Triple talaq ordinance historic: Amit Shah

India: Triple talaq or instant divorce now a criminal offence

The Indian government today issued an executive order making the Islamic practice of "instant divorce" a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling previous year calling the practice unconstitutional, a divorce obtained by a husband reciting "talaq" three times to his wife - in person, in writing or electronically - is still in use in some Muslim communities in India.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that almost 22 countries, including neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the practice and appealed to the opposition to approve the Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill. Its passage has now been deferred to the Winter Session of Parliament.

The government will have another six months to get Parliament's approval for the ordinance to become law. The BJP used Sibal's contention in the Supreme Court as an electoral issue against Congress in the Gujarat elections which the saffron entity won.

Since the Supreme Court decision, the government recorded 201 triple talaq cases, Prasad said.

Last year, the Supreme Court of India had declared instant triple talaq illegal and unconstitutional.

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Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst at Jain University in the southern city of Bengaluru, explained: "This "triple talaq" ordinance basically is to try and win over a segment in the Muslim community, to win the women's vote among the minorities". This practice was struck down by the Supreme Court on August 22, 2017. Under a compoundable offence, both parties have the liberty of withdrawing the case.

The ordinance is based on the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha past year, but faced stiff resistance from the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, where it was argued that the bill be sent to a "select committee" for examination. "Triple talaq is not an official divorce, it is a form of abandonment". This provision has been amended in the ordinance, which allows only the wife and her close family relations to file police complaints against men who pronounce triple talaq. Mr Prasad said a provision has been added to allow the magistrate to grant bail "after hearing the wife".

At a public rally in Azamgarh in July this year, Modi had said, "The real face of these parties was revealed by their approach on triple talaq..."

The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan welcomed the ordinance and the amended provisions that it contains. "But the Modi government won't do it, for it wants to keep the triple talaq issue alive as a vote-catching exercise", he said. "It would have been better if the law was passed by the Rajya Sabha as well, but this law is important because Muslim women need legislative protection against practices like triple talaq".

'How will trials be conducted?'

"This step is only to target Muslim men".

Human rights activist Javed Anand also expressed concerns about criminalisation of triple talaq, even as he expressed relief about the amendments that softened the stringent original version of the bill. The court found that it was unlawful for Muslim men to end a marriage by simply saying a single word three times. In a clear reference to Sonia Gandhi, Prasad said that despite "a distinguished woman" being at the helm of the Congress until recently, the bill to prevent suppression of Muslim women couldn't get the party's support because of vote bank considerations.

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