This week has seen the Indian federal government take the countries first step towards ending the Muslim practice of ‘triple talaq.’ The Narendra Modi government introduced the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Bill 2017 to the Indian lower house, the Lok Sabha, on Thursday. The draft bill was passed by the lower house, where Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have a brute majority. The bill, which comes after decades of campaigning by Muslim women’s groups criminalizes the practice and will mean that any man who engages in the practice faces up to three years of imprisonment.
The process of triple talaq, or talaq-e-biddat, allows a Muslim man to pronounce an “instantaneous and irrevocable divorce” by saying the word talaq three times. While many Islamic schools of thought prefer a three-month deferral of the divorce process, the Hanafi Islamic school of law, which is popular in India, allows the instant divorce process.
Muslim women rights groups have applauded the government’s move. For instance, Zakia Soman, the founder of the Mumbai based women rights group, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), told Al Jazeera that this was an immense step forward that they have “been demanding this law for a very long time now.” BMMA played a unique role in collecting information on triple talaq and lobbying for reform. In a survey completed by the organization last year, they found that nearly 500 women had been divorced through triple talaq. The survey also found that in the majority of the divorces, women received neither compensation, alimony, or child support payments. Soman remarked that the group “have regularly been approached by our sisters, complaining about mistreatment and misuse of the oral talaq system. In most cases, men go scot-free and believe their action is approved by the Quran.”
However, despite the support from women’s rights groups, there are serious concerns about the bill’s succession. The bill is now headed to the Indian upper house, the Rajya Sabha, where it will have to receive a majority before being sent to the president for approval. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party does not have a clear majority in the Rajya Sabha, making it unlikely that the bill will be passed without significant alterations. This risk is compounded by the opposition to the bill. For example, The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a powerful Islamic body, have campaigned against the bill, arguing that the “state has no right to interfere in religious matters.” While the opposition of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board is alarming due to the groups power, some comfort can be sought in the knowledge that several other Muslim countries have banned the practice, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. As such, this international response will, hopefully, strengthen the position of the draft bill.
With that said, while the thought that the draft bill might not be passed is quite alarming, there is some comfort in the knowledge that regardless of the draft bills passage, the act of triple talaq will remain “unconstitutional” following a declaration by India’s Supreme Court. In August 2017, the Supreme Court announced a six-month suspension on the practice and directed the Union of India to consider appropriate legislation in response to the problem. This is a promising move for women’s rights, which will hopefully strengthen the rule of law and help to protect India’s population of approximately 90 million Muslim women.