Author: Kaustubh Kumar, 1st year student in NUSRL, Ranchi.
Co-Author: Ashutosh Anand, 1st year student in NUSRL, Ranchi.
After the successful implementation of a historic act i.e. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019, commonly known as the Triple Talaq Act on August 01, 2019, there have been a lot of instances where this act got questioned. This study strives to analyze the Act as well as the history of this controversial Act. It also provides you a perspective to analyze by yourself about the retrograde practice of Triple Talaq followed by a small chunk of the Muslim community. Not only a few shortcomings but also the crucial role that the bill played since last year, after the implementation, in drastically cutting off the cases of triple talaq, is also addressed in this article. The major success of the Act as well as of the government is that it brought down cases of the Triple Talaq by 82 percent. Authors researched day and night for the article so that the reader may have a viewpoint and may feel the melancholy of the Muslim women who were subjected for centuries to such malicious practices. At last, this study also gives a brief on the cases fought by Shah Bano and Shayara Bano in the apex court of the nation to enjoy their basic rights enshrined to each individual by the holy book of Constitution.
The Muslim ladies of the nation have at last won a long historic fight against social imbalance, segregation and misuse proceeded for quite a long time in the name of a strict code. An established seat containing five adjudicators of the highest court in a majority decision on 22 August 2017, prohibited the questionable Islamic practice that permits men to leave their spouses quickly by stating ‘talaq’ (divorce) three times. The decision additionally vindicated the stand of the current central government, which has reliably held that the triple talaq violates fundamental rights of women.It has been a long battle of Muslim ladies for social equity. It isn’t that this is the primary instance of its sort. In the past there have been a few instances where so separated ladies looked for equity and justice from the Indian courts and verdicts were conveyed in individual cases. The most acclaimed case relates to Mohammad Ahmed Khan versus Shah Bano Begum (1985 SCR (3) 844) maintenance lawsuit, also known as the Shah Bano Case, wherein supreme court judgment conveyed a verdict allowing support to the oppressed Muslim woman. At that point the 62 years old Shah Bano, a mother of five children, separated by her better half articulating triple talaq, had filed a criminal suit in the Supreme Court and won the right to alimony from her husband. Later she was denied the alimony when that time federal government with an overwhelming majority in the Indian Parliament passed a law switching the judgment to satisfy the Muslim traditionalists who referred to Quran to challenge that the judgment was against the Islamic law.
Clearly it was a political as well as retrograde decision then because the ruling party of that time had customarily regarded Muslim community as their believed vote bank. No wonder even in the present case one of the political stalwarts Kapil Sibbal, an ex-minister and Supreme Court lawyer fought the case for conservative Muslim organization (AIMPLB) against the litigant Muslim women. Amusingly, Muslim women who appealed to the apex court include Shayara Bano, the main petitioner along-with those who were divorced on social media like Skype and Whatsapp, just by pronouncing ‘talaq’ thrice by their husbands. They filed the case against the draconian practices of Talaq-e-bIddat, Nikaah Halala and Polygamy. Respondents in the case were: Rizwan Ahmed, Union of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Minority Affairs, National Commission for Women and All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The five-judge constitutional bench of Judges from different religions – Justice Kurian Joseph, a catholic, Justice UU Lalit, a Hindu and Justice RF Nariman, a Parsi, Chief Justice Khehar, a Sikh and Justice Abdul Nazeer, a Muslim - pronounced the verdict stating practice of triple talaq as void, invalid and unconstitutional by a majority decision of 3:2, scrapping the practice inter alia citing that it does not follow the essential fundamentals of Quran. The minority opinion of two judges, Chief Justice Khehar and Justice Abdul Nazeer, was that the practice of triple talaq should be put on hold for six months allowing the Parliament to constitute a law on the issue, meaning thereby that they too not appreciate the evils of the retrograde practice.While arriving at the judgement, the Supreme Court also took cognizance of the fact that several Islamic countries (over 22 Muslim countries) including Islamic Pakistan do not allow triple talaq. The Supreme Court had for the first time reviewed whether triple talaq is fundamental to Islam and therefore legally binding. Consequently, the majority view of judges was that triple talaq indeed violated the tenets of the Quran. The present NDA government fully backed the petitioners in this landmark case citing it as unconstitutional, derogatory and discriminatory to women.
It isn’t so much that the judgement itself ended the archaic and medieval outlook and practices in the Muslim conservative society, some of which are utterly discriminatory and unfavourable to women depriving them of their basic constitutional freedom and rights. But it certainly paved the way and gave a new ray of hope to save the dignity and honour of women. They can now seek redressal of grievances on account of wrong doings arising out of their matrimonial relationships through The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 (Triple Talaq Bill). But they have to continue their battle and go a long way to achieve their basic rights and social freedom from other retrograde practices like Halala and Polygamy.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Talak or Talaq has Arabic roots which means a Muslim divorce that came into effect by the simple act of the husband’s rejecting the wife, denoting dissolution of marriage when a Muslim man can severe all marital ties with his wife. Under the Muslim law, Triple Talaq means freedom from the relationship of marriage, eventually or promptly, where the man, by simply uttering the word ‘talaq’ three times, severs his marriage. This type of instant divorce is pronounced as talaq-e-bIddat.
The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937 had authorized and permitted the practice of Triple Talaq which gave a Muslim husband special privileges or uncommon advantages over his wife. “BIddat” means any innovation.
Muhammad (Prophet) spoke of biddat as follows:
“He who innovates something that is not in agreement with our matter (religion), will have it rejected.” Even Allah says in the interpretation of the meaning of the Holy Quran that bIddat in Islam is not permissible. [Holy Quran5:4(2)]. For stating the importance of marriage in Islam and how wife should be treated, Prophet Muhammad said which was narrated by A. Hurraira, “the best person amongst you is one who is best to his wife.” (Al Tirmidhi, 628) (3). In other Hadees narrated by Ibn-Musnad, Prophet Muhammad said, “There are three things which are essential for happiness: 1) A righteous wife 2) A spacious home 3) a sound means of transportation. (Musnad, 1:168). (4) The interpretation of these Hadees includes that a wife and marriage bond should be intact. Holy Quranic verses such as in Chapter 2,4 and 65 also gives importance to marriage. (5) Therefore, to dissolve marriage, parties have to go through reconciliation and other means to keep it alive. If all this fails, only then can recourse be taken through divorce.
Prophet Muhammad never agreed upon this form of talaq. The Holy Quran in chapter No.2, 4 and 65 clearly states that Muslim Men have to wait till the period of Iddat (period of waiting) came to end, and hence disapproves the talaq (divorce) in one go. Talaq-e-biddat has its origin-roots in the second century of the Islamic era. After two years of ruling, second caliph Umar implemented triple divorce, as per which no one will be permitted to take his wife back after pronouncing three divorces in one go. Author Umar Ahmad Usmani in his book named “Women’s Rights in The Qur’an, Women and Modern Society” refers to the famous Egyptian historian Muhammad Husain Haykal’s book ‘Umar-al-Farouq’ in which the author says that the caliph made such an (interpretation) for avoiding hassle and indeed it was need of the hour. Then author Umar Ahmad Usmani further quotes from Haykal’s book to show why caliph Umar was constrained to enforce triple divorce. The author says that, when Arabs in the era of caliph Umar were conquering every part of the Gulf, after winning the battles they used to bring male and female slaves both with them to the land of Mecca and Medina. These women were very attractive and beautiful and the Arabs were incited by their charm and wanted to marry them. However, these women insisted on the men giving irreconcilable or irrevocable divorce to their former wives. To satisfy them they use to pronounce triple divorce in one go and pretend to having divorced their wives for good. From there, it is in practice which was later enforced in India by British Administration through the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939 which was now revoked as well as criminalised through The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 (Triple Talaq Bill). Different Types of Talaqs
There are two forms of talaq (divorce) in Islam:
• Talaq-e- BIddat
Word Sunnat means Muhammad’s (the prophet) way of life viewed as a model for Muslims. It is a form of revocable divorce. ‘Sunnat’ means traditionally accepted or one which is traditionally continuing.12 Talaq-e-Sunnat is divided into two broad categories of:
“Talaq-e-Ahsan” is the ‘most proper’ form of talaq in which the husband expresses divorce in single sentence – “I have divorced thee” – during the period of Tuhr (when the wife is not menstruating) and then has to wait till the Iddat period is over. Iddat period for a woman who has been divorced by her husband is usually three menstrual cycles. During this time, she cannot marry another man. If before the completion of Iddat, the husband resumes co-habitation with his wife or says that “I have retained thee”, the divorce is revoked. In case the woman is pregnant, the Iddat period lasts until she gives birth. The waiting period for a woman after menopause is three months. “Talaq-e-Hasan” is the ‘proper’ form of talaq. In this form, three successive pronouncements of talaq are made by the husband in three successive Tuhrs (when the woman is not menstruating). In case of a non-menstruating woman, its pronouncement may be made after the interval of a month or thirty days between the successive pronouncements. This form of talaq can be revoked any time before the third pronouncement.
• Talaq-e- BIddat:
(Irrevocable divorce) is instant Triple Talaq and is effective as soon as the word “Talaq” has been pronounced thrice. In this form of talaq, three pronouncements can be made during a single Tuhr (when the woman is not menstruating) by saying “I divorce thee” thrice at the same instant i.e. there need not be any waiting period between two successive pronouncements. The pronouncement can be oral or written, or as in recent times, delivered by electronic means – telephone, SMS, email or social media. It is especially practiced by the adherents of Hanafi Sunni Islamic schools of jurisprudence.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Act, 2019
Taking the judgement delivered by the apex court of the land in 2017 case of Shayara Bano vs Union of India into consideration, government decided to enact a bill named as The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2019 (Triple Talaq Bill), to redress the hardships and cruelty that Muslim women face from their husbands. On June 21, 2019, BJP-led government tabled Triple Talaq Bill in Lok Sabha after winning elections held in 2019. Introduced in the Lok Sabha by Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Bill replaced an Ordinance promulgated on February 21, 2019. Third time bill got passed by Lok Sabha on June 25, 2019. Later which was passed by the Rajya Sabha with 99 votes in its favour and 84 against it on July 30, 2019. The bill became an act and got enforced after the assent of the President on July 30, 2019. The law makes the instant triple talaq a criminal offence and provides for a jail term of three years to a Muslim man who commits it. This law replaced the law, Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, made in 1986 by that time majority government of Rajiv Gandhi, overturning the Supreme Court ruling of well-known Shah Bano Case, in which court said that the religion of the spouse has no bearing on providing alimony and maintenance for the spouse and children after the divorce as well as directed Shah Bano’s husband to pay alimony and maintenance for her and their five children. The 1986 Act left Muslim women without the protection that other women had under the law. With passage of the “triple talaq” bill as the legislation is referred to in short hand, also rectified this great fallacy done by the lawmakers of that time. The law also makes Triple Talaq under Section 7, a cognisable as well as non-bailable offence. According to Section 3 in Chapter II of the Bill, “any pronouncement of talaq by a person upon his wife, by words, either spoken or written or in electronic form or in any other manner whatsoever, shall be void and illegal”.
The Section 4 tells about the Punishment for Pronouncing Talaq. It states that, “whoever pronounces Triple Talaq upon his wife shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and fine”. 19
Chapter III is the last chapter with title “PROTECTION OF RIGHTS OF MARRIED MUSLIM WOMEN” 20 which contains last four sections of the act. Section 5 tells us about the Subsistence Allowance 20 which a Muslim woman for herself as well as for her children shall be entitled to, if she got divorced through the method of triple talaq by her husband. Section clearly states “Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions contained in any other law for the time being in force, a married Muslim woman upon whom talaq is pronounced shall be entitled to receive from her husband such amount of subsistence allowance, for her and dependent children, as may be determined by the Magistrate.”  Section 6 of the legislation deals with the Custody of Minor Children. It says “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, a married Muslim woman shall be entitled to custody of her minor children in the event of pronouncement of talaq by her husband, in such manner as may be determined by the Magistrate.”  Section 7 clause c of the act states that “no person accused of an offence punishable under this Act shall be released on bail unless the Magistrate, on an application filed by the accused and after hearing the married Muslim woman upon whom talaq is pronounced, is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for granting bail to such person.”  This means that Muslim woman to whom triple talaq is pronounced must be heard as wells as Magistrate should be satisfied too with the reasons presented, before granting the bail to the accused.
This enactment brings India at standard with other Muslim majority states including Pakistan and Bangladesh. This was long overdue for a country that has invested a lot since independence to the principles of secularism, democracy, and equality. Personal laws of other religious communities like Hindus and Christians, have gone through renditions to address some concerns relating to gender equality in matters of inheritance and polygamy. Despite the gains, gender equality does not permeate all aspects of civil law. This enactment presents an occasion to set up a common civil code that steeped in equality—across faiths and gender.
Shortcomings of the Act
Civil Organisations such as Bebaak Collective 23 and United Against Hate, Writer Farah Naqvi, Historian Uma Chakravarti, Activists Harsh Mander, Arundhati Dhuru Kalyani Menon-Sen protested against the bill and petitioned the President which they urged him not to sign the bill. According to them, the bill was a “complete charade” and they questioned the government by saying that the bill did not care about justice for Muslim women, as imprisoning the husband for three years left the woman at the mercy of her matrimonial family. They said that the bill did not provide for the financial security of the woman and her children as well as they also stated that “This is the first time in the history of India, that we are witnessing criminal provisions in matters of marriage and divorce”. One of the biggest shortcomings of this act is Maintenance which it fails to address clearly.
AFTERMATH OF THE ACT
The law implemented last year against triple talaq was meant to inhibit the undesirable social practice and central government data suggests that the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019, has succeeded to a large extent in doing that. While writing an opinion in one of the most prestigious papers of India, current law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stated that while moving the Bill in the Parliament, I had shared statistics on the continuation of practice of triple talaq even after the judgment of the Supreme Court. I am happy to learn that the department of minority affairs has elaborately examined the state wise data, after getting feedback from various Waqf Boards and other sources, and found out a significant decline in number of cases of triple talaq after the enactment of this law, as compared to the number reported earlier. Further, in many cases, respectable compromise has also been achieved. This is an assuring sign of empowerment and redemption. Getting this historic legislation passed by the Parliament was indeed personally very satisfying for me. As well as the minister of minority affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, on the first anniversary of the legislation stated that nearly 82% of the triple talaq cases got reduced after the passage of this act. 1,039 incidents of triple talaq were reported in the country in last one year (since the law was enacted in August 2019), whereas 3,82,964 cases or instant divorce were reported from 1985 to 2019, which averages out to be 11, 264 cases per year. The data shows the law has significantly empowered Muslim women in protecting their marriages. UP occupying the pole position, reported only 281 such cases in the last one year. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Act, 2019 acted as a ray of hope for the helpless and repressed Muslim women who shall now vociferously demand the protection of their rights from the suitable authority and shall bolster their continuing protest against other repressing social practice of Halala and Polygamy which bound them as well as restrain them from enjoying their basic rights.
As an Indian, I really feel extremely glad and thrilled for the Muslim women of this nation who strived hard in every thick and thin and at last won such a huge social battle against the male domination and patriarchal laws. Having ensured a modicum of gender justice, the government should have used that opportunity to build on the gains to address the gender inequities that persist in civil and personal laws across the board. Building on the momentum for change, a demand that has come from within the community, the government should ask the Law Commission to review all personal/civil laws to ensure that these do not violate the Fundamental Rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution. In doing so, paving the way for an honest national dialogue that would take the nation towards a uniform civil code that is steeped in equality and democratic values. This Act somehow tried to help the Muslim women in protecting their basic rights but failed to lay the stress on the provisions of Maintenance. Waqfs and Madarsas should try their best by investing in educating the Muslim Youth as well as Adults. As mentioned above, Prophet Muhammad always respected the women and never supported such disputable practices this means that religious preachers or the translators of Quran are not able to communicate the message of the prophet to the masses clearly. Maulanas and other religious preachers should come forward and teach the Muslims about the views and ideas that their prophet left behind by quoting it in Holy Quran, so that they may too live an ideal life. Various social activists as well as organizations supported the act passed by the government to help the Muslim women and said that by passing such a legislation government shown some interest in helping Muslim women to achieve their basic rights. This fortified their protest against other various discriminating practices and gave them a new energy to fight for their rights. Even though there are few shortcomings in the Act implemented, government’s intention of empowering the women of minority community can be seen clearly as well as appreciated.
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