The Triple Talaq Bill 2018 has been introduced again in the parliament. The Law Minister Ravishankar Prasad said in Parliament that ‘the Bill shouldn’t be seen through the prism of politics but on the basis of, ‘Justice, dignity and respect for Muslim women’.
For him, the matter is about Insaf (justice) and Insaniyat (humanity) and then added, “What’s bad in theology is bad in law as well”. He was mixing theology and modern laws, when it is convenient. However, the ruling party’s language finds a different tone on Sabarimala, homosexuality and adultery.
Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant, after favoring the Bill, urged the government to bring the bill on Ram Mandir without any delay, even if it went against the Supreme Court. Him and many others in the BJP have a different opinion, as they deem the Babri Masjid demolition to be a matter of faith for the majority. But, when the matter is about the faith Muslims, it becomes about the law.
The voices who support the Triple Talaq bill have no intentions to bring justice and dignity for women when it comes to Sabarimala despite the fact that the Supreme court allowed women to enter. The same government decriminalises the draconian law, Section 377 (homosexuality) as a private matter, 497 (adultery law) as no more an offence but had a different position on the criminalisation of Muslim men if they were found using triple talaq. On October 22, 2017, in a majority judgement, Supreme Court declared triple talaq, ‘manifestly arbitrary, illegal and void’.
The judgement didn’t ask the government to bring a Bill on the matter but rather it was the minority judgement who had voiced to bring the Bill. The BJP has made the issue central to their politics and any opposition to the Bill is termed Muslim appeasement.
In Islam, for talaq to be valid it must be pronounced thrice. The first and second pronouncements are revocable but the third pronouncement dissolves the marriage. These issues never got settled and therefore still based on the interpretations of different fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence).
In Sunni Islam there are four school of thought: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali and therefore nothing is universally applicable but based on how different fiqh (jurisprudence) interprets the text. In India, large number of Sunni Muslims follows Hanafi law, which doesn’t criminalise instantaneous triple talaq including through text messages and WhatsApp. Such interpretation of law is neither justified in the light of Quran nor qualified to the modern times.
Second, when it comes to Muslim marriages, one must know that Muslim marriages are based on contract and like any contract it survives on trust. Quran allows both Muslim men and women to seek talaq but due to the rigidity and power in the hands of men, Muslim women have been at the receiving end. Since marriages are a contract and Muslim personal laws are not codified in India therefore remain open to interpretation.
But the complexity of triple talaq can’t overlook the context, interpretations, the historical journey of Islamic tradition and personal laws that governed the Muslim society. The state interference is also a testimony of the failure of Muslim bodies such as All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) which failed to modernise their application of laws. The issue of triple talaq is not for all Muslims. It is notable that Shia Islam doesn’t support any such system and they even oppose the position of AIMPLB on the issue of triple talaq.
Many Sunni majority countries have reformed their personal laws on the issue of talaq. Turkey in 1926, Egypt in 1929, Syria followed in 1953 and so did Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Algeria, Sudan, Bangladesh and even Pakistan by reforming sharia laws. The Muslim bodies must reflect on this and understand that their rigidity has undermined the rights of Muslim women. And as a result, the current Modi government has been using it to their advantage.
The unraveling of triple talaq issue is not just about RSS and BJP’s plot to achieve their larger goal of Universal Civil Code but also how the notion of power is dominating the politics and religion. Women subjugation is not exclusive among Indian Muslims but across all the religions. The issue of polygamy, which has been understood as a Muslim phenomenon, exists more among Hindus than Muslims. The government doesn’t have a proper study on non-Muslim women and therefore it is better to widen the lens for understanding the conditions of women in the society.
Until that, any attempt would be futile to achieve the equality for all and might create the gulf within. From Shah Bano to Shayara Bano, the question of women subjugation reflects the dominant patriarchy but is not exclusive for Muslims.
It must be understood that the issue of triple talaq is a political project for the RSS and BJP on their long road to ‘One nation one Law’. The Muslim Personal Laws (Sharia Act) enacted in 1939 has not been codified yet and therefore there is a demand for the Uniform Civil Code.
The Road Ahead
By espousing the cause of Triple Talaq, the Modi government has projected that it is espousing the cause of Muslim women. But, what of the three-year jail term for the man who uses Triple Talaq. No other men are subjected to such laws if they want to leave their women. There is no available data how the three-year jail term for the husband will help Muslim women. The question is pertinent; why such laws is exclusive for Muslim men?
Any law without consensus would be more harmful than any help. The case of triple talaq in the present form manifests how the constitution has been selectively used. It has its own danger and as Montesquieu, a French judge reminds us, “There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice”.