The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on the Marriage) Bill 2019 is by far the most controversial bill backed by the Modi government. In December 2017, this bill was tabled for the first time in the Lok Sabha. It followed the Supreme Court‘s historic declaration of the talaq-e-biddat, commonly referred to as ‘triple talaq‘, as unconstitutional on 22nd August 2017. In other words, the practice of uttering the word talaq three times in one sitting was declared illegal and void.
However, strong retaliation from the opposition parties such as the Congress, AIMIM, Bahujan Samaj Party, Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party in the Rajya Sabha resulted in the stalling of the bill. The NDA did not enjoy a majority in the upper house, unlike in the lower house. As a result many such essential legislations, despite having passed the Lok Sabha litmus test, failed to sail through in the Rajya Sabha.
This bill will now replace the ordinance, which was announced on 21st February 2019. However, due to the 2019 general elections, the ordinance lapsed after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
India decided to declare ‘triple talaq’ as illegal on 30th July, 2019. The same was accepted by President Ram Nath Kovind on 1st August 2019. There are numerous Gulf countries in the world that have already abolished this method of divorce. Egypt was the first country to abolish it in 1929. Even Saudi Arabia, which is considered the birthplace of Islam and is known for being extremely conservative, has banned this practice. In all, ‘triple talaq‘ has been banned in 20 countries.
Talaq-e-biddat is also known as ‘Triple Talaq’. This practice is about 1,400 years old. It is a method of divorce which is mainly practiced by the Hanafi Sunni Islamic school of jurisprudence. This practice under Muslim personal laws allows a Muslim man to get divorced by uttering talaq three times consecutively. It leads to an instant and an irrevocable divorce.
Divorce is often achieved orally, in written and most recently through SMSes and emails. If the man has to remarry the same woman, then she has to go through the process of ‘Nikah Halala’. ‘Nikah Halala’ is also known as tahleel halala. In this, the woman has to marry another man, consummate the marriage and then get divorced from him. In this way, she will be able to remarry her former husband.
The bill, since it was tabled, has faced a tough time in the legislation. However, the supporters of the opposition parties need to analyse the way the bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha. These are parties which wear the secular, pro-minority tag on their sleeves. Since it was first tabled two years back, many regional parties in the opposition kept it at bay by using their numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Nonetheless, what happened on 30th July 2019 is something that all these parties would want their supporters to forget. These parties are namely the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Samajwadi Party (SP), Janata Dal-United (JD U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
However, at the crucial moment, many of them tried to save themselves from public embarrassment. Either the members staged walkouts, abstained from voting, remained absent or voted in favour of the Bill.
In the Lok Sabha, the bill was passed by a voice vote amidst a walkout by the Congress and others last week. Let us now focus on the number game in the Rajya Sabha, where the government was able to pass the bill even though they did not have the numbers. A total of 99 votes were in favour, 84 were against and 57 abstained from voting on this bill.
The total strength of the Rajya Sabha is 250 with current membership for 245 MPs. There are 233 elected members and 12 nominated members. Presently there are 240 members plus five vacant seats. Despite that, only 184 members voted for this bill. The NDA has a total of 107 members in the Upper House, which has a majority mark of 121. The BJP-JDU alliance with six members had made it clear that they would oppose the bill. On the other hand, the BJD led by Naveen Patnaik with seven MPs came out in favour of the bill. Despite that, the game changer for BJP was the absenteeism of about 23 MPs from the opposition.
This turned the tides in their favour and was able to pass the bill even without a majority in the upper house.`
Four members of the Indian National Congress (INC)- Vivek Tankha, Rajiv Bishwal, Mukud Medhi and Pratap Bajwa were missing during the voting. One from Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), four MPs from the Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP), six MPs of Samajwadi Party, one each from TDP, DMK, TMC and CPM were also absent. Even Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) were some of the other prominent figures not present.
A massive blow to the INC was when Sanjay Singh of the INC resigned from the party hours before the voting on the Bill. His resignation was accepted immediately. It increased the number to five MPs from the party who was absent from the voting.
Independent MP KTS Tulsi who moved the amendments to the bill did not vote either. Also, the six MPs of JDU, six MPs of TRS and 11 MPs of AIADMK opposed the bill. They walked out during the voting. It ensured that the bill does not get enough Noes during the voting. If AIADMK had voted against the bill, they could have prevented it from passing in the Rajya Sabha. Instead, it would have gone to the select committee which was desired by most of the opposition members.
The history of humanity is strewn with stories of betrayal, the murder of like Julius Caesar for one. However, one such incident happened on 31st July 2019. Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, faced betrayal. It will be remembered for a long, long time. A bill, which could have been prevented from passing in the Rajya Sabha, was passed. The sheer reason behind such a divided opposition is nothing but lack of unity and leadership. Even though Ghulam Nabi Azad battled till the end with a hope that the opposition would be united in preventing the bill from passing, nothing happened.
Recent electoral debacles faced by the Congress have pushed the opposition to the brink of urgency to find their feet in the political arena. Parties have used various techniques to skip the voting procedure to save their faces in public. It can be surely used in the future to play the anti-minority, anti-secular, pro-majoritarian card on the BJP.
The Supreme Court judgment came as a significant window of opportunity for the BJP. It is where they got the support of the judiciary and moved ahead. Before that, every party had tried to stay away from this burning issue. The primary reason behind this is that none of them wanted to upset their vote bank. Finally, they endorsed this bill as a gender justice to the women of the Islamic community. It is where the Opposition had to take a firm stand and translate that into votes whether they opposed the bill or not.
More than a political masterstroke by Amit Shah, it was the over-confidence of the opposition that led to this result. They had high hopes that they will block the bill in the Rajya Sabha as they have the numbers. But they did not ensure that members of their parties were present and would be voting. This is where the whole game changes. The BJP leadership had taken the effort to analyse the situation, the numbers and strategised. In simple words,“It was not the masterstroke of the ruling party, but the weakness of the Opposition which led to the passing of the bill.”
Nevertheless, keeping aside the debate on whether the bill was for gender justice or was meant to suppress the Muslim men under the rule of the BJP government, it is now time to see how the concerned community reacts to this bill.