What Does the Law against Triple Talaq Really Mean for Muslims?

Social Commentary

What Does the Law against Triple Talaq Really Mean for Muslims?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

 The days of Muslim men being able to divorce their wives instantaneously upon uttering the words “talaq, talaq, talaq” seem to be numbered, with the government passing a Bill in the Lok Sabha, making the practice a punishable offense. More than a full year after the Supreme Court termed the custom of triple talaq “unconstitutional”, the issue has divided public opinion once again, with opposing camps voicing conflicting opinions on the ordinance. The debate over the issue grew so heated that the Opposition staged a walkout.

On the surface, it’s an unambiguous step toward equality, ensuring that women are not deserted and left vulnerable after their husbands suddenly terminate their matrimonial alliance. This is a view echoed by Zakia Soman, a Mumbai-based women’s rights activist who also co-founded the NGO Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA). “The Muslim woman is happy today because she wants legal protection. Despite the Supreme Court order, instant triple talaq has been taking place, so we needed this to be criminalised,” she was quoted as saying in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Many critics of the ordinance have declared that making triple talaq a punishable offence is absurd.

While the BMMA, which claims to have conducted surveys that show 90 per cent of Indian Muslim women want a ban on unilateral divorce, will be celebrating the passing of the Bill, the joy is not shared by everyone in the community. When the Supreme Court termed triple talaq unconstitutional last year, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) opposed what it termed “government interference” in the affairs of the Muslim community. In September, when an ordinance that the current Bill is based on was passed, Kamal Faruqui, a prominent AIMPLB Executive Committee member, stated, “My country’s laws are already strong enough to punish anyone who does this, no need for additional laws.”

Faruqui is not wrong. Many other critics of the ordinance with no affiliation to the AIMPLB have declared that making triple talaq a punishable offence is absurd. Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, raised the question in a pointed tweet, “Instant triple talaq should not be recognised as divorce. But why should it be a crime punished with jail time, for a Muslim man to attempt divorce in legally invalid way?”

Of course, given how close we are to next year’s general elections, an issue of this magnitude was bound to be given political colour. This is the same reason that an earlier bill seeking to criminalise triple talaq was stalled, as it failed to garner enough support in the Rajya Sabha. It was at a seminar last year that Flavia Agnes, a prominent lawyer and critic of criminalising the practise, said, “The whole debate is skewed and political, catering to the ruling government’s Muslim-bashing agenda, and media is a prime player in this.”

The fear among the opponents of the ordinance is that this move is merely a stepping stone for the current government’s final goal of doing away with specific religious laws and installing a Uniform Civil Code. But is the practice of triple talaq truly fundamental to Islam? The Supreme Court of India doesn’t think so. Neither do the governments of Islamic nations like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But triple talaq continues to be a bone of contention in India, the country with the third-largest Muslim population in the world.

As we wait for the fate of the ordinance to be decided, it’s clear that the triple talaq issue offers plenty of political mileage for everyone involved. So expect more callouts in the vein of Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad appealing to Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, and Mayawati to support the ordinance because they are women.

Triple talaq might be finally on its way out the door, but the games, it seems, have just begun.