Tamil Nadu’s ruling party AIADMK says it will not support the Triple Talaq Bill brought by the government in its present form.
They are demanding to remove the clause from the bill that criminalises instant triple talaq and has provisioned a jail sentence for three years.
In addition, the proposed bill, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017, also makes the practice of instant triple talaq non-bailable and cognisable offence.
BJD, the ruling party in Odisha, is opposed to the bill as its feels there are several flaws and internal contradictions and needs amendment. The party like many others in the opposition camp including Congress, are questioning the provisions on criminalisation and jail term.
CPI-M says the move by the government is ‘unwarranted and politically motivated.” Its MP Mohammed Salim said, “When the Supreme Court has already banned the triple talaq, there is no need to bring such a law. If divorce has not happened in the first place, where does the need to criminalise the act arise?”
AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi is outrightly dismissive of the bill saying it violates the Fundamental Rights and is also legally inconsistent. He even moved a notice in the Lok Sabha to oppose the bill.
Parties like SP, BSP and RJD are also opposed to the criminalisation provision, a principal demand of Congress, the largest block in the Rajya Sabha, along with the BJP. Both parties have 57 RS MPs each.
And they all are doing so to address their political constituencies. But does it really help? History tells otherwise.
THE SHAH BANO CASE
Shah Bano was 62 when she filed a court petition in Indore in April 1978 demanding maintenance from her divorced husband, a well-to-do lawyer, for herself and her five children, two daughters and three sons. The divorce was not final yet as per Islamic law. Shah Bano demanded her right to alimony, Rs 500 a month, for subsistence under the Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) 1973 which deals with maintenance issue of wives, children and parents.
Her husband had thrown her out and was staying with his second wife. After he stopped giving the promised monthly maintenance sum of Rs 200, Shah Bano was forced to approach the court in April 1978. Irked by the move, the husband made the talaq irrevocable in November 1978 and claimed he was not liable to pay any monthly subsistence as per the Muslim personal law and what all he owned to Shah Bano was Rs 5400, the amount according to their marriage contract or Mehr.
Shah Bano won, both from the Indore local court in August 1979 and from the Madhya Pradesh High Court in July 1980. After the local court found that a meagre sum of Rs 25 a month was enough for her and her five children, she filed a petition in the high court to revise it. The high court upheld the lower court order and raised the monthly maintenance to Rs 179.20 a month. But it was still a mere pittance, much lower than Rs 500 a month demanded by Shah Bano.
Shah Bano’s husband immediately moved to the Supreme Court against the high court order. The first hearing in the Supreme Court took place in February 1981. They referred the case to a larger bench. Soon the case acquired a much larger social canvas with Muslim bodies like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind joining the case intervenors.
The matter was finally heard by a five judge bench of the Supreme Court. The Justices included India’s 16th Chief Justice Y V Chandrachud, Justice Jangnath Misra, Justice D A Desai, Justice O Chinnappa Reddy and Justice E S Venkataramiah.
They delivered a landmark ruling on 23 April 1985 that not only upheld the high court verdict but also opened the way for awakening among the Muslim women, to raise voice against their commoditization and secondary status, in nuptial agreements, in family and in society. The long fight that has resulted in the Supreme Court banning the practice of instant triple talaq and the government coming up with bill to make it a criminal offence is a testimony of that awakening as the fight was spearheaded by individual Muslim women and Muslim women organizations.
RAJIV GANDHI’S SURRENDER
As was expected to happen, the Supreme Court verdict created a storm. The Muslim clergy vehemently opposed it. They took to streets terming the judgement an encroachment upon their personal laws governed by the Shariat. Political overtones of the protests were so strong that the Rajiv Gandhi Government had to surrender finally. It enacted a law in May 1986 that overturned the Supreme Court decision.
THE PRICE CONGRESS PAID – BUT HAVE OTHERS LEARNT FROM IT?
The way Rajiv Gandhi surrendered before the compulsions of appeasement politics and overturned the Supreme Court ruling on a social malaise that was affecting and afflicting millions of Muslim women, it sent out a message that the government of the day was ready to go to any extent to save its votebanks.
The move by Rajiv Gandhi sent a powerful message that the Congress government that was totally appeasement centric and if it could overturn a historic decision of the top court of the land to appease the minorities, it could never be friendly to the interests of the majority. And there were many takers for this perception.
Senior BJP leader L K Advani, deposing before the Liberhan Commission on Babri Mosque demolition, in fact counted the Shah Bano case as one of the three factors that led BJP to launch the movement for Ram Mandir construction in Ayodhya, “If the Shah Bano episode had not taken place, if the Government had not actively participated or facilitated the shilanyas or opened the Ram temple gates, may be this would not have weighed with us when we were thinking of the Ayodhya Resolution in 1989.”
The step that Rajiv Gandhi believed would pay political dividend, in fact, proved a major drag on his legacy and the political dividend instead went to parties like BJP and Shiv Sena. Congress started shrinking and BJP started growing. And the consequences are there for everyone to see today. BJP is now in 19 states while Congress has shrunk to just four and the party has come down to a historical low in its Lok Sabha representation. It could win just 44 seats in the 2015 General Election.
And Rajiv Gandhi did it for a social malaise that that had made lives of Muslim women a hell. 95 per cent of the arbitrarily divorced Muslim women don’t get any compensation or maintenance from their husbands, a survey by the BMMA reveals. The BMMA survey also says 92 per cent Muslim women want triple talaq banned.
The Lok Sabha where BJP and its allies are in absolute majority passed the bill to ban instant triple talaq on 28 December. Now the Rajya Sabha will take it up on 2nd January for discussion and passage. If BJP and Congress can reach to a compromise, then opposition by any other party will not matter.
And history says Congress would not do so, reflecting in the fact that it was, in fact, a poorly calculated decision by Rajiv Gandhi, even if under the pressure of Muslim clerics, that became one of the rallying points for Hindutva politics.
Congress, it seems, has learnt its lessons after paying a heavy price. But can we say that about others?