‘Islamic nations have regulated triple talaq, why can’t India?’

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on October 14, 2016


How can we, in a secular country, allow discrimination of a big proportion of the population, asks Law Minister

Despite the Supreme Court invalidating triple talaq way back in 2002 in the Shamim Ara case, the issue has once again taken centre stage, with the BJP government asserting before the apex court that the practice of polygamy and triple talaq should be done away with. The assertion is contextualised in the “absence of reforms in the community” which have left Muslim women “extremely vulnerable, both socially and financially”. The Centre’s affidavit has predictably been protested against by the conservatives and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The stage is now set for the political aspect of the debate to unravel, wherein Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has been the most vociferous advocate of “gender justice and equal rights” against conservatism and oppression of women among Muslims. Prasad spoke to BusinessLine on why the Centre will not yield in this fight for “ensuring equal rights and justice” for women.

When there are already landmark rulings by the Supreme Court regulating triple talaq, this debate is essentially serving political ends, isn’t it?

Absolutely not. And let me clarify it so you don’t misinterpret. For us, this is about gender justice, equality and dignity of women. There is no other motive or agenda.

The BJP has certainly been landed a perfect opportunity to start a discourse which only polarises public opinion in your favour...

I don’t know how you can say that when we (the Centre) have come into the picture only after the Supreme Court’s notices. The issue is being deliberated by the Supreme Court and we are responding to notices. While we do that, we are alive to our foremost duty being the protection of every citizen as prescribed by the Constitution. And what does the Constitution tell us in Article 14 about the right to equality? Article 15 says there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex. Article 15(3) enables the State to make special provision for women and children.

These constitutional values were established in India well before various international covenants about gender equality, freedom and liberty came about. The second point is that India is a secular country. Right to faith is a fundamental right in India. But every practice in every community cannot be linked to faith. Can we, in a secular country, allow discrimination of a big proportion of the population only because they belong to a certain community?

So the Centre is following a progressive, secular line?

We certainly are. Why can’t India, a secular, progressive nation, regulate such practices when dozens of acknowledged Islamic countries have done precisely that? Countries like Bangladesh, Tunisia, Iran, even Pakistan, have regulated triple talaq as far back as 1961. The question that was addressed and settled then was that regulating triple talaq was not violative of the Sharia.

Mr Prasad, there is regulation of this practice by the Supreme Court. What is generally believed is that this is a precursor to pushing the Uniform Civil Code...

There is no question of that. The Law Commission is examining that (Uniform Civil Code). Let us have the widest possible consultations with anyone who wishes to engage with it. We have no wish to push anything.

Tell me something — if the government is so eager to protect women and their rights, why isn’t the BJP agitating against the khap panchayats or bringing in legislation to ban them?

Didn’t you hear the Prime Minister talk against the practice of female infanticide and Sitas being killed in the womb? We are against social evils and anti-women practices in all communities.

Published on October 14, 2016
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