Millennium Post

Towards egalitarianism

A feeling of content ensues from evergreen Supreme Court verdicts which are instrumental in steering contemporary society towards social harmony. Unsurprisingly, cases filed in the apex court have aided in amending faults in the social structure governed by the rule of law. Be it the Sabarimala verdict, passive euthanasia, section 377, Aadhaar verdict, et al, the apex court has seen issues from the lens of social rationality and rendered decisions on humanitarian and moral grounds, upholding the Constitution before anything else. The sacrosanct ambit of the Constitution is one which has always captivated interest from masses and led the society to an egalitarian consensus, despite opposition. Triple Talaq, in this sense, has been no different. Ever since the Supreme Court ruling on Shayara Bano v. Union of India came to light on August 22, 2017, a massive debate has erupted with brewing arguments and counter-arguments. In its verdict, Supreme Court, by a majority of 3:2, set aside the practice of triple talaq. The majority judgment held triple talaq to be unconstitutional under Article 14 read with Article 13 (1). In this regard, the Court held that the practice had been sanctioned as a matter of personal law by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. However, since that directly violated Article 14 (equality before the law or equal protection within the territory of India) of the Constitution, the Court set aside the practice of talaq-e-biddat, which allowed certain Muslim men to divorce their wives instantaneously and irrevocably. The fact that over a hundred instances of triple talaq alone have seen the light of the day ever since SC's verdict on the same, is a testimony to how Muslim women have been exploited through years owing to the absolute power of nullifying a marriage being vested in Muslim men. The current government, acting on the Court's order, drafted The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, which was passed on December 28 last year. The bill made triple talaq (in any form — spoken, written, electronic) illegal and void, further punishing the husband with up to three years of incarceration. However, it was opposed by the Rajya Sabha and after another year of arguments and counter-arguments, the bill was passed in Lok Sabha with a strong majority, excluding a unified Opposition who made it quite dramatic by staging a walkout based on their dissent, after a four-hour debate in the lower house. Again, criticism is a part of a healthy democracy, and arguments should be raised so that no one is left unheard over the course of taking landmark decisions impacting social structure. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad led the bill mandate urging the house to note how the bill was not meant to target any specific community and its purpose was to advocate humanity and justice. He anchored on how the superseding bill was drafted with the inclusion of amendments, deprived of which, the last bill was still pending in the upper house. Inserting a provision of bail for the husband and withdrawal of the case if the man and wife reach a compromise, he urged how the government had already taken note of the concerns expressed by the members earlier to amend the bill accordingly. Scope for dissent is curbed, yet that is something only the Union Law Minister and his team believe, since the opposition staged a difference of opinion nevertheless. Perfectly countering the voices of those who criticised the punitive nature of the bill, Prasad stressed how deterrence is always important. Indeed. Yet, to many, it seemed way too harsh for a civil matter of this sort. Minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi added on how this issue was not related to Islam but to social customs. So, the argumentative scope of the government targeting a particular community is nulled. And, again, that is not what the opposition believes. In a justifiable sense, that is how a healthy democracy should be anyway with its long arms bringing every little dissent into consideration to carve out an inch-perfect solution.

A joint session of both houses or Rajya Sabha's refusal and subjecting the bill to a select committee for further scrutiny are the possible ways ahead. This, indeed, takes time but a law of this scale deserves time. Robust consideration will bring the truest and most precise form of the law that shall deserve respect from society for its inception. The point is social harmony, and achieving that is in the best interest of the nation, nevertheless dissent. From a general perspective, triple talaq – banned in so many Muslim countries – deserves to be severely scrutinised to build a truly egalitarian society that everyone invariably anticipates.

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