25 - 03 - 2019

For BJP, triple talaq Bill is just a poll strategy

THE Lok Sabha, on December 27, passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018 (triple talaq Bill). It is the second time within a span of just 12 months that the BJP-led union government has got the Bill passed in the Lok Sabha to make instant triple talaq a punishable offence.

The triple talaq Bill was first passed by the Lok Sabha on December 28, 2017, but the BJP failed to get it passed in the Rajya Sabha where the party does not command a majority. 

The government later brought an Ordinance in September, 2017 on the subject, despite knowing that it would become infructuous once Parliament's winter session is convened as the Supreme Court has made it mandatory in Krishna Kumar Singh vs. State of Bihar (2017) to place every ordinance before the legislature as a mandatory constitutional obligation because the legislature has to determine the need for, validity of and expediency to promulgate an ordinance.

Relentless pursuit

The BJP has been relentlessly pursuing the issue of instant triple talaq zealously for quite some time, especially since it came up for hearing in the Supreme Court in early 2016 and later after the final verdict in Shayara Bano Vs. Union of India and others on August 22, 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself had vociferously raised the issue of triple talaq in the run-up to the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.   

Knowing well that in the absence of consensus it would not be able to get the triple talq Bill cleared from the Rajya Sabha, why is the BJP so vigorously pursuing the agenda of triple talaq? Is the BJP move solely guided by pure a humanitarian impulse to liberate Muslim women from the shackles of the allegedly highly oppressive system of divorce practised in the community for centuries? This question acquires significance against the background that its affiliates, especially the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and the Ram Rajya Parishad, had vehemently opposed all efforts to reform Hindu laws. 

 

They all had opposed the Hindu Code Bill, aimed at a comprehensive reform and codification of the Hindu personal law, in the name of the attack on 'Hindu culture and tradition'. In 1951, BJP's ideologue Shyama Prasad Mukherjee stated that the Bill would "shatter the magnificent architecture of the Hindu culture". It was argued that Hindu law is a religious law and, hence, Parliament did not have the right to make any amendment. It was further asserted that members of other communities should not be allowed to vote on any law affecting the Hindus.   

Electoral strategy

This shows that the BJP's sudden love for the Muslim women is nothing but sheer hypocrisy. It is not born out of its genuine concern for the welfare and empowerment of the Muslim women. The move is rather a part of the BJP's well thought-out electoral strategy. The passing of the triple talaq Bill in the Lok Sabha seems to be a win-win situation for the BJP. 

By raising the issue of triple talaq, the BJP hopes to reap political dividend by splitting Muslim votes between men and women. Any small dent in the Muslim votes, which have traditionally never voted for it, would be of great value in the face of its dwindling traditional votes, as evidenced in the recently held Assembly elections in three states. 

Through this move, the BJP further seeks to consolidate its traditional Hindu votes by sending a strong message that it is the only party which does not appease Muslims and has the courage to reform the Muslim Personal Law which no other party could dare to do due to the fear of Muslim votes. Many Muslims view the triple talaq Bill as not about empowering Muslim women, but rather as penalising Muslim men who never allegedly voted for the BJP.

Furthermore, the BJP knows it very well that in the face of the strong opposition of the Bill in the current form by the major opposition parties, it would be next to impossible for it to get it approved in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP lacks a majority. And even if the Bill is finally approved in the Rajya Sabha, it would claim to be the champion of Muslim women empowerment. And in case it is not passed, the BJP would put all the blame on the Congress and other opposition parties for stalling it. 

The BJP is using the triple talaq Bill simply as a political tool. How could a party, whose ministers routinely spew venom against Muslims and very often advise them to go to Pakistan on one pretext or the other and garland cow vigilantes convicted of lynching Muslims, be believed to be interested in the empowerment of Muslim women? 

Had the BJP been genuinely interested in the Bill, it would have tried to build consensus on it before bringing it again in the Lok Sabha by accommodating at least some major concerns of the opposition parties. Interestingly, while the Bill exclusively affects Muslims, they were not even consulted at any stage. 

Oppostion to Bill

  • The Opposition wants the Bill first to go to a joint select committee of the two Houses of Parliament for greater scrutiny. 
  • It also considers the three-year jail term for the husband pronouncing instantaneous triple talaq as too harsh.
  • The issue of maintenance to the wife once the husband is in jail is also equally important.
  • The provision that empowers only a magistrate, and not a local police officer, to release the husband on bail is also a bone of contention. 
  • The power given to a family member to file a criminal case against the husband is also problematic. 

The government has no satisfactory answer to the point that after criminalising triple talaq, the abhorrent practice would come to an end as there is no credible empirical evidence to suggest that the crime rate has substantially reduced with harsher punishment. Though the government claims that the Bill is to provide Muslim women greater security in matrimonial relations, it could end up harming the women as a jail sentence to the husband would finally close all doors of reconciliation. 

It is erroneous to believe that the practice of triple talaq among Muslims is solely guided by Islamic injunctions. The social milieu in which talaq takes place can’t be ignored. Poor socio-economic conditions and educational backwardness are key contributory factors to the practice of triple talaq. But the BJP would never pay attention to these issues as they may not pay the desired political dividends to it. 

If the BJP-led government is sincere about the issue of triple talaq, it must initiate effective measures aimed at empowering Muslim women educationally, socially and economically because a mere legislative measure is not enough to end a centuries-old social evil wrapped in religious dogmas.

 

Aftab Alam
Professor, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh