NEW DELHI: Muslims in India described the “Triple Talaq” bill passed by Parliament’s Lower House on Thursday as an attempt to persecute Muslims by criminalizing instant divorce.
The lower house, which is dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — known for supporting Hindu-nationalist policies — passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) bill, 2018 despite vociferous protests from opposition parties.
The bill — popularly known as the Triple Talaq bill — criminalizes “instant divorce,” the practice whereby a Muslim husband can divorce his wife simply by saying “talaq” three times. The bill means that any man doing so will face jail if a complaint is filed against him by any of the wife’s relatives.
The All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWAA), a coalition of 40 women’s rights organizations, called the bill “myopic,” saying that it does not address “other issues of women’s economic and social security.”
“It is purely a communal agenda of the BJP government,” said AIPWAA’s leader Kavita Krishnan. “This government has communalized gender issues. The BJP’s idea is not to protect Muslim women, but to attack Muslim men by creating another law under which men from minority communities are criminalized and demonized.”
While the president of the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board Shaista Amber said she opposes the criminalization of divorce, she added that the bill had a positive side, as “it will deter men from arbitrarily deserting their wife.”
“If the bill was not passed now it would embolden men from the Muslim community to indulge in divorce and cruelty against their women,” she claimed. “Despite the Supreme Court verdict, men used triple talaq to divorce women. Therefore, I support the bill, despite my objection,” Amber told Arab News.
Amber, who is considered a supporter of the BJP, added: “I know the BJP is an extremely anti-Muslim party, but my question is: What did other secular parties, like Congress, do for Muslim women when they were in power?”
Kamal Farooqui, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said the bill is “one more attempt to persecute the Muslim minority,” and “an attempt to humiliate and pressurize the Muslim community.”
Divorce rates in that community, he claimed, are actually lower than among those of other religions. “Actually what the BJP is trying to do is to simply address their core Hindu supporters by saying that we can harm Muslims in such a fashion,” he said. “They have already been harming Muslims by denying them the right to offer pray in public parks, by lynching them in the name of saving cows, and so on.”
Mahmood Madani, general-secretary of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, one of India’s leading Islamic organizations, called the government’s intentions “suspect.”
“We don’t trust this government. The decision to pass the Triple Talaq bill has been made with very bad intentions, and it is very wrong on the part of the government,” he told Arab News.
“The bill is a part of the government’s political agenda. It has promised a lot to the people, and it has failed miserably. So now it is resorting to these kind of tactics.”
Chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission Zafarul Islam said, “It’s wrong on the part of the BJP government to interfere with the personal law of another religion. This is not good for the larger interest of the community.”
President of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Asaduddin Owaisi said: “The government did not have a problem when the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality. It did not have a problem when adultery was decriminalized. But it wants to criminalize triple talaq.”
The BJP, however, says that the bill is all about “gender justice.”
“Muslim women have long suffered due to corrupt practices adopted my males to divorce them on slightest pretext. The bill is just a follow-up of the Supreme Court judgement,” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma told Arab News.
“Congress and other opposition parties are making this about politics in the hope that Muslim men will support them. But we knew there would be resistance against any change, and we are willing to pay the price for gender justice.”
Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay suggested that by passing the bill, “the BJP wants to send a message to their Hindu constituency that they are fixing the Muslims.”
“In an election year, BJP voters might think that even if the BJP has not delivered much in the last five years, it has at least shown Muslims ‘their place,’” he opined. “The BJP knows this is the dominant thinking among Hindus in states like Uttar Pradesh, which is crucial to their election chances.
“The BJP also wants to fix other opposition parties, particularly the Congress Party, and portray them, basically, as anti-Hindu parties that survive through Muslim appeasement,” the analyst continued.
The bill now goes to the upper house, where the Congress-led opposition parties have a majority. It is expected to face stiff resistance there.
“The core committee of the Congress party will take the call how to deal with the bill,” said Tom Vadakkan, national spokesperson of the Congress Party.