The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, which seeks to outlaw triple talaq, has overreached its aim and hurt its own cause, by making the practice a criminal offence. The practice of instant divorce is wrong and unjust and the Supreme Court has held it illegal and unconstitutional. The bill, which will give effect to the court's ruling through legislation, prescribes a jail term up to three years and a fine for any person who pronounces triple talaq and tries to divorce his wife. This is going beyond what the court meant by its ruling. Laws relating to marriage, divorce, inheritance etc are governed by civil laws. There is a no reason to introduce criminality in issues related to them. There are other laws to deal with criminality in marriages like domestic violence and dowry harassment. Protecting the rights of a woman does not mean putting in jail her husband who wants to divorce her, however wrongly.
The law can be misused as it stands. It is not just the wife but anybody who can lodge a complaint against a Muslim man over triple talaq. The offence thus reported is cognizable and non-bailable, and the accused can be arrested without a warrant. This makes the provision open to abuse as much as the provisions in the cow protection law. Innocent people may be hauled up on the charge of triple talaq. The bill also has some contradictions. It provides for a jail term for the offence and prescribes that the offender has to provide maintenance to his wife. But it may not be possible for many who serve their term in jail to provide maintenance to women. There is need for more clarity in this provision because the woman continues to be the wife, as the act of triple talaq is illegal and invalid. She is legally not a divorced person who can claim maintenance but a wife who has other legal rights.
Though the government has claimed that the bill is not political, formulating it and passing it in a hurry and introducing such stringent provisions in it cannot be considered politically innocent moves. A stringent, if not draconian, bill against Muslims can be politically useful for the BJP. But a law to curb injustice should not itself result in injustice. The government should have held consultations with minority organisations and other stakeholders before finalising the bill. Most parties, including the Congress, supported it in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha should show greater wisdom by removing its unsavoury provisions and ensuring that it is only for the Muslim woman and not against the Muslim man.