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‘Govt wasted historic opportunity’

‘Govt wasted historic opportunity’

In August of this year, when the Supreme Court decided against the validity of instant triple talaq, the government was blessed with an historic opportunity: to define the parameters of a clear and effective law that would secure justice for the victims who had fought for it. However, upon reviewing the bill, one is compelled to ask if this is an opportunity lost.

Those who have read the Triple Talaq Bill will agree that, in essence, it reads more like a statement of intent rather than a concrete legislation. It lays down rhetorical commandments but is silent on the details of their enforcement. We are then constrained to ask if the object of securing justice for these victims has been achieved? Or has it been obscured in a hurried attempt at political point-scoring.

Whatever the objective, the bill presented is deficient in several regards.

When the bill for the penalisation of triple talaq was sought to be introduced in this session of Parliament, the Congress supported the idea in principle.

Yet when a copy of the bill was provided to legislators, it elicited a degree of surprise. It confined itself to simply prescribing two things – a punishment of three years for violators and a subsistence allowance for women.

In the limited time between introduction and passage, it was clear that the BJP was not open to consultations even to strengthen the bill’s provisions. In a clumsy and defensive manner the BJP government denied that any changes needed to be made and attacked every amendment as a personal insult. In response to a question in Parliament, the government even conceded no consultation had taken place.

Nonetheless, there are three key objections to this law raised by the Congress. First, it is all well and good to declare something punishable with imprisonment. But if the process of enforcing that penalty is so cumbersome and painful for the victim, does the bill achieve its objective? The Congress suggested that there be a presumption in favour of the woman’s statement so that she is not subjected to the indignities of having to prove her charge (to the high degree required in criminal law) before the police or the magistrate.

Second, the bill provides for a subsistence allowance but fails to define the same or the method for its procurement. Is it an amount in addition to maintenance or is it a part thereof? This ambiguity continues till date.

Third, the Congress demanded more clarity on how subsistence allowance could be enforced in the man’s absence were he to flee or go to prison. There should be a provision to enable a charge on the man’s estate. The BJP refused to acknowledge, let alone answer, these questions. The bill in its current form was a rushed attempt to make a point and it is evident from the drafting. Seven sections (including the title), make up the entirety of the two-page law.

When law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stood up to defend the bill, he addressed none of the concerns that his fellow parliamentarians had raised. The law minister had previously invoked the memory of Shah Bano (and the law passed in 1986 thereafter) to make his point. However, the law he criticised – Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 – was and continues to be a landmark legislation.

In fact if they had examined that law, especially sections 3 and 4, the government could have ensured greater financial security for Muslim women in the new law instead of the presently conflicting sections. But then again, making effective laws is neither this government’s strength or priority.

Courtesy: Times Of India