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Developmental Issues

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The writer is Union minister for communications and IT.

Finally Parliament has passed the Triple Talaq Bill after three attempts. The kind of jubilation it has caused across the country, barring conservative elements, indicates how it is a proud moment for India. Our country is transforming and the women of India feel empowered.

Triple talaq has never been sanctioned even in Islamic scriptures. During the debate in Parliament, I quoted a very authoritative book on Islamic laws from an eminent jurist, Amir Ali, wherein Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) has been quoted as disapproving of it in the strongest possible terms, and, forcing one of his disciples who had given triple talaq to his wife to accept her again. Despite disapproval from the highest quarters in Islam, and the fact that many Muslim countries following sharia laws also chose to reform it one way or another — including making it penal in many cases — it took more than 70 years in India to not only delegitimise this curse, but also provide for penal consequences. Regrettably, this shows the hold the communal and conservative elements continue to exercise over the country’s polity.

However, India of 2019 is different. India is now being led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who even in his first term had firmly declared that this tradition needs to be abolished. Today, I need to salute great women like Shayara Bano and Ishrat Jehan and many others who went to the Supreme Court in 2013 challenging this pernicious practice. When the NDA government came to power in 2014, the prime minister boldly directed me to stand firmly with these women and support their cause. After the Supreme Court judgment set aside triple talaq, many of us had thought that now this practice will come to an end.

However, it continued unabated, even on the flimsiest of grounds. I had shared before Parliament a large number of cases that we could gather from the media and other reports, where it was revealed how helpless women (75 per cent of the victims are poor) were driven out by uttering “talaq-talaq-talaq”, irrevocably annulling the marriage. When we framed the law we took on board some of the legitimate concerns, namely: The FIR must be filed by the victim/wife or her relations, by blood or marriage, to prevent abuse, and, it must be compoundable. The provision of bail was specifically added, but after hearing the wife. Besides, there are provisions for subsistence allowance and custody of minor children to the wife. It was a very simple and straight legal framework, and yet, the Congress took a very regressive stand that it should not be made penal at all. Therefore, while formally opposing triple talaq Bill, the Congress was insisting upon a law whereby this curse could go unabated for want of any deterrence.

I must acknowledge that the Congress has played a very significant role in many of the transformative social legislations. The Hindu Marriage Act was enacted in 1955 wherein bigamy (wife or husband marrying during the currency of their spouse) can be punishable upto seven years, and a marriage below the age of 21 (husband) and 18 (wife) was punishable upto two years of imprisonment. The Dowry Prohibition Act was enacted in 1961 and it is religion neutral. In 1983, the Congress government added section 498A in the Indian Penal Code, which provided for punishment for subjecting the wife to cruelty. This was also religion neutral.

All these provisions were non-bailable — the Dowry Prohibition Act was made non-bailable and non-compoundable in November, 1986. Surprisingly, despite such a satisfactory track record in correcting social wrongs, the Congress government meekly submitted — in spite of a 400-plus majority in 1986 — to undo a SC judgment giving few hundred rupees of maintenance to Shah Bano. The Congress still remains under the Shah Bano mindset in 2019.

Gender justice has been at the core of the governance priorities of the Modi government. Initiatives like Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao and Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, for instance, have created a sense of empowerment for Indian women. I can understand some of the regional parties for their own compulsions seeking to oppose it. But, for a party like Congress to repeat the Shah Bano model of 1986 in 2019, when the world has changed so much, shows the vice-like grip that the conservative and regressive elements of the Muslim society has over it.

Where are the liberals of India? These self-proclaimed guardians of the country’s values who keep on articulating motivated grievances against the Modi government from time to time, just because they do not like him, have chosen not to speak a word on the plight of the many victims of triple talaq. Their hypocrisy stands exposed.

The India of 2019, under PM Modi, is set on a path of reform. The mantra of reform, perform and transform is not only for governance or economy, it extends even to the reforming of society without discrimination or without any reference to vote bank politics. It is this courage and firmness which has brought the Modi government to power again with a bigger majority. While I applaud the leadership of PM Modi who stood firmly behind the victims of triple talaq, it is a matter of personal satisfaction for me that as the law minister, I actively participated in this truly transformative moment for India.

This article first appeared in the print edition on August 7, 2019 under the title ‘Equality at last’. The writer is Union Minister for Law & Justice, Communications, Electronics and IT.

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