Ill-intentioned ordinance

Ill-intentioned ordinance

The Union Cabinet approved an ordinance to ban the practice of instant triple talaq. Under the proposed ordinance, giving instant triple talaq will be illegal and void and will attract a jail term of three years for the husband. PTI

The promulgation of an ordinance which gives effect to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, which makes instant triple talaq a criminal offence, is procedurally and substantially wrong. The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2017. The government wanted to hurry the bill through the Rajya Sabha, with a few amendments that diluted some original provisions to satisfy the opposition, during the recently-concluded monsoon session. But it had to be deferred. The government now says it brought forward the ordinance because there was no consensus on the bill. An ordinance is not the means for legislation when there is no consensus. It short-circuits the normal legislative process, and the Supreme Court has expressed its disapproval of “ordinance raj’’ many times. It is still worse to promulgate an ordinance in place of a bill which is under consideration of parliament. Since it is unlikely that the Rajya Sabha will pass the bill in the next six months, the government will have to re-promulgate it. 

The bill was stated to have been formulated to give legislative support to the Supreme Court’s ruling that made instant talaq illegal. There is no doubt that instant talaq is an unjust practice but making it a criminal offence that invites three years in jail is wrong. Marriage and divorce are civil matters that should not invite criminal proceedings. There are also contradictions and inconsistencies in the law. The man who pronounces instant talaq continues to be the husband, goes to jail and has to provide maintenance for the wife from jail. The amendments made in the original bill do not remove all the apprehensions and suspicions about it. Only the wife or a close relative can make a police complaint under the law now. There are also provisions for mutual settlement and easier terms for bail. But it still remains an unreasonable and draconian law. 

The government’s persistence with the bill, which has faced a lot of opposition from many parties, including the BJP’s allies, and other organisations, can only be the result of political considerations. Its claim that “there is an overpowering urgency and compelling necessity’’ for the ordinance is most unconvincing. So is the claim that it is motivated by a sense of gender justice. The prospect of elections to some state assemblies and to the Lok Sabha may be the immediate reason for acting in haste on the issue. It may turn out to be another issue on which the government can take the high moral ground, slander those who criticise it and polarise the electorate, hoping in the process to make political and electoral gains. 

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