Triple Talaq also known as Talaq-e- Biddat is a form of Islamic divorce whereby a Muslim man can legally divorce his wife by uttering Talaq (Arabic word for divorce) three times in one sitting. According to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Triple Talaq is a matter of faith for the Hanafis, who make up for more than 90 percent of Sunnis in India and have been following this custom for almost 1,400 years. On 22 August 2017, the Supreme Court struck down the practice of Triple Talaq as unconstitutional and directed the government to ban the practice by introducing a law. Accordingly, the Union government introduced a bill called The Muslim women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 in the Parliament which got passed in the Lok Sabha on 28 December 2017. The bill makes “instant Triple Talaqin any form- spoken, in writing or by electronic means such as SMS, email and WhatsApp illegal and void, with up to three years in jail for the husband” The law has generated a lot of controversies and debates because of its criminalization of a form of Divorce, which is unprecedented in the whole world.(Divorce is a civil matter). Recently a bill has been passed by the government that criminalizes Triple Talaq.
Triple Talaq has been an issue of concern for over 65 years for Muslim women, who comprise approximately 8 percent of the population as per the 2011 census. The law criminalizes a form of divorce which falls under the purview of civil law. Concerns have been raised that criminalizing a civil law is another way of targeting the Muslim community. There are three forms of Triple Talaq, all of which are given unilaterally. There are questions on why is the government focusing only on Talaq-e- Biddat and the reasons behind criminalizing it when the government can introduce reforms within the purview of civil law only. It is important to know the perception of the Muslim women for whom this law is being passed, whether they really perceive this law as a means to their empowerment or not.
Questions pertaining to women in India have always been tried to be resolved through legal reforms both before and after colonialism. The discourse of law has always been at the forefront in this regard. This is evident from the fact that the issue of instant Triple Talaq also known as is being apparently resolved by the incumbent BJP led NDA government introducing a law which criminalizes this practice. In colonial times, India as a whole was subject to a common criminal code drafted in the 1880s but no such attempt was made to replace the personal laws with a common civil code on the part of colonial government. After independence,the issue of Uniform Civil Code arose in 1948 and was hotly debated in the Constituent Assembly. According to the Law Commission of India the tracts of Constituent Assembly debates reveal a lack of consensus on the implications of a potential Uniform Civil Code. While many thought the UCC would coexist alongside the personal laws, others thought it would replace the personal laws. There were yet others who thought that it would curtail their practice ofFreedom of Religion.The reason why the debate on UCC is relevant in this topic is that it is often argued that the replacement of personal laws (based on religious and customary practices) with a Uniform Civil Code (based on secular laws) would solve all the problems of women in India as it would liberate them from the oppressive and the exploitative practices of their respective communities. This argument was reiterated in the Supreme Court judgment on ‘The Shah Bano case’ in 1985. The judgment created a lot of controversy and was widely criticized by feminists, liberals and secularists for bringing issues of religion and personal laws in what was essentially a question of secular law. Some feminists further said that instead of dealing with the general question of personal law and its effects on women’s rights, the judgment focused on Muslim law alone. While Muslim religious leaders in the backdrop of Babri Masjid controversy saw it as an attack on their community,Hindu communalists on the other hand, upheld the judgment happily arguing that it supported their contention that Muslims were ‘barbaric’ and ‘anti-national’. The Shah Bano case is relevant to Triple Talaq because firstly, it reveals the perception of the Indian state on UCC which ‘ought to’ comprise the aspects of both uniformity between communities (Hindu, Muslims, Christians and so on) and uniformity within communities(between men and women) but is limited only to the first. Secondly, it reveals how the Indian state perceives the idea of community, especially the minority communities.
Majority of the women are aware of the criminalisation of triple talaq. On the issue of their perception regarding BJP empowering Muslim women, although the number of women viewing it negatively is greater than the women viewing it positively; almost half of the women according to reports have welcomed the standand action taken by BJP on the issue of triple talaq and justified it by saying that this will significantly reduce the impunity through which Muslim men harass Muslim women.
The current BJP government perceives the UCC as a mechanism to ‘disipline’ the Muslim community by propagating the narrative that its women have been always oppressed by all Muslim men whom they have shown in negative light. The main idea is to bring women of other community at par with the Hindu women- that is the benchmark set by the BJP. It is immaterial as to the hardships that are faced by Hindu women. The idea of UCC has been made synonymous with the Hindu culture.
Majority of the muslim women whom I have talked to in my locality are all against triple talaq. What has differed is the perspective regarding BJP’s role in it. Some have supported BJP’s intervention in this regard while some have viewed BJP as a party which is indulging in cheap political opportunism through this issue. The problem is very inherent as the problem of maintenance also comes if the husbands are sent to jail. There can be a lot of debates and controversies to this problem.