ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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NDA’s Idea of Gender Justice

It will be a mistake to hastily endorse the government’s move to pass the Triple Talaq Bill.

 

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government looks content with its heroic move of passing the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, in the Lok Sabha. The move might look quite progressive in the eyes of many. However, it will be a mistake to endorse it only on its face value. The government’s refusal to send the bill to a parliamentary select committee, for example, goes against the democratic spirit of deliberation and involvement of all stakeholders in such a legislation. More annoyingly, the union law minister’s analogy that the “government had not consulted with the rapists before passing the ordinance to ensure the death penalty for rape of children under 12 years of age,” is rather bizarre. Moreover, the provision to criminalise the accused in the Triple Talaq Bill is deeply problematic. Since marriage is a civil contract, violation of this contract demands civil action, but the bill makes it a cognisable non-bailable offence.

The government’s argument that it has brought the bill in response to the Supreme Court judgment delivered in 2018, is inadequate. It was only the minority judgment that had exhorted the government to bring a legislation to annul the practice of triple talaq as it was deemed to be a matter pertaining to personal law and religious practices. If the government was driven by the concerns of justice for Muslim women, it could have considered the private member’s bill moved by a Congress member of Parliament (MP), which dealt with the codification of talaq and the evolution of a fair procedure of dissolution of marriage. Despite the demands from women’s groups, particularly those who had intervened in the petition to the Supreme Court for broader consultation, the government has chosen to steamroll this legislation with its singular preoccupation of criminalisation overriding the concerns for justice.

Furthermore, as the majority judgment has set aside the practice of triple talaq and pronounced it to be unconstitutional and/or un-Islamic, what is the purpose of further criminalising the practice of triple talaq? As pointed out by MPs from the opposition as well as activists working with Muslim women, the bill, which prescribes up to three years’ imprisonment, is silent on the provision of sustenance for the affected woman and her family. This further defeats the purpose of ensuring the well-being of Muslim women. Instead of criminalisation, the pronouncement of triple talaq could have been defined as infliction of domestic violence and brought under the purview of the domestic violence law of 2005. This could have opened up ways to address the problem of married women’s abandonment which is prevalent across religions. The bill under discussion criminalises triple talaq by a Muslim man, but there is no corresponding penal provision for a non-Muslim man abandoning his wife. This goes against the universal principle of equality before law and is, hence, unfair towards non-Muslim women.

However, these considerations would have been taken up by the government if, indeed, its intention was to ensure gender justice. This intention was always suspect, as the ideological orientation and the resultant practices of the ruling party and its patrons in the Sangh Parivar consistently uphold patriarchal values. The Hindu Code Bill drafted by B R Ambedkar in 1951 faced vitriolic opposition from Hindutva forces and the Sangh Parivar. This was in line with M S Golwalkar’s opposition to personal law reform. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi argues that the Triple Talaq Bill is a matter of gender justice, but Sabarimala is a matter of tradition, he is effectively suggesting that the supposed Hindu traditions are to be upheld even if they violate the principle of gender justice. The claims by such political forces of championing the rights of women are on shaky ground to say the least. Their claims of being the saviours of Muslim women are even more vacuous considering their track record of heaping suffering, indignity, and violence upon them. During the Gujarat communal carnage of 2002, the most barbaric atrocities were perpetrated against Muslim women. As if this was not enough, Hindutva forces have shielded or even valorised the perpetrators under the then state government in power.

Such a scrutiny of the track record and intentions of the present government and ruling party becomes all the more important as it arrogates upon itself the role of social reformer of the Muslim community. It does so even as its patronage to acts of mob violence and systematic targeting of Muslims continue to foster their sense of insecurity and fear. Social reform initiatives cannot find receptivity in the prevailing atmosphere of social insecurity that engulfs minority communities today. However, it should be noted that cynical attempts of the likes of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board to use their genuine sense of insecurity to stall any social reforms need to be opposed. The necessity for reforms initiated from outside the community should be put on hold. Nevertheless, who holds the moral capacity to initiate such reforms remains a valid criterion just as it is resoundingly clear that the present government/ruling party falls woefully short in this regard.

Updated On : 11th Jan, 2019

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