Mohammed Arif Khan, a Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi’s government, vehemently pleads for retention of the punishable clause. He was trying to convince some senior Congress members that the clause envisaging, “imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years”, was necessary to discourage the practice of talaq-e-biddat (three pronouncement of talaq, at one and same time). His point was that unless there is fear of stringent punishment, no law can be enforced. Same was the case with triple talaq Bill now.

Arif had become a hero of oppressed Muslim women in what was commonly known as the Shah Bano case in 1986. It was a controversial maintenance lawsuit in which the Supreme Court delivered a judgment favouring that maintenance be given to an aggrieved divorced Muslim woman by her estranged husband. The then Congress government, headed by Rajiv Gandhi, gave in to the pressure of Muslim orthodoxy and enacted a law with its most controversial aspect being the right to maintenance for the period of iddat (after the divorce). It shifted the onus of maintaining a divorced Muslim woman to her relatives or the Wakf Board. It was seen as discriminatory as it denied right to basic maintenance available to non-Muslim women under secular law.

Arif Khan has always supported reformation within Muslims. He resigned from position of Minister of State protesting against the Rajiv Gandhi government’s stand on Shah Bano case in 1986. He vociferously defended Supreme Court judgment on Shah Bano case in Parliament. Arif opposed triple talaq and said that it should be punishable with three years in jail.

Coming to the present time, the Supreme Court in the matter of Shayara Bano vs Union of India and others on August 22, 2017 set aside the practice of talaq-e-biddat (three pronouncements of talaq) practised by certain Muslim husbands to divorce their wives. This judgment gave boost to liberate Indian Muslim women from the age-old practice of capricious and whimsical method of divorce, by some Muslim men, leaving no room for reconciliation.

In spite of Supreme Court setting aside talaq-e-biddat, there have been reports of divorce from different parts of the country. It is seen that setting aside of Tilaq-e-biddat by apex court has not worked as deterrent in bringing down the number of divorces among certain Muslims. It is, therefore, felt that there is need for state action to give effect to the order of the Supreme Court and to redress the grievances of victims of illegal divorce, says the Muslim Women (Protection of rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017.

The Congress members point that the party is not opposed to the Bill as such, but has opposed the three-year punishment which, it felt, was too harsh. If the head of the family is sent to three years’ imprisonment, who would look after the family; the divorced woman and children, Congress members asked. They wanted the bill to go to a select committee so that it could be further examined.

Congress pointed out that party has reservation over the provision in the Bill for three-year term for any Muslim man who divorced his wife by uttering talaq three times in quick succession. Putting the bread-winner of a family in jail would not just be injustice to his family, but also to the women and children as they would be left to fend for themselves without financial support during the period.

The Congress, which has been demanding removal for the criminal provisions in the Bill, stuck to its demand for referral of the Bill to the select committee. There is no hope for the triple talaq Bill to be passed in the Winter session which to coming to an end. There is scant hope of the Bill being passed in the Budget session, the last one before April-May general election. Meanwhile, the hapless Muslim women continue to suffer. (IPA Service)