"This law is for women's rights and justice and not regarding any prayer, ritual or religion," said Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in the Lok Sabha on Thursday during the debate on the Triple Talaq Bill.
These words set the stage for a historic moment for India, where women’s rights finally triumphed over age-old oppressive norms kept alive under the garb of religion and culture.
After a rather long day of discussion - and an extended session- the Lok Sabha passed a bill that criminalises triple talaq, and makes the offender liable to serve up to three years in jail, and even pay a fine.
Officially called Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017, it is now slated to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Monday or Tuesday. It states that "any pronouncement of talaq by a person upon his wife, by words, either spoken or written or in electronic form or in any other manner whatsoever, shall be void and illegal."
"We were expecting that after this judgement, triple talaq cases would come down and the situation would improve... about 300 triple talaq cases happened in 2017 and 100 were reported after the Supreme Court's judgement," added Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Union minister M J Akbar opined that the bill will help alleviate the pain and distress of the nine crore Muslim women who live under the "constant fear and terror of being divorced."
Cleared on the same day it was introduced thanks to the sweeping majority that the BJP enjoys in the Lower House – the prescribed jail term is a clause that has invited criticism from opposing parties.
This would make its passing in the Upper House a slightly choppier affair. Called arbitrary and ill-thought out, amongst other things, various party leaders have been vocal about what they perceive to be flaws in its provisions. Biju Janata Dal (BJD) thinks the bill has “many internal contradictions” while the Samajwadi Party (SP) is stating that this is the BJP pushing the Hindu agenda.
However, Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad insisted that this bill is beyond religious politics – and is a step in the right direction in the interest of humanitarianism. "We are not interfering in Shariat. This bill should not be viewed through the prism of politics, religious motive or vote-bank politics. This bill is for the rights of the women of our country," he said minister.
The Congress has offered the bill support but pointed out that tending to the financial needs of the wife and children while the husband serves jail time is a factor that this has not necessarily taken into consideration - and is also a concern that has also been underlined by several Muslim women's rights organisations. However, the Congress has stated that they are willing to sit on it together and iron out the discrepancies in the bill in a timely manner.