Indian government makes Islamic instant divorce a criminal offence

Accra, Sept. 19 – (DPA/GNA) – The Indian
government approved an ordinance on Wednesday that makes the controversial
practice of instant divorce practiced by some members of the Muslim community a
criminal offence.

Federal Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said
that despite the Supreme Court ruling the practice of “triple talaq”
unconstitutional last year, it continued unabated. “We felt there was a
compelling urgency to pass the ordinance,” said Prasad.

India has so far been one of the few countries
where a Muslim man could divorce his wife by saying the word “talaq”
– “divorce” in Arabic – three times in quick succession.

Prasad said that of the 430 cases of triple
talaq that had come to the government’s attention between January 2017 and
September 2018, 239 occurred before the court judgement and 201 afterwards.

Women are given the instant divorce on flimsy
grounds, such as burning bread or getting up late, Prasad said. Critics of the
practice say it leaves women destitute and robs them of basic rights.

A new law that makes triple talaq a criminal
offence punishable with up to three years in jail has been passed by the lower
house of parliament and is pending in the upper house, where the ruling
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not have a majority.

An ordinance is valid for six months, after
which it has to be approved by both houses of parliament.

The ordinance has tweaked a few provisions in
the bill in response to concerns, Prasad said. Unlike in the bill, where anyone
can make a complaint, only a relation through blood or marriage can file a
police complaint under the ordinance.

The ordinance also includes a provision for
immediate bail, but only with the wife’s consent, Prasad said. Critics had
pointed out that if the main breadwinner is jailed, it may pose a problem for
the family.

There is also a provision to work out a
compromise, but only with the wife’s consent.

Muslims in India, accounting for some 14 per
cent of a population of 1.25 billion, are governed by personal law, which is
loosely based on sharia.

“This should have been done many years
ago, it is a positive development,” said Zakia Soman, one of the
petitioners before the Supreme Court.

Some opposition parties want lesser sentence
for the convicted, while others have said that to criminalize a social practice
is wrong.

Prasad accused opposition parties of failing
to end an “arbitrary and unconstitutional practice” because of pure
vote bank politics.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board and
other institutions have opposed legislation, saying that once the Supreme Court
struck down the practice, it should be left to the community to change their
ways.

The Hindu nationalist BJP is hoping to get the
votes of Muslim women through this political gimmick, said lawyer and lawmaker
Majeed Memon.

General elections are scheduled in 2019.

GNA

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