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India inches closer to criminalizing Muslim practice of instant divorce

India inches closer to criminalizing Muslim practice of instant divorce
Posted at 6:55 AM, Dec 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-29 06:55:07-05

India's Lower House of Parliament has approved a bill criminalizing the controversial Islamic divorce practice known as "triple talaq" and making it punishable with up to three years in prison.

The practice allows a husband to divorce his wife by simply saying the Arabic word for divorce, "talaq", three times.

The passing of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill on Thursday comes five months after India's Supreme Court deemed the centuries-old practice unconstitutional.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a vocal advocate of the bill.

Amit Shah, Modi's closest political ally and the President of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, called the bill "a historic step towards ensuring dignity for Muslim women."

"I thank all fellow Parliamentarians who have supported this bill, which will bring a new era of hope and respect in the lives of Muslim women," Shah added in a tweet.

Opposition to the bill

The approval of the bill has not come without criticism. Asaduddin Owaisi, a prominent Muslim parliamentarian from the southern city of Hyderabad, claimed it was an attempt to demonize the entire Muslim community.

He said the practice could be instead categorized as verbal and emotional abuse, covered under subsection 3 of the country's Domestic Violence Act, and claimed the bill lacked 'basic legal coherence'.

A number of opposition parties also criticized the BJP government for failing to discuss the legislation before it was introduced to Parliament.

The opposition's request for the bill to be sent to a Parliamentary committee for further consultation was dismissed, withIndia's Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad making an impassioned argument in favor of the proposed legislation.

"My appeal is that this bill should not be seen through the eyes of political parties, religion or as a vote bank. This is for the honor of our sisters and our daughters. This is for their dignity and justice. I want to follow the legacy of this house by seeing that India stands up for its Muslim sisters and daughters. That if they don't have justice, this house will give them justice."

Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar also made a persuasive appeal.

"This is a historic moment because of the destiny of our 90 million citizens. If there are 180 million Muslims in our country, there are 90 million Muslim women. Ninety million is not a small number, it is more than the population of Britain. Today, we are here for them," Akbar said in parliament.

"This is for the betterment of our country, our society and is a big step for gender equality...This is not an issue of divorce. The issue is that in the name of divorce, hundreds of thousands of women are living in fear and terror," Akbar went on to say.

The bill still needs to be passed by the Upper House for passage where the BJP lacks a majority. It is unclear how long this process will take. Once passed, it will go to the Indian President who will sign it into law.

A step in the right direction

India is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, but unlike most Muslim-majority countries, has been slow to ban triple talaq. In Pakistan and Indonesia, the practice has been outlawed for years.

The controversy around triple talaq stems from how it is practiced in modern day societies. According to Islamic belief, it should be a deliberate and thoughtful practice, carried out over the course of several weeks.

A man must consider his decision for a period of three months after he initially declares talaq. A divorce is only granted after the remaining two "talaqs" are stated.

The three-month period should allow for introspection and counseling between the couple and their families.

The reality, however, is that a woman can be forced out of her home with little notice. Increasingly, it's even being delivered by phone, email or text, say its critics.

Modi has repeatedly spoken out against the practice, saying India cannot allow the lives of Muslim women to be ruined by three words said on the phone.