In the Upper House, the treasury benches do not have a majority and need the backing of non-NDA parties.
The bill to ban triple talaq, passed in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, is likely to have a narrow shelf life. In order to become law, it must gain the approval of the Rajya Sabha in 42 days. That seems unlikely to happen. The AIADMK, which has by and large been a government supporter, participated in the noisy walkout along with the Congress at the time of voting. In the Upper House, the treasury benches do not have a majority and need the backing of non-NDA parties.
In December last year too, the government had the bill against triple talaq passed in the Lower House due to its overwhelming majority. On that occasion there was no walkout by the Opposition parties, who raised many questions and urged the government to send the bill to a joint select committee of Parliament for a nuanced discussion, but drew a blank from the government side.
Subsequently, the government went to the extent of bringing in an ordinance to enforce triple talaq, suggesting that it was desperate to see the measure through. Triple talaq — the pronouncing of “talaq” three times in a single sitting in order to effect an immediate divorce — is not only un-Qoranic; it is discriminatory in the extreme to Muslim women who suffer grievously on account of it. This is the point that the BJP and the Hindu religious right seeks to emphasise.
On the other hand, the saffron party’s opponents, with some justification, feel that while shedding tears for Muslim women, the BJP in reality is pushing a communal agenda of penalising Muslim men. Their underlying argument is that a Muslim marriage is a civil contract, and its breach cannot be made a criminal offence.
According to the figures law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad provided in the House while piloting the bill, in the two years from January 2017 to December 2018 there were 477 recorded instances of triple talaq. If this is the figure in a population of millions for Indian Muslims, then how serious is the problem really? Does it call for the enactment of a law? Indeed, in the present year, there were fewer cases than last year — 177. In December 2017, Mr Prasad had given the figure of 300 for that year.
In the course of public debate on this matter in the past two years, a practical suggestion has been made that is worth considering. If “triple talaq” is banned in the “nikahnama”, the pre-nuptial Muslim civil contract between the man and the woman getting married, then the matter can be dealt with at the starting point, and the Islamic community itself would have brought about a reform.
Trying to push through a law on a religious community on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections does give rise to suspicions about a political motive.