By Flavia Agnes
The Union Government has finally done what
it has been threatening to do for quite some time now. That is Parliament does
not pass the Bill, it will bring in an Ordinance to criminalise triple Talaq.
Ostensibly, this is done to save ‘our Muslim sisters’ from the clutches of a
draconian provision of Islamic law, as the PM has claimed during his election
campaign. But one wonders why this tearing hurry to bring in this law through
an Ordinance? What political expediency has driven the government to take this
Some feel that the move is politically
motivated, that it will help the BJP-led NDA government in the forthcoming 2019
general election, that Muslim women will view PM Narendra Modi as their saviour
and it will help to offset anti-Modi sentiments prevailing among large sections
But how true are these predictions? Why will Muslim women go against the
sentiments of their own community and cast their vote in favour of a party
which is generally perceived as anti-Muslim unless they are able to see some
concrete gains beyond the rhetoric. And here comes the crux of the matter. What
will this Ordinance give Muslim women that they already do not have under other
prevailing statutes? Will it save Muslim marriages, protect the Muslim woman’s
economic rights or ensure that she has a roof over her head, beyond what is
stipulated under other existing statutes? Is this a magic wand that will save
Muslim women from destitution stemming from triple Talaq?
Quite the contrary. It will increase
destitution among Muslim women. Because when a husband is jailed for
pronouncing triple Talaq, he will not be able to provide maintenance to his
wife and children. Worse, it will not save her marriage. Is the end goal for a
Muslim wife in a conflict marriage incarcerating her husband or securing her
economic rights? I think the government has got its equations wrong.
How will a poor illiterate woman, who has
been deprived of her shelter and sustenance, be able to follow up a rigorous
and daunting criminal prosecution against her husband and secure a conviction?
More importantly, what will the conviction give the aggrieved woman? Convicting
the husband for three, seven or even 10 years cannot ensure that she has food
on the table to feed her children, money to clothe them and educate them, which
are the primary concerns of any woman.
If the ultimate desire of a Muslim woman is
to save her marriage rather than break it, and ensure that her civil rights
such as shelter and maintenance are protected, criminalising triple Talaq is
not the answer. Using the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act and
challenging the Talaq using the recent Supreme Court judgment will better
ensure that the woman isn’t deprived of her shelter and sustenance.
If the ultimate goal of women is to save
their marriage, even a violent marriage, from the husband’s power of arbitrary
divorce, a criminal prosecution against the husband will surely aid in ending
the marriage without securing her economic rights, which she is in dire need
Lakhs of women of faith (the traditional
and conservative Burqa-clad Muslim woman) have come out in large numbers in
every city in protest against the government’s proposal to bring in a law to
criminalise triple Talaq. Some ‘progressive’ journalists have written them off,
as though these women do not have a mind of their own and can easily be
manipulated with a call, ‘Islam in danger’ given by the All India Muslim
Personal Law Board to hold public protests.
But what about others who have been
campaigning for the rights of Muslim women? During the early phase of the
campaign, in 2015-16 many of these organisations were demanding a law to ‘ban
triple Talaq’ on the premise that a Supreme Court ruling is not good enough and
only a statute will give a clear signal.
But when saddled with human rights
violations of Muslims under various pretexts — the lynchings of Muslims by cow
vigilantes in almost every North Indian
state and the deafening silence of the Prime Minister who turned a blind eye
towards these wanton killings; the love jihad bogey which is used to kill a
Muslim man who marries a Hindu girl; or the long-term incarceration of Muslims
under the shadow of suspected terrorism, these groups realised the short-sightedness
of their demand and the manner in which it can be used by the right wing and
avowedly anti-Muslim government, as one more weapon to beat the Muslims with,
they changed course mid-stream.
During the last few months some of them
started putting out statements that when we already have a civil law to secure
the rights of all women, including Muslim women, why is there a need to enact a
separate law to criminalise triple Talaq? While this is a welcome move, the
initial support to ‘ban triple Talaq’ has given the right-wing government the
legitimacy to bring this Ordinance.
But there are a few who have been doggedly
perusing a single-point agenda and have stayed with the demand and who are
rejoicing that they have succeeded in their campaign. But these are very few.
Their support base has dwindled during the past few years, particularly after
two women who approached the Supreme Court to ban triple Talaq — Sayara Bano
and Ishrat Jahan — joined the BJP. This group cannot claim to represent women
from the entire Muslim community.
If a large segment among campaigners
against triple Talaq does not support the move to criminalise triple Talaq,
then what is the justification for bringing out this Ordinance in great haste?
Flavia Agnes is Mumbai-based women’s rights lawyer