By Arsh Rampal
In August 2017, the Supreme Court of India declared the practice of Triple Talaq as illegal and un-Islamic with a 3:2 majority. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) was one of the parties that opposed the banning of the practice in India. As the central government comes up with The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 which criminalises the practice of Triple Talaq, the AIMPLB has changed its stance upon the issue. The board met on 9th February 2018 to discuss its stance on the subject and frame its future policies accordingly.
The controversy behind the Triple Talaq Bill
In December 2017, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The bill has come after the Supreme Court pronounced the practice of Triple Talaq (Talaq-e-Biddat) as “manifestly arbitrary”. The main issue regarding the bill is the provision which criminalises the practice of Triple Talaq. According to Clause 4 of the Bill, if any husband gives instant triple talaq to his wife, the husband can be punished with up to three years in prison. The offence is also cognizable and non-bailable, as per Clause 7 of the Bill. The bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha and is now stuck in Rajya Sabha, where it has received a lot of opposition.
The Muslim Personal Law Board has been opposing the Bill in its current form. The Board has labelled the Bill as flawed and termed it as a “dhokha” (deception). The AIMPLB has stated that it is in agreement with the judgment of the court pronouncing the practice as illegal. However, it opposes certain provisions of the Bill. It has been argued by the Board that the practice will harm the very institution of Talaq and not just Triple Talaq. This is unreasonable and so the Bill shouldn’t be passed unless these flaws are removed.
Prohibiting the practice by an ‘oath’
It has been suggested by the Board that an oath will be incorporated in the nikahnama (Islamic Contract of Marriage) to not follow the practice. The nikahnama would require Muslim Men to undertake that they will not divorce their wives by way of Triple Talaq. The oath will be binding upon all Muslim men and so a breach of this oath will be illegal according to Shariah or Muslim Personal Law. In case of a breach of this undertaking, the wife would be allowed to approach the court and ask for a suitable remedy. This move by the AIMPLB is aimed at stopping the criminalisation of the practice by the parliament.
Although the Board had opposed the ban of the practice in court, it now agrees upon the illegality of the practice and wants to provide suitable protection to women from it. The Board argues that if the Bill is enacted, the legislature is interfering in the personal law and religious practice of Islam. The incorporation of such a provision in the nikahnama is a better option, as it will be in accordance with Shariah Law. It will provide the required protection to women without criminalising the act.
There seems to be a large consensus within the Muslim community that the practice needs to be abolished. The board’s suggestion is being welcomed within the Islamic community in India. The All India Muslim Malise Mushawarat believes that the number of cases of Triple Talaq is likely to fall with the incorporation of such a provision in the nikahnama as the Muslim community largely follows Shariah rules on matrimonial issues.
Creating awareness about the practice
The board has adopted other measures to create awareness within the Islamic community to promote the abolishment of the practice. The Board is running a campaign in the country for the same. Under the campaign, madrassa’s and mosques will be told by the Board about social evils such as dowry and triple-talaq. The Board will work hard in rural areas as the cases of Triple Talaq generally happen among the less educated people. Teachers and students of madrassas will be included as messengers of the Board. The campaign has seen good progress and is gaining momentum slowly in the country.
Power of civil societies to influence policies
The Board, as a civil society, represents the Islamic community of India and has a large influence upon the actions of the community. In such cases, it becomes difficult for the parliament to ignore the considerations of such an influential group of people. In a democracy, it is important for the people to voice out their opinions in order to let their representatives know about their opinions so that a piece of legislation or a policy can be for their greatest benefit.
The move by the AIMPLB is a way to influence the government in order to bring certain changes to legislation. The suggestion of the Board to bring changes to the nikahnama may not be a legislative policy but it has a similar scope as the Triple Talaq Bill, as it affects the entire Muslim community. The Muslim community would support the Board, as it represents the beliefs and ideologies of the community. This puts a lot of pressure upon the legislature as a non-state organisation challenges the very authority of the legislature to draft a policy for a certain community. In such a case the legislature has to reconsider its decision entirely.
The Board has also garnered the support of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha to have a parliamentary backing for its demands. Exerting pressure on the government from outside and within the parliament makes it more likely for the ruling government to heed to the demands of the AIMPLB.
In a democracy, it is important for communities to ensure that the government listens to the people. Once the government starts to ignore the people of the country, the pillars of democracy in a government fall. In a democracy, it is the people who have the power and civil societies are one of the best means to exert this power.
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