New Delhi: In a landmark decision, the Narendra Modi government on Wednesday cleared an ordinance which makes triple talaq a punishable offence. It will now be sent to the President for his approval, following which the ordinance will come into effect.

Once the ordinance comes into force, it has to be approved by Parliament within six months. If the government fails to do this, the ordinance has to be re-promulgated.

The move comes after the government failed to pass the Triple Talaq Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha, could not be taken up for discussion and passage in the Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon Session and the Budget Session as the Congress-led opposition expressed reservations over the criminal provisions in the draft law.

Addressing the media after the Cabinet meeting, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said there was a “compelling necessity and an overpowering urgency” to approve the Ordinance. “I have said this before, the issue of triple talaq has nothing to do with faith, mode of worship or religion. It is a pure issue of gender justice, gender dignity and gender equality,” he said.

Prasad accused the Congress of stalling the Triple Talaq Bill in the Rajya Sabha for the sake of its “vote bank politics”.

“We tried a lot to bring Congress with us. On Prime Minister’s direction, me and Ananth Kumar met Ghulam Nabi Azad and other Congress leaders several times regarding the passage of bill. Congress didn’t support us just for the sake of its vote bank politics,” Prasad said, addressing a press conference.

Prasad further alleged that despite being a woman, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi did not support the passage of Triple Talaq Bill. “It’s my serious charge with full sense of responsibility that a distinguished woman leader is ultimate leader of the Congress, yet barbaric inhuman Triple Talaq was not allowed to be ended by a Parliamentary law for pure vote bank politics,” he said.

Describing the practice as “barbaric and inhuman”, he said nearly 22 countries have regulated triple talaq. However, gender justice was given a complete go-by in a secular country like India because of blatant vote bank politics.

“I will again appeal to Sonia ji that this ordinance has been brought in the interest of the country to bring gender justice. I appeal to you to rise above vote bank politics and help pass it in the interest of justice for women,” he told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

What The Ordinance Has in Offing

Giving details about the ordinance, the Law Minister said that triple talaq would be recognised as a crime “only when a woman or her blood relative files a complaint with the police”.

“A compromise can be achieved only when the woman is willing and says so to a magistrate. A magistrate can grant bail only after the wife’s consent,” he added.

“Secondly, it’s compoundable, it can be compromised only at the insistence of the wife upon appropriate terms and conditions as determined by the magistrate. Thirdly, a bail can be granted by the magistrate upon reasonable grounds but only after hearing the victim wife also,” said Prasad.

Further detailing about the proposed Bill, Prasad said the victim wife will be entitled for the custody of the minor child and for a “maintenance suitably determined by the magistrate for herself and the child”.

Reacting to the move, the Congress said that the Modi government is trying to gain political mileage through the issue. “Modi government not making this an issue for justice for Muslim women, but making this into a political issue,” said Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.

Three Amendments Brought to Triple Talaq Bill

To make the proposed law palatable to the opposition, the government last month brought three amendments to The Muslim Women Protection of Rights in Marriage Act. According to the new amendments, while the law remains “non-bailable”, the accused can approach the Magistrate to seek bail even before trial.

Under the amended law, the FIR can only be lodged by the victim, her blood relations and those who have become her relatives by virtue of her marriage. Others, like neighbours, cannot lodge an FIR to prevent misuse of the proposed law.

The third amendment makes the law “compoundable”, where a magistrate can use his powers to settle the dispute between the husband and wife.

The Bill makes instant “triple talaq” a criminal offence and proposes a three-year jail term for a Muslim man who divorces his wife by uttering the word “talaq” thrice in any form of spoken, written or by electronic means such as email, SMS, and WhatsApp.

The proposed law also addresses “nikah halala”, which requires the divorced woman to marry someone else and consummate the marriage if she wants to remarry her husband.

The BJP has accused the Congress of stonewalling the passage of the Triple Talaq Bill in the Rajya Sabha which was passed in the Lok Sabha on December 29, 2017. The Bill is yet to be introduced in the upper House of the Parliament. The Congress-led Opposition had demanded that the Bill should be sent to the Select Committee for further scrutiny.

Responding to a question by ANI on Congress stonewalling the Triple Talaq Bill in courts and in the Parliament, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, at an event in London, had said “We have an issue with the criminalisation (part of the Bill) but we have not stonewalled anything. Our issue is with the criminalisation aspect.”

The Supreme Court had in a verdict in August last year declared instant triple talaq illegal and unconstitutional. In a landmark 3-2 verdict, the top court found the practice un-Islamic and “arbitrary”, and disagreed that triple talaq was an integral part of religious practice. However, since the practice was still prevalent, the court had asked the government to bring a law against the practice.