NEW DELHI: The upper house of the Indian parliament was adjourned on Monday after a logjam between the government and the opposition parties on the issue of the triple talaq criminalization bill (where divorce is verbally pronounced thrice by a man).
Last Thursday, the lower house of parliament, which is dominated by the ruling Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), passed the controversial Muslim women’s rights protection bill of 2018 with a sweeping majority.
The bill, popularly known as the triple talaq (divorce) bill, criminalizes “instant divorce,” the practice in which Muslim men can divorce by simply saying the word three times.
The bill implies jail time for any man found guilty of divorcing verbally if a complaint is filed by any of the wife’s relatives.
On Monday, the government wanted to introduce the bill in the upper house, but the opposition-dominated house wants the bill to go to a select committee for thorough deliberation before it is brought to the floor of the house.
“It has been a convention since 1993 that every bill goes to a select committee of parliamentarians for scrutiny before it is introduced in the house,” said Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress leader and opposition leader in the upper house.
“The bill is very crucial and requires further scrutiny. More than half of members of several parties have demanded that the bill be sent to a select committee,” said Azad.
“The bill is an important legislation that can either positively or negatively affect the lives of millions of people and so it has to be referred to a joint select committee,” said the opposition leader.
On Monday, the logjam continued into the afternoon, after which the presiding officer decided to adjourn the house until Wednesday.
In a signed letter, 14 opposition parties asked the upper house chairman, Venkaiah Naidu, to send the bill to the committee.
One of the signatories of the letter is the ruling party in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which happens to be an important regional ally of the BJP.
“The government is ready for a discussion on the issue and the congress is creating hurdles for the legislation,” alleged Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vijay Goel in the upper house.
“Congress and other parties are only playing politics on this issue, which is very important for ensuring the rights of married Muslim women,” the minister added.
Shaista Amber, the president of the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, who is one of the votaries of the bill, says that “sending the bill to the select committee might stop it being passed in future.”
“You need some kind of deterrence to dissuade men from divorcing their wives, though I don’t favor criminalization of the civil law,” Amber told Arab News.
Anwar Sadat of the Indian Society of International Law, a New Delhi-based research institute, said that “if the triple talaq bill is passed in the present form, then it would adversely affect Muslim society.”
He said: “The idea is not only to polarize the Muslim society but also the larger Indian society on a religious issue.”
Zafarul Islam, chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission, said that “the BJP thinks it can wean away certain section of Muslim women by talking about the triple talaq.”
“Otherwise, the fact that a party renowned for its anti-Muslim rhetoric should focus so much on the bill is sheer politics,” opines Islam.
Political analyst Satish Mishra of the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank, said, “It’s a political move with the aim of getting votes from among the Muslim minority, particularly women.”
“The primary aim is to divide the society in the name of Hindu and Muslims,” added Mishra. “The opposition has a valid point that you cannot make divorce a criminal offense.”
“If it has to be this way, then why only Muslims? Why not Hindus, why not other communities? In my opinion, the BJP’s argument may not cut much ice with the larger electorate, but it may convince their core Hindu constituency. I feel that the party’s attempt to portray the main opposition Congress Party as a pro-minority group may also not carry weight because most of the opposition parties also disapprove this Bill.”