In the back drop of a non-existent Hajj subsidy being withdrawn, the motive behind such moves appears, openly, not about what it claims to achieve or seeks to achieve, but the symbolism and the message behind the same. The criminalisation of Tripple Talaq will give rise to Hindutva vigilantism, trying to jail more Muslim men in the name of giving Muslim women their fair share of rights.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was tabled in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament on December 28, 2017 and was passed almost without any debate.
The justification of the Bill is that due to the presence of instant Triple Talaq or Talaq-e-bidat, Muslim women are oppressed, discriminated against and ‘left with nothing’.
Triple Talaq, where the husband pronounces Talaq thrice and instantly executes divorce, is truly discriminatory and robs the women of any rights and security. In the advanced age of technology, triple Talaq has been executed through telegram, instant messages, and over the phone.
The Triple Talaq Bill claims to rectify that situation by criminalizing Muslim men who will execute divorce through triple Talaq in future.
The Bill states that if a Muslim woman files an FIR against her husband for pronouncing Triple Talaq, that person will be put behind bars for three years without any bail. It also states that the husband will have to provide subsistence allowance to his wife and kids of the amount as decided by the magistrate.
This allowance is not maintenance. Maintenance is provided when the divorce takes place. This is a monthly allowance, which the husband is to somehow produce while he is behind the bars, how, no one knows.
The reasons and objectives stated in the Bill argue that it is a production of Muslim women’s movement in India, especially after Shayara Bano and four other Muslim women filed a case in Supreme Court in 2016 against her husband’s execution of triple Talaq.
She moved to the apex court to seek a ban on instant divorce, polygamy and halala.
However, the court only gave the judgment on the instant divorce and called it unconstitutional and un-Quranic i.e. Quran doesn’t allow this instant divorce.
As per the Quran, there is a long procedure for Talaq, which talks about deliberation, time-gap and greater community involvement. However, Muslim men with legitimacy from the Muslim patriarchal setup in India, practiced this derivative form of divorce leaving women homeless, poor and destitute.
If one excludes the politics of BJP and socio-economic status of Muslims in India, this bill emanates an aura of progressiveness and social justice. After all, Pakistan in 1961 criminalized triple Talaq. Bangladesh continued with the same law after its independence from Pakistan in 1971. However, a person with enough political pedigree will be critical of the same.
Why Triple Talaq Bill is anti-women?
The Triple Talaq Bill, so actively advocated by the right-wing BJP government ‘seeks’ to bring relief to the Muslim women. The Muslim women activists, Indian feminists and the civil society members have been asking for the same for a long time. So why sudden protests and opposition to the bill?
Firstly, it cannot be viewed as an exclusive of BJP’s politics of hegemony of Hindutva which has given tacit support to the lynching of minorities, especially minority men in India.
Cases like Junaid, Afrazul, Akhlaq are proof of the same. The criminalization aspect will give rise to Hindutva vigilantism, trying to jail more Muslim men in the name of giving the Muslim women their fair share of rights.
Secondly, while arguing against the Bill, most critical voices are totally invisibilising the women as well as the ruling party, while using the jargon of gender justice.
To understand how this bill in not pro-women, one needs to look at the lives of women under the prevalence of Triple Talaq on the ground, and analyse what is going to happen when the Bill is passed in Rajya Sabha as well.
The Muslim women are already in a detrimental condition because of Triple Talaq. During my field trips to Murshidabad, West Bengal, case studies reveled that due to low financial status, the divorcee Muslim women find it hard to make ends meet. They also have less or no support from their maternal households.
However, in places like Murshidabad where the Muslim constitutes the ‘lowest class’, when the husband cannot pronounce instant Talaq, the women say, there is a real risk for them of increasing polygamy by the man, domestic violence, abandonment and worse, murder. So, the jargon of gender justice for Muslim women by an unconnected and certainly ill-meaning BJP falls flat on its face.
However, this does not mean that the existence of triple Talaq is better, but this Bill in no way the answer, but a creater of more problems. The women’s condition stays the same as before. The only affected section of the community will be the Muslim men.
Feminists and activists are constantly trying to raise the issue, while ignoring the negative side effects.
Invisiblising the Muslim women
The Muslim patriarchy, like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) is coming forward now, appropriating and endorsing the concerns of feminists as the right concerns. This is a matter of concern as well, because when the Muslim women organizations, the one whose say and agency is the paramount in this case, are coming out and saying that triple Talaq is unconstitutional and there should be another way of eradicating this practice, the Muslim patriarchs are endorcing the view with the motive that there should not be ‘interference’.
However, let us not forget that these very leaders and ‘guardians’ of the Muslim community have not declared an instant divorce as un-Quranic, but endorced it despite it standing on weak religious grounds.
Hence, in an ironic turn of events, while speaking against the appropriation of Muslim women’s movement by the RSS and BJP, the movement and critical voices are now being appropriated by the Muslim patriarchy, making the men the center of the debate.
A movement for women, by women has resulted in a badly thought out Bill, and a discourse which invisibilised the very women.
It is important to speak against the Bill and against the BJP appropriation but it is much more important to make the women the center of discussion.
Even if the Bill is passed, what rehabilitation program for the Muslim women is the government thinking about? A man, criminalized for trying to pronounce triple Talaq by the wife, taken to jail will not accept his wife after getting released from jail and it still keeps the woman’s condition the same.
If the man is deterred by the thought of the punishment, then too, it means more violence against the women.
One needs to ask questions to the government in the same term that they are using, i.e. relief to the Muslim women.
Utsa Sarmin is a research scholar from Cambridge University, United Kingdom. She has completed her M.Phil in development studies.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir.