President Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday gave his assent to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage), Bill, 2019 that makes instant triple talaq among Muslims a criminal offence.
The President’s approval came a day after it was pushed through the Rajya Sabha following support from BJD and walkout by NDA allies JDU and AIADMK. With his nod, the Bill has become an Act. It will be deemed to have come into force from September 19, 2018.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill was passed by 99 votes in favour and 84 against, as the ruling NDA, which lacks majority in the Upper House, was also helped by the absence of some members of the opposition Congress, SP and BSP as well as six members of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and two MPs of YSR-Congress.
Lok Sabha had passed the Bill last week and once granted assent by the President, the practice of Muslim men instantly divorcing their wives by uttering 'talaq' thrice will become a criminal offence, punishable by jail term of up to three years.
The Bill will replace an ordinance promulgated on February 21 to the same effect.
Rajya Sabha also rejected an opposition sponsored motions to send the bill to a Select Committee of the House and for making triple talaq a civil offence with 100 votes against it as compared to 84 in favour.
While BJD's seven members supported the legislation, JDU's 6 MPs and AIADMK 11 members walked out, lowering the majority mark which normally stands at 121. The ruling NDA has 107 members in the 242-member Rajya Sabha.
The same strategy had helped the government push through the contentious amendment to the Right To Information (RTI) Act last week despite lacking numbers in the Upper House.
The NDA was also strengthened by absentees in the opposition ranks. Oscar Fernandes and four other Congress MPs as also NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel were absent.
Two Samajwadi Party MPs, Ram Jethmalani of the RJD, two Trinamool Congress MPs and one member of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) were also not present.
Replying to a four-and-half-hour debate on the Bill, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad cited jail provisions in the legislations that ban dowry and multiple marriages by Hindu men to justify the three-year jail term for Muslim men practices triple talaq.
To Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, who termed the bill as a politically motivated move to destroy Muslim households with domestic fights, the minister said the
Congress leader should think why his party could never win majority following the peak of 400-plus seats it won in 1984.
He saw the 1986 Shah Bano case, where the Congress did not stick its neck out to support women rights, as the main reason for the downfall of the party.
The law, he said, was not being brought due to the Supreme Court ruling of 2017 declaring talaq-e-biddat, commonly referred to as instant triple talaq, unconstitutional.
"I am a minister of Narendra Modi government and not Rajiv Gandhi government," he said citing the Shah Bano case of 1986.
The minister said he cannot leave in lurch women who have been divorced by triple talaq via WhatsApp or other such means.
"Should I leave them (Muslim women) crying and sobbing on the foothpaths," Prasad said adding the government will not hesitate to stand by them and do justice to them.
On opposition charge of BJP being anti-Muslim, he said no religion centric issues were raised when reforms in Hindu Marriage Act were carried out in wholesale.
Jail term was prescribed when a Hindu man married another women. "At that time no one raised the question about how the family will be run," he said.
Also when anti-dowry Act provided for jail, no one raised question about running of the family. "Why are these questions (about who will run the family when husband is jailed) are being raised when the issue is about the Muslim daughter," he said.
When Muslim world is trying to reform, why can't a democracy do the same, he said.
The Law minister said BJP may be getting a little less votes from the Muslim community but it considers them very much a part of the country and works on the principle of 'sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas'.
He said his party gave the nation a President from the same community.
Prasad said the bill should not be seen through a political prism as it is a matter of humanity, woman empowerment and gender equality.
"More than 20 Islamic nations have regulated triple talaq," he said.
Azad said the opposition has been forced to vote against the bill after the government did not accept their demand to send it to a select committee and make triple talaq a civil offence.
The Triple Talaq bill could not make it through the Upper House earlier this year during the first term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, although it was passed by Lok Sabha.
The Bill was again passed by Lok Sabha last week amid a walkout by several opposition parties including the Congress and the Trinamool Congress.
The opposition parties say in its current form, the proposed law could be misused to harass Muslims and wanted it to be reviewed by a parliamentary committee.
The triple talaq bill makes declaration of talaq-e-biddat or pronouncing talaq three times in spoken, written or through SMS or WhatsApp or any other electronic chat in one sitting illegal.
Criminalising the offence, it gives a police officer powers to arrest the offender without requiring a warrant. To check misuse of cognisable nature of the offence, the triple talaq bill makes declaration of talaq-e-biddat only if the complaint is filed by the aggrieved woman or any of her relation by blood or marriage.
A magistrate can grant bail only hearing the aggrieved woman.
The aggrieved woman is entitled to demand a maintenance for her and her dependent children under the bill.
Opposing the Bill, Azad said a law should not be made to "finish one particular religion" and claimed that the "cat has come out of the bag".
He said the government should not target one section by framing an "unconstitutional" law but instead provide 33 per cent reservation to women in legislatures for their empowerment, the way Congress government had earlier brought in reservation for women in panchayats, corporations and local bodies.
He sought to know if the government will provide sustenance allowance to women whose husbands would face prison under the provisions of the proposed legislation.
Azad accused the government of "double speak" and said it is not just Muslim women, but also Hindu, Christian and Jain women who need empowerment.
While participating in the debate, Congress leader Digvijay Singh said the Muslim community has not been taken into confidence.
He said the bill was aimed at creating a divide between the Hindu and Muslim communities. He said several lakh Hindu women are deserted by their husbands and asked whether the government is going to bring any legislation to help them.
Taking a dig at the Prime Minister, Singh said: "Would you ask the pradhan sevak to help pradhan sevika to get justice (Kya aap pradhan sevak se kahenge ki wo pradhan sevika ko nayay dilaye)."
Bhupender Yadav of BJP said the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill is not of a particular party but intends to honour the lone woman who fought the long legal battle up to the Supreme Court on this issue.
Some of the opposition members also raised the issue of Unnao rape victim and Kathua incident saying if the government was really serious about the welfare of women, it should ensure justice to them also.
Many raised the issue of mob lynching during the debate.
With PTI Inputs