NEW DELHI – India’s attempt to end the Muslim practice of “triple talaq” has been met with divided opinions after the lower house of the country’s parliament passed a bill making it an offense punishable with up to three years in prison, activists told EFE on Friday.
“Triple talaq” refers to the practice of allowing a husband to end a marriage unilaterally and instantly by repeating the word “talaq,” meaning “I divorce,” three times.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 was passed on Thursday by the Lok Sabha, where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party, which has been behind the initiative, has a majority.
It is expected to be presented at the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, next week for its final approval.
“We are extremely happy, because we have been demanding a law for a very long period now,” said Zakia Soman, one of the founders of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (Indian Muslim Women’s Movement), which advocates the abolition of a practice that affects around 67 percent of Muslim women who are divorced in India.
“With the triple talaq the power was only one side, with the husband. So he could just arbitrarily pronounce these three words and throw out his wife overnight,” she added.
Moreover, the husband did not need to be physically present and could say the words through a phone call, through a letter, or even through Facebook or Whatsapp.
“But marriage is a serious relationship and this kind of unilateralism cannot be accepted,” said the activist, who has been fighting for the ban of the practice incessantly since 2011.
In Aug. 2011, India’s Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional the practice, which affects the 180 million Muslims living in India, a Hindu-majority secular country with some 1.21 billion inhabitants.
A bench of five judges, each one from a different faith – Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism – and including the Chief Justice of India, Jagdish Singh Khehar, ruled that this form of divorce goes against the Constitution of India.
However, the verdict lacked absolute consensus, as two of the judges, including the CJI, a Sikh, were of the opinion that triple talaq is valid under Muslim Personal Law, a 1937 Act dealing with personal matters specific to the religion.
The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, has also expressed its reservations regarding the law drafted by the BJP, arguing that the criminalization of the practice could put a woman in a position of vulnerability.
The opposition’s stance on the matter may complicate the approval of the bill in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP and its allies do not enjoy the majority that they have in the Lok Sabha.
Certain Muslim feminist groups who have been combating the practice for years have also criticized the bill, saying that it lacks gender perspective.
“If you send the male to jail, who will give compensation to the woman? (....) This is more victimizing for Muslim women, more of a burden for them,” said Hasina Khan, founder of Bebaak Collective, which coordinates several Muslim feminist organizations.
“We are not supporting the criminalization bill and the reason is that the Supreme Court has already given the judgment to invalidate triple talaq,” she said, adding that it has been drafted within the framework of radical Hinduism and against Islam.
“The government wants to save marriage without the husband? How is that possible? (...) This is a very sad day for us, is a black day for us,” she lamented.