The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed a controversial bill that criminalises the practice of triple talaq among Muslims, amidst walkout by the Congress and the BJP ally AIADMK as opposition parties attacked the government saying the measure was aimed at political gains in view of the coming general elections.
The bill, which provides for up to three years' imprisonment for invoking instant divorce by uttering talaq thrice in a single sitting, was passed with 245 in favour and 11 against in a division after rejection of all opposition amendments, after the government turned down demands for referring the bill to a joint select committee for detailed consideration.
The Samajwadi Party and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) also joined the walk out.
Strongly defending the bill after a four-hour discussion that broke the impasse in the House over the Rafale deal and other issues, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the bill should not be looked at from the prism of politics but was meant to ensure gender justice and will have a deterrent effect.
"Do not look at it from the prism of politics but from that of humanity. It is aimed at giving justice, respect," he said.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018 replaces an ordinance issued in September after the government failed to get the bill passed in the Rajya Sabha earlier this year.
A similar bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in December last year but could not clear the Rajya Sabha where the opposition managed to stall it.
The present bill contains safeguards brought in by the government which makes it clear that only the affected woman or her blood relative can file a complaint with police against the husband instead of anyone lodging a complaint as provided in the previous version of the bill.
The improved legislation also provides for easier bail conditions and makes the offence compoundable by a magistrate after hearing the wife.
The bill will now go to the Rajya Sabha where the government may still find it difficult to push it through.
Opposition members, especially the women MPs belonging to the Congress, NCP and other parties, said that the government had brought the bill with political motives and there was no need to criminalise divorce which is a civil wrong and a social issue.
AIMIM member Asaduddin Owaisi said while the Supreme Court is decriminalising adultery and same sex relationships, the government was intent on criminalising triple talaq because "you want to send Muslims to jail".
At the same time, he said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was not bothered about social problems faced by Hindu women.
Referring to the BJP stand on the Sabarimala verdict, he said while the ruling party opposed it saying it is a matter of faith, the same principle is not applicable to a matter of faith for Muslims.
Before leading a walkout of his party ahead of the voting, leader of the Congress group Mallikarjun Kharge said most of the parties -- including AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and left parties -- have demanded that the bill be sent to a joint select committee and the government should accept it.
"It is a divisive bill, against the Constitution and violates Muslim personal laws and the right to equality," he said.
He was followed by the AIADMK whose leader P. Venugopal said his party would also walk out of the House since the government has rejected its demand for a joint select committee.
The AIADMK, which has been supporting the government and may even tie up with the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, attacked the bill calling it "unconstitutional", against "natural justice" and one of the most "barbaric" laws to have ever been introduced against the Muslim community.
CPI-M member Mohammed Salim said: "The question is if you want to give justice to Muslim women... You are naming this bill as protection of rights of Muslim women, but there would be no protection of rights of Muslim women because Muslim women are part of the Muslim community."
Prasad said the main objection of opposition was that the bill seeks to criminalise triple talaq and noted that the same House had passed laws with tough provisions to prevent incidence of rape.
"When these laws were made, no one said what will happen to the family members of the culprits," he said.
Replying to the debate, Prasad said penal provisions of laws such as dowry prohibition Act and domestic violence Act were applicable to all citizens and no one had any objection.
"Why this objection is only for triple talaq. Behind it is political motive of vote bank," he said, adding that the bill had not been brought to treat any community as a vote bank.
He said that 22 Muslim countries had banned triple talaq or codified it but there was objection to this being done in a secular country like India.
The Minister said the Congress had supported the bill when it was passed in the Lok Sabha in 2017 but was now raising objections.
Prasad said the government had addressed the concerns of members by bringing a new bill and was still willing to consider constructive suggestions but nothing came.
Referring to a media report, he said Pakistan was also considering to criminalise triple talaq.
"The whole world is looking at India," he said.
Prasad said the person against whom a complaint was made would get jail term only after a trial and there was provision of settlement in which the magistrate would record statements.
"Deterrence is always important. If you commit a crime, you will go to the jail," he said.
Targeting the Congress, he said its government had brought legislation to negate the Shah Bano judgement.
Prasad cited the Supreme Court judgement and rejected opposition's contention that there was no need for the bill in view of the verdict.
He said one of the judges had said that "what is bad in theology, bad in law also" and the judgement also mentioned that a law should be enacted.
BJP's sulking ally Shiv Sena, which vociferously supported the bill, utilised the debate to criticise the government for not being equally pro-active on the issue of Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Party member Arvind Sawant said: "If there can be a law for triple talaq, why not bring a bill for Ram temple?"
The government fielded ministers Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Smriti Irani, both members of Rajya Sabha, during the debate in which they attacked the Congress.
Naqvi likened the practice of triple talaq with long abolished "Sati Pratha", saying the practice of divorce among Indian Muslims was not related to Islam but was a social evil.