The Indian parliament has approved a bill to end the Muslim practice of instant “triple talaq” or divorce two years after the Supreme Court said it violated the constitutional rights of Muslim women.
The upper house of parliament, Rajya Sabha, on Tuesday passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill with a 99-84 approval, making the practice punishable with up to three years in jail.
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The passage of the bill was a victory for India‘s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said the bill “corrects a historical wrong done to Muslim women” even as the opposition objected, saying it could be used to harass Muslim men.
“An archaic and medieval practice has finally been confined to the dustbin of history!” Modi posted on Twitter. “This is a victory of gender justice and will further equality in society. India rejoices today!”
An archaic and medieval practice has finally been confined to the dustbin of history!
Parliament abolishes Triple Talaq and corrects a historical wrong done to Muslim women. This is a victory of gender justice and will further equality in society.
India rejoices today!
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 30, 2019
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the bill’s approval by the upper house of parliament reflects the empowerment of women and India’s changing profile.
The more powerful lower house, called the Lok Sabha, had approved the bill last week. It will become law after India’s president approves it, which is a formality.
BJP accused of bias
“Triple talaq” is a practice under which a Muslim man can divorce his wife by simply uttering “talaq” – the Arabic word for divorce – three times. It is prevalent among India’s Muslims, a majority of whom follow the Hanafi Islamic school of law.
The mode of divorce is not universal among Muslims across the world, as many other Islamic schools of thought prefer the divorce process to be deferred, in many cases over a period of three months.
Most of the 170 million Muslims in India are Sunnis governed by the Muslim Personal Law for family matters.
More than 20 countries, including neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the practice.
Indian Muslim groups have said instant divorce is wrong, but believe the practice should be reviewed by community leaders rather than the government.
Critics have long accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of a bias against the minority Muslims.
Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of parliament from the opposition All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party, said the BJP was targeting Muslims while having failed to reform the Hindu society.
This law is against Muslim women & marginalizes them even more. The law forces a woman to stay in a marriage with an imprisoned man who'd verbally & emotionally abused her. It puts the burden of proof on Muslim women & forces her into impoverishment
— Asaduddin Owaisi (@asadowaisi) July 30, 2019
The opposition had blocked the bill for more than a year, as the ruling party lacked majority support in the upper house. A split in the opposition ranks helped the government cross the line.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Congress party leader, said the opposition parties were opposed to a clause providing a three-year jail term for a husband who divorced his wife in such a way, arguing that no other religion has such a punishment.
The opposition also said the bill had no clarity on spousal support if men were jailed for instant divorce.
Both houses of parliament rejected the opposition stand and also refused to refer the bill to a parliamentary committee to consider those provisions.
Critics say divorce and polygamy are not the main issues facing India’s Muslims, the majority of whom are close to the bottom of economic and educational indicators in the country.