Trivializing, Evading, Communalizing Desertion- The Triple Talaq Bill Criminalizes A Talaq –which –Isn’t!

The Supreme Court of India has already upheld that triple talaq is not valid- is no talaq at all, and the marriage contract shall be therefore deemed continuing to stand unless terminated by valid divorce proceedings. It also cited that most Islamic countries had also done away with this form of talaq.

Using the same examples of Islamic countries, the BJP Central Govt. brought a bill on Triple Talaq into the ongoing session of Parliament and has got it passed in both Houses, in Rajya Sabha with the help of members of opposition parties which say they oppose the Bill. Introducing the Bill in the Upper House, the Law Minister explained that just because the Supreme Court has already said triple talaq is not talaq at all, that does not curb the overarching right of the Parliament to legislate on the issue. Thus did he try to glibly wriggle around the fundamental problem with the Bill his Govt. is out to enact- that the problem is not that it says triple talaq is no talaq, something which has already been laid down by the Supreme Court. The issue is that it seeks to do something totally other- seeks to criminalize an issue for one community in a realm which is governed by civil laws for the rest of the citizens.

While seeking to demonize Muslim men in the name of rights of Muslim women, the Bill scales down or takes a bite out of the rights given by virtue of marriage to Muslim women.  When triple talaq does not amount to talaq and the marriage contract continues to exist, from where does the wife get saddled with having to look for maintenance?  That is what the Bill allows her- right to maintenance.  Why is she not entitled to equal share in the finances of the household and in everything else? If the issue is that she has actually been abandoned or deserted, the laws for maintenance and for space in household already exist. The real issue is the accessibility of these laws for women. Lack of government funded free shelter homes for women even in the form of short stay homes, lack of job opportunities and economic independence, difficult, prolonged legal procedures to access rights allowed by laws, lack of protection officers, these are the issues which afflict deserted women of all communities. Little use is served to the women of any community and much harm is done to the movement for women’s rights as a whole if the issue of desertion is communalized and broken up, creating difficulties in the united fight for better implementation of laws which too are a result of women’s struggles.

The Law Minister of India chose to refer to the anti Dowry act in the Upper House, saying it already criminalizes an area covered by civil laws. To consider that the extraction of Dowry should be considered under civil laws can only be appreciated if one views laws from a Manuwadi point of view. A related question also emerges- the Bill criminalizes triple talaq which is already declared as no talaq anyway, but either party cannot be denied the right to seek divorce through legal means and women must guard against being pushed to view divorce itself as criminal. The Muslim marriage especially is a contract and not a bond by the gods unlike the Manuwadi code. Divorce is a right which women too have fought for world over and it is a right of both partners in India too; it does not at all mean that because the right exists, marriages will break.

It is also true that when a woman, irrespective of the religion she practices, registers a criminal complaint against her husband under the Anti Dowry Act, it will embitter the marital and family relationship just as it will do so when a Muslim woman lodges a criminal complaint against him of triple talaq (which is no talaq). Who has denied this? Why do Govt.’s spokespersons triumphantly assert this as a rebuttal to those who oppose this Bill which only seeks to create a criminal action out of an act in the arena of civil law and which has already been invalidated  by the Supreme Court.

Triple Talaq has rightly been invalidated by the Supreme Court and the Muslim women who have fought this patriarchal provision in their Personal laws including through law suits and against their own fundamentalists, have extended the democratic space for all women. The women’s movement must strengthen the fight for the rights of deserted women and for enactment of laws on this issue. The movement is facing severe challenges as for example by the whole scale withdrawal of the cases of gang rapes lodged in Muzzaffarnagar; the successful lethal attack on the survivor of the Unnao rape case and her family despite her repeated assertion even to the CJI of threats to life and the UP Govt.’s efforts to deny the same; the continuing burning issue of sexual harassment by powerful at workplace when all laws seem to fall by the wayside and women’s characters are attacked from ministerial offices, from pulpits of justice; the failure of implementation of Domestic violence laws and lack of seriousness of all govt.s about them.

The need of the hour is united democratic movements by women to fight patriarchal dominance and the system that upholds them and to fight for a society where women are truly equals among equals. For this the women’s movements must fight attempts to divide the struggles along chauvinist, parochial lines. In such manipulations sometimes a section is sought to be lured away from the united struggle in the name of special concerns while another section is broken away in the name of greater concerns. Women of all sections in India must recognize, first, that patriarchy is sustained by our social structure; second, that manuwad is a blueprint for patriarchal society. Only our united struggles for democratization of our society are the way forward.