The triple talaq Bill, which seeks to nullify talaq-e-biddat or instant talaq, has taken its first toll. It has driven a wedge between the ruling NDA and its key allies — TDP, Biju Janata Dal and JDU. The latter have taken a clear stand that they are opposed to the passage of the Bill in its present form. On the other hand, the Bill has united the opposition. Sinking their differences, the disparate parties have rallied around to demand greater legislative scrutiny of the proposed law.
On the face of it, technicalities like the penal provision and subsistence allowance appear to hold up the passage of the Bill in Rajya Sabha but it is actually political posturing which is the cause of the deadlock. The BJP will not concede ground and the opposition will also not like to let go an opportunity to embarrass the former, especially when it has numbers on its side.
None of the parties wants to be seen as opposing the Bill, which seeks to empower the Muslim women. After the Shah Bano fiasco under its regime, the Congress would like to position itself as the champion of the minority women. It is clearly a game of one-upmanship and everyone wants to score political points, whatever be the avowed objectives of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017.
The Bill has led to a greater realisation about the Sangh Parivar’s game plan to chip away at the Muslim Personal Law — bit by bit. What has shocked the community is the grand design of the Modi government to pit Muslim men and women against each other in the name of gender justice.
While divorce itself is a detestable act, criminalising it has queered the pitch. The unseemly haste shown in pushing the Bill without even consulting the stakeholders makes the government’s intentions suspect. Many think the Bill is aimed at filling prisons with Muslim men while some see it as a weapon to strike fear and fragment the community.
When a large section of Muslims feels triple talaq to be sinful and improper, making it a cognisable offence will prove counter-productive. With talaq option becoming difficult, there is a danger of vicious men making life miserable for women.
“Where is the need for making triple talaq a penal offence when the Supreme Court has set it aside,” asks Moulana Khalid Saifullah Rehmani, Secretary, All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
He, however, contests the argument that not even a single talaq takes effect when divorce is done through talaq-e-biddat. When somebody pronounces the word once, one talaq occurs and when it is said one time too many, nothing happens. How is it possible, he says.
The Bill has far-reaching implications as it overturns many Shariah rules and creates ineffective situations, making divorce irrevocable. For instance, before ‘rukhsati’ (when a woman departs from her parents’ house to the husband’s house) should a dispute arise and divorce becomes inevitable, the marriage can be annulled by pronouncing talaq once. But the Bill now invalidates this option.
Further, the Bill also virtually shuts the ‘khula’ option for women. Sometimes the husband and wife go for khula with mutual consent and the divorce that follows is irrevocable. Now, there is no clarity whether khula is exempted from the provisions of the Bill.
Yet another case of irrevocable talaq is ‘Ila’. It is an oath taken by a husband in God’s name not to establish conjugal relations with his wife for the rest of her life or for a period exceeding four months. When one acts on it, divorce becomes irreversible at the end of four months. Ulemas fear the Bill will impact the ‘Ila’ situation and a wife may not have a way out of a loveless marriage.
This apart there are some inherent contradictions in the Bill. One fails to understand how a woman is entitled to maintenance when the marriage is not void. Even more surprising is how can she claim maintenance from her husband who is packed off to jail for three months? Will it bring solace or add to the agony of the affected woman. And once the man comes back after serving the jail term what kind of life the couple will have. Will it be a bed of roses?
Great relationships are not great because there are no problems. They are great because both partners care enough about the other person to make it work. The same goes with marriage. It requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. As Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said, marriages would be better if the husband and wife clearly understood that they are on the same side.
There are no set guidelines for a successful marriage, you learn it by experience — trial and error. But one thing is for sure: grass is greener where you water it. Care, commitment and compromise make a marriage tick as the initial love and feel-good side of it fade after some time. Thereafter, it is not chain but tiny threads that hold a marriage together – threads of honesty, trust, patience, forgiveness, communication and selflessness. As a wisecrack said, keep the eyes wide open before marriage and half shut afterwards.
But sometimes marriages and shipwrecks find a common ground — the rocks they end up on. Divorce is the fire exit that Islam provides when one has exhausted all means of saving the matrimony. It doesn’t matter who ignited the fire. If there is no fire exit, the entire house will go up in flames. Divorce is like an amputation and sometimes it becomes inevitable, but it should be avoided at all costs as it leads to a permanent disability.
(The writer is a senior journalist and author)