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Union Cabinet approves criminalization of Triple Talaq

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Why no similar penal provisions for Hindu men deserting women: Oppn

New Delhi, Sep 19: The Union Cabinet approved Wednesday an ordinance to ban the practice of instant Triple Talaq, with Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad saying there was a “compelling necessity” to bring the measure as instances of ‘Talaq-e-Biddat’ continued unabated despite the Supreme Court striking it down.

Under the proposed ordinance, giving instant Triple Talaq will be illegal and void and will attract a jail term of three years for the husband.

Seeking to allay fears that the proposed law could be misused, the government has included certain safeguards in it such as adding a provision of bail for the accused before trial.

These amendments were cleared by the Cabinet on August 29.

“There was an overpowering urgency and a compelling necessity to bring the ordinance as the practice continued unabated despite the SC order last year,” Prasad told a press conference.

The Law Minister used the opportunity to attack the Congress, saying it is not supporting the bill pending in Rajya Sabha under “vote bank pressures”.

“It is my serious charge that Sonia Gandhi-ji has maintained silence on the issue. She is silent…it has nothing to do with politics but gender justice and dignity,” he said.

He urged UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, BSP supremo Mayawati and TMC chief Mayawati to support the bill in the next session of Parliament for the sake of “gender justice, gender equality and gender dignity”.

While the proposed law makes it a “non-bailable” offence, an accused can approach a magistrate even before trial to seek bail.

In a non-bailable offence, bail cannot be granted by police at the police station itself.

Prasad said a provision has been added to allow the magistrate to grant bail “after hearing the wife”.

Sources later said the magistrate would ensure that bail is granted only after the husband agrees to grant compensation to the wife as provided in the bill.

The quantum of compensation will be decided by the magistrate, as per the bill.

The police would lodge an FIR only if approached by the victim (wife), her blood relations or people who become her relatives by virtue of her marriage.

Neighbours and others cannot lodge a complaint under the proposed law.

The offence of instant Triple Talaq will be “compoundable”. Now, a magistrate can use his powers to settle the dispute between a husband and his wife. This will happen only when the wife approaches the court.

Under a compoundable offence, both parties have the liberty of withdrawing the case.

The proposed law would only be applicable on instant Triple Talaq or ‘Talaq-e-Biddat’ and it would give power to the victim to approach a magistrate seeking “subsistence allowance” for herself and minor children.

A woman can also seek the custody of her minor children from the magistrate who will take a final call on the issue.

Citing details of instant Triple Talaq cases, the minister said till now 430 incidents of Triple Talaq have come to the notice of the government through the media. Of these, he said, 229 were reported before the Supreme Court judgement, while another 201 came to the notice after it.

These cases were reported between the period of January 2017 to September 13, 2018, he said.

Meanwhile, with the government taking ordinance route to make ‘instant Triple Talaq’ a penal offence, opposition parties and women activists Wednesday asked why no similar provisions are made for Hindu men deserting their wives and alleged a “human issue” has been made into a “political football”.

Some said the ordinance ignores problems it could pose to Muslim women and there is need for a comprehensive law, while the Congress said what needed to be done after the Supreme Court quashed this practice was to provide justice to an abandoned Muslim woman and jailing the husband might not serve the purpose.

Ishrat Jahan, a petitioner in the Triple Talaq case, welcomed the decision as a big step towards “empowering Muslim women” and said Muslim men and religious leaders should now mend “their ways or be ready to face the music”.

She was one of the five petitioners in the case against instant Triple Talaq. This practice was struck down by the Supreme Court on August 22, 2017.

Jahan, who has a 13-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, had moved court after she was divorced by her husband over phone from Dubai by uttering ‘Talaq’ thrice consecutively in 2014.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the government has not acceded to the party’s request for making a provision for attaching property of those not providing compensation to the affected women and children after divorce.

“For us, triple talaq has always been a human issue related to women rights and extending justice to them,” he said, adding Congress leaders and lawyers such as Salman Khurshid and Manish Tiwari had represented the affected women before the Supreme Court.

“However, the Modi government is treating the issue more as a political football than a matter of justice to Muslim women,” he alleged.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi said the ordinance was “anti-Muslim women” and would do them more injustice.

He demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should bring a law to protect Hindu women deserted by their husbands.

Owaisi also said marriage was a civil contract in Islam and bringing penal provisions was “wrong and unnecessary”, and hoped the Muslim Personal Law Board will challenge it in court.

“Prime Minister Modi, this nation requires a law for those poor married women who are 24 lakhs according to 2011 census. They are married and their husbands in the election affidavit say they are married but their wives are not living with them,” he said in a veiled reference to Prime Minister Modi.

Owaisi claimed the ordinance was to divert attention from issues like rising fuel prices and dwindling rupee.

Several women activists also criticised the decision, saying this “politicised move” was taken without considering the complications it could pose to Muslim women.

Kavita Krishnan, activist and Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), asked, “Why only Muslim men are getting punished for abandoning their wives, why not Hindu men?”

“Triple talaq is not an official divorce, it is a form of abandonment. Does an Hindu man gets imprisoned for abandoning his wife?” Krishnan said.

Annie Raja, National Federation of Indian Women’s general secretary, said she doubts the “intention and sincerity” of the government.

“There needs to be a comprehensive law… But the government has taken this step for political gains in upcoming elections. There are issues related to maintenance of women and children after her husband goes to jail, no one is talking about them,” she said.

Woman rights activist Shabnam Hashmi alleged criminalising Triple Talaq intends to polarise people ahead of general elections.

All India Democratic Women’s Association General secretary Mariam Dhawale said the move would create problems for Muslim women without clarity on issues like property rights.

The proposed law gives power to the victim to approach a magistrate seeking “subsistence allowance” for herself and minor children.

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