanding fair play in family matters.
Unlike in 1985, when the lone voice of Shah Bano was crushed by all — government, politicians, clergymen — several Muslim women have publicly demanded an end to instant triple talaq to bring fairness in divorce practices. They have approached the Supreme Court, made appeals to Parliament, and put pressure on the government and the Opposition. All of this, eventually, culminated into public discourse and support for the abolition of instant triple talaq.
Much of the opposition to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 has been because it was brought about by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government. But most of the so-called secular political parties failed to see the currents of change within the community. Every woman affected by instant triple talaq is also somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, somebody’s mother, and the practice leads to pain and trauma for the whole family.
Besides, there has been a growing awareness about Quranic injunctions on gender justice. Today, Muslims are aware that instant triple talaq is not sanctioned by the Quran. The conservative All India Muslim Personal Law Board could not achieve much success in their attempts to invoke fear of “interference in shariat (Islamic law based on the teachings of Quran and traditions of the Prophet)”. Sadly, the so-called secular parties remained ambiguous, and did not openly support the agitating Muslim women.
This provided a window of opportunity to the BJP beyond their stated commitment to the Uniform Civil Code. It is pointless to go into the motivations of the ruling party, but do note that the Constitution mandates legal protection for women. It speaks volumes for the kind of secularism practised in our country that it took seven decades for a legislation over triple talaq to become reality.
One of the key objections to the new law is that it criminalises instant triple talaq, which is a civil matter. I welcome the law, while stating that the objective is not to punish the man, but to ensure justice and fair play to the victim woman. Nevertheless, a law would be meaningless without deterrence. Triple talaq has been taking place despite the SC judgment banning it. In such circumstances, what is the aggrieved woman supposed to do? She can do little else apart from quoting the judgment to the husband determined to pronounce talaq and throw her out.
However, the law enables reconciliation between the two, by making the offence bailable and compoundable. The fear mongering is unfounded as the First Information Report can be registered only by the wife or family members — all of whom would be fellow Muslims. The demonisation of the woman that she is waiting for the law to send the husband behind bars is ludicrous, and undoubtedly, patriarchal. After all, we are aware of the pathetically low conviction rates in cases dealing with, for example, bigamy, dowry, domestic violence and child sexual assault.
Those opposing the triple talaq law never engaged with the question of justice for Muslim women, but are now suddenly concerned about the harm that the law would bring. Their argument — “Who will provide for her for the three years when the husband is in jail?” — makes me laugh. For heaven’s sake, how did they learn that the husband pronouncing instant unilateral talaq follows up by providing maintenance to the wife he has just divorced? There are hundreds of documented cases of women saying that they did not receive a dime from the husband. Not just that, in several cases, the husband took away even her belongings and the items woman brought with her at the time of marriage.
The opposition to the bill smacks of political motivations, patriarchal mindsets, and utter lack of understanding about the lived realities of Muslim women. Some well-known figures too have joined the opposition – as, in their eyes, the BJP government can do no good ever. In throwing out the baby with the bath water, they are unwittingly contributing in retaining the male-dominated status quo.
It is not my case that the law will drastically and immediately change the lives of Muslim women. Legal reform is an important aspect of a much larger process of social reform. Large sections of Indian Muslim are poor, educationally and economically deprived. They are under threat from communal violence and discrimination. The triple talaq law will have to be followed by awareness, education and empowerment of both women and men. It will support the efforts of those who are engaged within the community working for social justice, empowerment and democracy.