Mahila Congress chief, Sushmita Dev has been at the forefront of the debate on the Triple Talaq Bill... saying that the Congress would scrap the Bill if voted to power. In an interview with Sreeparna Chakrabarty, Ms Dev says she is crystal clear that there should be no criminalisation.
As the Mahila Congress chief, you have spoken extensively against the Triple Talaq Bill. You recently said that the Congress would do away with the Bill if voted to power?
Let there be no ambiguity. I started by saying that we will not be ready to pass any law which is against the Constitution. Then I said that we oppose the Triple Talaq Bill as we will not allow “triple talaq” to be criminalised and therefore, when our party comes to power, we will make sure that this Bill is done away with. It is a very short Bill. There are only two or three sections to it. What is in it except criminalisation? The other things it talks about are custody and maintenance, both of which are covered under the Domestic Violence Act. What does it bring to the table — just criminalisation?
What I said in Lok Sabha is not different from what I said at the minority convention. It (the Bill) is not needed. One single judge said bring a law in Parliament but he never said criminalise it. You look at any other law, whether it is of Hindus, Christians, Jains or Parsis. When a man leaves his wife... basically it is desertion. Nowhere is it criminalised. Why criminalise triple talaq?
If anybody in the BJP says they are doing Muslim women a favour, it is a façade. Anybody who understands civil law, rather any educated person who understands what should be in the jurisdiction of civil law and what should be criminalised and uses common sense should know that this is just posturing. When you hammer a narrative through every television channel then people start believing it.
Do you know that here are Muslim women who wrote to the law commission opposing criminalisation? I have met Muslim women extensively before I opened my mouth and this government has met no one before bringing in the Bill. It does not matter what TV channels show.
Go to Uttar Pradesh, Assam and other states, no woman wants triple talaq to be criminalised. They could have brought a civil act to say that we are fining you with `50 lakh or `5 lakh. Can any law force a man to live with a woman? By criminalising triple talaq, are you going to be actually stopping desertions? I am crystal clear, we are against criminalisation of triple talaq.
I want to ask Narendra Modi, how many Hindu women are deserted? Criminalise it (desertion). Why are you not doing that? Why only such benevolence for the Muslim woman? Because it is part of a larger design to demonise the Muslim man.
But people are comparing this with the Shah Bano case during Rajiv Gandhi’s time?
People say that Rajiv Gandhi, by bringing the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, disempowered women despite the Supreme Court judgment. Please read Flavia Agnes on this. She says that what unfolded after the Bill is that Muslim women in the Iddat period got the settlement of a lifetime. Actually that Act had become a problem for the Muslim men.
A law is good or bad after you do impact assessment. If you look at the Shah Bano impact assessment, people are getting lakhs of rupees under this act. So let’s wait two years for the Triple Talaq Bill. It is not going to help Muslim women.
What has been your experience since taking over as Mahila Congress chief?
I took over in 2017 and what I inherited, I believe, is huge amounts of women cadre but the challenge was that they were not equally spread out across the country. In some districts we were strong, some we were not. It has taken me over a year to build the organisation at the block levels because it is extremely difficult to mobilise women at the grassroots as they are the primary caretakers of the children and they have household chores. But I have improved it a lot.
The Congress president had told me that the Mahila Congress has to turn into a vibrant organisation with lots of fresh blood. Our target is outreach. Rather than expecting people to come to rallies, instead we go to them. I always organise programmes which take us to their doorsteps. The primary task of the Mahila Congress is a door-to-door campaign.
When you took over you had mentioned that Women’s Reservation Bill would be your priority?
Women in governance and more women in political parties… this doesn’t necessarily strike a cord with every woman in the village. I have met thousands of women in villages, and their biggest issues are employment, education of children, security and access to health. They want reservation but it is not something which is at the top of their list. More women in urban and semi-urban areas want reservation.
But the bigger issue is that by not bringing the Reservation Bill to Parliament, the BJP has betrayed the people. After 30 years we had a government with a majority. The Rajya Sabha would not have been a problem as the Congress and the BJP both supported it. So what is the Prime Minister’s excuse?
There was absolutely nothing standing in the way of this government passing the law. Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have written to the PM on this. The Congress as the largest Opposition party did a historical thing by supporting the Bill. I see it as a social reform which Narendra Modi did not bring.
You have been deeply involved in drafting the Congress manifesto as far as women’s issues are concerned. What kind of consultations have you carried out?
We have tried to meet a cross-section of people. We haven’t done it like an event management thing — we have actually gone out to various sections like teachers, students women farmers, the LGBTQ community and various NGOs who have worked for children and the United Nations. We have done a very in-depth consultation. Policy is a very dynamic issue. What worked 20 years back can’t work right now. You can successfully govern a country only if your ears are to the ground.