A historic legislation, which criminalises instant Triple Talaq among Muslims, got Parliament's nod on Tuesday, with the government saying it will provide much-awaited relief to the women of the minority community by ending the "archaic and medieval" practice.
Scrapping of the practice has been one of the main planks of the BJP, whose government at the Centre led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, promulgated a number of Ordinances after failing to get the legislation through the Rajya Sabha where it lacked adequate numbers.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday and was passed by 99-84 votes after a few hours of discussion and negation of a demand for sending it to the Select Committee for proper scrutiny as well as a host of amendments moved by the Opposition members.
An Opposition motion to send the bill to a Select Committee was defeated by 84-100 votes.
The proposed law makes declaration of triple talaq a cognizable offence, attracting up to 3 years' imprisonment with a fine. Under the proposed law, a Muslim woman against whom talaq has been declared, is entitled to seek subsistence allowance from her husband for herself and also for her dependent children.
A Muslim woman, against whom triple talaq is uttered, is entitled to seek custody of her minor children.
Members of a number of parties boycotted voting, benefitting the government in the Upper House where the ruling BJP-led NDA does not have the majority. BJP's ally Janata Dal-United also abstained from the proceedings.
The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha last week. It will become the law after President Ram Nath Kovind signs the bill.
During the debate on the bill, most of the Opposition parties objected to the provision for imprisonment of a man who utters the word 'talaq' thrice to divorce his wife, asking who would look after the family if the erring male is sent to jail.
Replying to the debate, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad countered the Opposition criticism on making Triple Talaq a cognizable offence and said nobody questioned the penal provisions when the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, Dowry Act of 1961 and section 498A of the Indian Penal Code were brought.
He said when Hindu Marriage Act was brought, it was said that the age of the bridegroom should be 21 while the bride would be 18. A two-year jail term was provided for those violating the law. At that time, it was not said that it will disturb the married life.
Further, the law provided that a marriage will be void in case a person went for remarriage even as he or she had their spouse.
Prasad insisted that the proposed law had nothing to do with religion but was only meant to do away with a social evil, which has already been done in many Islamic countries.
Quoting a book by an Islamic scholar, the minister said if Prophet Mohammed disapproved triple talaq centuries back, "why are we in 2019 debating whether it is right or wrong?"
Earlier, while participating in the discussion, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad opposed the bill and demanded it be referred to a Select Committee so that each provision could be duly analysed and vetted.
The Congress leader said the bill was politically motivated and there was nothing in the bill for protection of Muslim women, for their subsistence allowance and their children.
He also took on the Law Minister for "selectively" quoting Supreme Court orders. He said the government should also bring legislation on mob lynching as the same direction has come from the apex Court in the wake of rising violence against the minority community.
Javed Ali Khan of Samajwadi Party, while opposing the bill, said there were women in the country who have been abandoned by their husbands and there are many famous and renowned persons among them.
"I want to know if government is planning to bring any law to ensure the abandoned wives receive allowance from these husbands," he asked.
BJP leader Bhupender Yadav objected to his remarks, saying allegations cannot be levelled against any person if not convicted by a court.
A Navaneethakrishnan of AIADMK also opposed the bill terming it unconstitutional, arbitrary and illegal.
"It is not sustainable under law... I humbly submit to this House that Parliament has no legislative competence to entertain it," he said demanding, scrutiny of the bill by a Select Committee.
Trinamool Congress member Dola Sen also demanded that the bill be sent to a Select Committee.
"We are all for women empowerment. We are all for women's rights. Two things -- one, just remove the criminality clause. Two, don't mock the Parliament by passing this bill today. Send this bill to a Select Committee," she said.
BJP's Saroj Pandey said that all those supporting triple talaq are against women.
T.K.S. Elangovan of DMK said he welcomed the SC order on the triple talaq, "but I strongly oppose the bill introduced because it is faulty and government has failed to understand that the Court has only made triple talaq as unlawful and not divorce per se as unlawful".
The Biju Janata Dal supported the bill but asked the ruling party as to why it opposed the judgement on Sabarimala if it wanted to empower women.
Party member Prasanna Acharya said the bill says the offence of triple talaq would be made cognizable if the information is given by the victim or any person related to her by blood or marriage but it can be misused.
Congress member Digvijaya Singh expressed reservation on the manner in which the bill was brought and pointed out that government had not consulted the Muslim community on the issue.
The key NDA ally JD-U staged a walk-out soon after discussion started on the bill.
"With all humility, I would neither speak in favour of the bill nor support it. There are reasons for it. Every political party has its ideology and they have the freedom to move on that," party leader Bashishta Narain Singh said.
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