Triple Talaq Bill passed in Rajya Sabha

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government scored a massive political victory on Tuesday as the Triple Talaq Bill cleared the Rajya Sabha hurdle on Tuesday. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill was passed in the Upper House by 99 votes to 84 after a comprehensive debate. The bill, which was earlier passed by the Lok Sabha, will now go to President Ram Nath Kovind for his assent.

The passing of this key bill in the Rajya Sabha also revealed the strategic floor management of the Narendra Modi government to get its approval as the ruling NDA does not have a majority of its own in the Upper House. During the first term of the Narendra Modi government, the Triple Talaq Bill had lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha at the end of its term. The government was not able to get it through the Rajya Sabha as it lacked the numbers.

On Tuesday, as part of its floor management, the NDA leadership was able to win over the Biju Janata Dal, as several NDA constituents like the AIADMK and the Janata Dal (United), and non-NDA, non-UPA parties like TRS abstained from voting. This helped enable bring down the required number for pushing the law through by lowering the majority mark, which normally stands at 121. The ruling NDA has 107 members in the 242-member Rajya Sabha. The NDA was also helped by the absence of some members of the SP,

BSP and YSR Congress. The House had earlier rejected an Opposition motion to send the bill to a Rajya Sabha select committee with 100 votes against it, compared to 84 in favour.

The Lok Sabha had passed the bill last week and with the Rajya Sabha now approving it, the practice of instant divorce by Muslim men will be punishable by a jail term of up to three years. The government did not face much trouble in pushing the bill in the Lok Sabha, where it has a comfortable majority. Once the bill gets the President’s assent and is notified by the government, it will replace the Triple Talaq Ordinance of promulgated in February.

The Triple Talaq Bill has been a bone of contention between the Narendra Modi government and the Opposition since December 2017, when the government first tabled the legislation in the Lok Sabha. The bill follows a Supreme Court ruling in August that year. The Supreme Court had declared the practice of instant triple talaq unconstitutional and said a divorce pronounced by uttering talaq thrice at one sitting was void and illegal.

Better floor management has helped ensure the Narendra Modi government push through the contentious amendment to the Right To Information (RTI) Act last week despite lacking the numbers in the Upper House.

Replying to the debate on the bill, law and justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad cited jail provisions in the laws that ban dowry and multiple marriages by Hindu men to justify the three-year jail term for Muslim men who practice triple talaq.

Replying to the Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, who termed the bill as a politically motivated move to destroy Muslim households with domestic fights, the minister said the Congress leader should think about why his party could never win a majority after the peak of the 400-plus seats it won in 1984.

Mr Prasad pointed out that the 1986 Shah Bano case, where the Congress did not stick its neck out to support women’s rights, was the main reason for the downfall of the party. The minister said the law wasn’t being brought due to the Supreme Court ruling of 2017 declaring talaq-e-biddat, commonly referred to as instant triple talaq, as unconstitutional. “”I am a minister of the Narendra Modi government, not the Rajiv Gandhi government,” he said, citing the Shah Bano case of 1986.

He said he cannot leave in the lurch women who have been divorced by triple talaq via WhatsApp or other such means. When the Muslim world was trying to reform, why can’t a democracy do the same, he said. Trying to shed the BJP’s anti-Muslim image, he said his party had given the nation a President from the same community.

Mr Prasad said the bill should not be seen through a political prism as it was a matter of humanity, women’s empowerment and gender equality. “More than 20 Islamic nations have regulated triple talaq,” he said.

Earlier, intervening in the debate, Mr Azad said that the Opposition had been forced to vote against the bill as the government did not accept their demand to send it to a  select committee and make triple talaq a civil offence.

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