Updated: May 5
After many controversies and a lengthy debate, the Triple Talaq Bill cleared the Rajya Sabha hurdle and finally The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act 2019, became law on 31st July 2019, replacing all earlier ordinances. The Supreme Court declared the practice of instant triple talaq unconstitutional and a divorce pronounced by uttering talaq three times in one sitting, including in written or electronic form void and illegal. This is being seen as a major political win of the Narendra Modi government.
The law makes the declaration of talaq a cognizable offence, attracting up to three years’ imprisonment with a fine. In simple terms, a cognizable offence is one for which a police officer may arrest an accused person without warrant. The offence will be cognizable if information relating to the offence is given by the married woman (against whom talaq has been declared) or any person related to her by blood or marriage. The government has instituted the law in the name of justice, gender equality, human rights and secularism. The intent of the law is to give security to women against the misuse of this practice.
On revisiting history, we see that instant divorce or Triple Talaq or (talaq-e-biddat), was practised only in Islam, whereby a Muslim man could legally divorce his wife by pronouncing "Talaq" three times. This announcement could be oral/written/by electronic means like phone, message, and email. The man did not bear the responsibility of citing any cause for the divorce and the wife did not have to be present at the time of pronouncement. Triple talaq, in Islamic law, is based upon the belief that the husband has the right to divorce his wife on suitable grounds.
It is an interesting fact that Muslim couples in India are not required to register their marriage with civil authorities. Muslim marriages in India are considered to be a private matter, unless the couple decides to register their marriage under the Special Marriage Act of 1954.
As per the new law, there has to be at least 30 days of 'Iddat' (waiting period) after every three pronouncements of the term. Once the husband pronounces Talaqon reasonable terms to his wife, there has to be a gap of 30 days after which 'Talaq' will be pronounced a second time and subsequently a third time, after another 30 days of iddat. These three months are meant for reconciliation and if during this period any kind cohabitation occurs, the talaqis considered revoked. If the husband chooses not to reconcile with his wife, inspite of efforts made during the Iddat, they are considered divorced and they may both get married to whom ever they please. However, if they don’t, and later (whatever the duration is) choose to get together again,they may get married again by contracting a new Nikah.
According to advocate Maqbul Hussain the new law is merely a publicity stunt by the government and only a step to befool the public. It is already mentioned in the Quran, he informed, that the law is indeed against Muslims. Only once had a Triple Talaq been given, by Hazrat Muhammad Zalaullesilam.
As a journalist, when I tried interviewing people regarding the issue, I was surprised to discover that many prominent personalities, both Hindu as well as Muslim, shied away from commenting or taking a stance on this controversial subject.
Over time, various reforms have been implemented in various countries, against this traditional law. This Islamic law is largely frowned upon, by Muslim legal scholars. Many Islamic nations have banned the practice, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, although it is commonly practiced in Sunni Islamic law.
In March 2017, over 1 million Indian Muslims, a majority of whom were women, signed a petition to end the instant triple talaq system. The petition was started by the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, an Islamic organisation affiliated to the right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Despite efforts by several activists, the practice still continues to haunt Muslim women in the country. As per a 2015 report by the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, 92.1% Muslim women from Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, West Bengal and Karnataka wanted this biased system of verbal triple talaq to stop. The report also carries case studies of as many as 117 women who have been victims of this unfair practice.
Along with the wide protests and rising voices against the practice by various Muslim women organisations, Hindu nationalists, Muslim liberals and different NGOs, the Modi Government formulated a bill and introduced it in the Parliament, after 100 cases of instant triple talaqin the country, since the Supreme Court judgment in August 2017. On 28 December 2017, the Lok Sabha passed The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017. The bill was planned to make instant triple talaq (talaq-e-biddah) illegal and void, with up to three years in jail for the husband. MPs from RJD, All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen or AIMIM, Biju Janata Dal BJD, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and All-India Muslim League (AIML) opposed the bill, calling it arbitrary in nature and a faulty proposal, while Congress supported the Bill tabled in the Lok Sabha, by law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. After various ordinances the triple talaq bill was ultimately passed in the Rajya Sabha on 30th July 2019. The bill received a nod from the president of India, Mr Ram Nath Kovind, on 31st July 2019, which entitles an aggrieved woman to demand maintenance for her dependent children.
According to Zakiya Inam, ex-Cabinet Minister, Former Minister of Rajasthan for Health, Women and Child Development and three times MLA on the INC ticket from Tonk, the law is not reasonably correct or beneficial for women. She said, “It is only a political gimmick and propaganda of the present government. During the timeframe of three months once it is outlawed, the law becomes irrelevant. The judgment nullifies the ‘sanctity’ of divorce. There should also be a provision in the law to give substantial percentage of the husband’s property or income to the wife.” Further she said that until the woman is not financially independent, she would suffer. If a woman is self-sufficient such talaqs would not happen in the future.
Psychologist Shaheen Dingankar stated, “Owing to my profession I have met many Muslim women and heard their miserable divorce stories. Because of the ease with which talaq can be given and then they get no support whatsoever from their husband, is what made me hate the law and condemn it. The new law will surely safe guard women; at least through the new law divorce will not be merely based on just the willingness of husbands and the divorce process too will be executed with mutual respect. The puppeteer role of the husband to make his wife dance to his reasonable/unreasonable demands, on the threat of talaq will certainly come to an end and is likely to strengthen women’s position in Muslim society.”
Similarly, 34-year-old Afsana Sheik and 46 year old Shameera, both housewives from Mangalore stated that the Quran demonstrates equal right to women but triple talaq is merely a practice to oppress women. Many innocent Muslim women have suffered due to this practice and it simply increased the number of divorce rates in the country. In some cases, the law has been misused by men to get rid of their wives. Hence, by implementing such law our government has taken the right step towards respecting women and preserving their rights. However, India being a democratic country, the actual law which is mentioned in the Quran should also be understood before coming to any conclusions.
Sheik Abdul Ameen, 48, a software engineer from Saudi Arabia opined that triple talaq is an islamic sharia. Following the guidelines of Quran, a law should be formed in our constitution. We cannot criminalise this practice but there should be some punishment for those who announce an instant divorce which is unislamic. In this vein, 30-year-old Mufida, a Dubai based accountant said that the concept of Tripal Talaq is totally a non-Islamic practice and a misconception that a Muslim man can say talaq three times to his wife in a row and it will lead to divorce. Likewise, Reshma Parveen, a 49-year-old homemaker from Bangalore stated that by following the exact procedures of Quran the concept and practice of Triple Talaq that is misinterpreted by people should be corrected.
Young Arfa Sheik, a 21-year-old student from Mangalore believes that the triple talaq law is indeed beneficial for those Muslim women who are being exploited by their husbands. The initiative taken by our Government is anopportunity for the Muslim women to raise their voices against abuse by their husbands. Without any major mistake on their part and merely due to the husband's wish, innocent women face criticism. In Quran the practice is not acceptable and hence many spiritual leaders are against it.
According to Nabil Noor, a 30-year-old IT engineer, the Government has hastily passed the triple talaq bill and has created more confusion in the Muslim society. When the Supreme Court had already nullified and voided the triple talaq practice then the law has no significance. As per the new law the Government has not provided any allowance for the family until the accused completes his 3 years of imprisonment.
Chennai-based poet, Mrs. Gulnar Raheem Khan who is 62 had this to say about the ban- “’Centuries of injustice suffered silently by Muslim women, has been set right’, proclaimed the supporters of the Act. Claiming to be victims of triple talaq, hundreds of women file FIRs against their husbands. More than being a shield, the Act looks like a weapon for a wife to bring her husband to his knees. He is at her mercy for a bail, or he spends three years in a jail. Even while in prison, he has to support his wife, despite a relationship that is hostile. Is this not injustice?”
Over the issue of Triple Talaq, Firdaus Parvez, a Law graduate from the Aligarh Muslim University, says, " What do Instant Triple Talaq and its consequent ban mean to me? I’ve heard people of repute and understanding of Islamic Law say that it is un-Islamic, and that there is no such provision in the Holy Quran for this type of Talaq. So, why has it been legal for so many years? Why have women suffered this humiliation for so long?
I remember talking to my young, Muslim domestic help several years ago. She wasn’t educated, and was very poor. Her husband used to beat her up for minor things. I asked her why she did not retaliate or complain about him. I offered to help her. She was horrified at the thought. She said her husband would divorce her immediately (here’s where Instant Triple Talaq comes into play) and she had nowhere to go. This is not a lone incident. The sword of the Instant Triple Talaq has been hanging over the heads of Muslim women for a long time.
The ban of this draconian law comes as a relief although I don’t believe the imprisonment of the offender will be much of a deterrent. It is time to make people aware of the invalidity of such type of divorce. The uneducated are not going to look up the Indian Penal Code. They look up to the Clerics and Ulemas for guidance. It is time for them to educate the Muslim community about this law. With this new development I see a light at the end of a very long tunnel."
I personally feel that whether the act is a political gimmick or not, in today's time where we talk about gender equality such a law will surely become a shield of defence for Muslim women and create a roadblock in the absurd step of instant 'Talaq' misused by Muslim men. Now, with severe punishments, men will have to rethink misusing this disrespectful law that causes a great deal of pain to innocent Muslim women. I believe, the weaker the women, the more vulnerable they will be to atrocities in this male chauvinist world. Hence, women should also become financially independent, armed with knowledge and fully acquaint themselves with the existing laws so nobody can take advantage of them.