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Towards Gender Equality

Shubham Mehta
“I could not give birth to a boy. She is our third issue. He grew discontented and offered talaq”, sobbing Mahira Begum told TV news reporters, with a 3 year old daughter in her arms. She added “Now I’m worried. How would I bring up my 3 young kids? I don’t even have a job to sustain us.”
“He used to beat me daily for he would always return intoxicated during evenings. When I tried to counter his brutal assault one fine day, I was beaten even more ferociously and was offered talaq on the very same night”, exclaimed Inayat Bano, with two young kids standing beside her. She looked distraught and fell on her knees in front of TV news reporters. It seemed as if her heart has clawed its way up to her oesophagus and would leap out of her mouth. She added in gasping breaths “I tried to remind him of recent Supreme court verdict on triple talaq. But in vain as he told me that he does not care since the judgement alone can do him no harm”.
Since SC has given its verdict on the issue of triple talaq or ‘talaq-e-biddat’ in August this year, the practice has continued unabated and nearly 622 cases of talaq have been reported past the verdict. Triple talaq or ‘talaq-e-biddat’ refers to the Islamic practice whereby Muslim husband can divorce his wife by speaking the word ‘talaq’ thrice which would have the effect of instantaneous and irrevocable divorce. In order to create deterrence in the minds of Muslim men, the Union government has come up with The Muslim Women(Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 which has been passed in Lok Sabha few days ago.
The stated objective of the bill is “to protect the rights of married Muslim women and to prohibit divorce by pronouncing talaq by their husband”. Section 3 and 4 of the bill mention that the pronouncement of  ‘talaq-e-biddat’ by a person upon his wife in any form whatsoever “shall be void and illegal” and the husband shall be “punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years and fine”. In addition the offence would stand “cognizable” and a “non-bailable” act under section 7 of the same bill. Section 5 relates to “subsistence allowance” for divorced women whereas Section 6 deals with regard to “custody of her minor children”.
The orchestration of a law criminalising instant talaq is a step in the right direction to safeguard the sacred institution of marriage. Certain political outfits like AIMIM, BJD, RJD and AIADMK had their own contentions. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi contradicted the move by stating that adding a criminal provision might not bring out the desired deterrence as has been the case in instances of murder, rape et al. and should only be dealt as a civil issue. AIMPLB was of the opinion that the bill is against the Constitution, the rights of the women and Shariah(Islamic law). It is an assault and conspiracy to interfere with Muslim personal law. If this bill becomes law, women will face host of difficulties”. It is pertinent to mention here that AIMPLB had supported this practice earlier by stating that “instant talaq protects women who might otherwise be set ablaze by their husbands if talaq is not instantaneous”.
Nevertheless, every issue concerning personal laws of any religion is bound to have its own set of supporters and critiques. But one aspect of this bill is certainly noteworthy. Why does this bill talk about post-divorce issues under section 5 and 6 when the pronouncement of ‘triple talaq’ already stands “void and illegal” under section 3 of the same bill?
However there may be innumerable sources of conflict and standoff between India and Pakistan but India might take cue from Pakistan’s Muslim Family laws Ordinance, 1961. According to this, Muslim husband needs to write a notice to the chairman of state appointed Union council who would constitute a committee comprising of himself and representatives from both parties, within 30 days. The reconciliation process between parties would continue for 90 days before which the talaq shall not be effective. And in case the wife is pregnant at the time of pronouncement, the talaq shall not be effective till the termination of her pregnancy.
Perhaps what’s more noticeable here is that government is in no haste to bring ‘Uniform Civil Code’ upfront for direct confrontation though its unstated priority seems to be the uniformity in religious laws. It is only consolidating verdicts of Judiciary in streamlined compilations of law to end gender inequality prevalent in some religious personal laws.
When a PIL(Public Interest Litigation) was filed in SC in 2016 asking Judiciary to direct government to come up with Uniform Civil Code, the bench was at in its non-admission. He stated that doing so would be tantamount to Judicial over-reach and such a sensitive matter needs political parties to build a consensus around it. But with recent judgements of SC in Haji Ali Dargah case, triple talaq case; and now with Union government pushing through The Muslim Women(Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, in Parliament, it seems that every move is falling right in place like a pearl on a necklace, towards gender equality. And it needs to be seen whether the anticipated deterrence that this bill seeks to create, shows any effect on ground, after the bill receives the green nod from Rajya Sabha and President. Nonetheless, the day is not too far when World Economic Forum would come up with its ‘Global Gender Gap report’ stating that women of India are really empowered now in true spirit and essence.
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