By Flavia Agnes
Sep 21, 2018
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 step?
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 of Muslims.
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 of.
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