Abolition of ‘Triple Talaq’ and Uniform Civil Code*

Motiur Rahman Khan

Bill proposing criminalization of Triple 
Talaq has been passed by the Lok Sabha
on December 28, 2017. Draft Bill known as, ‘
Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017
‘ is prepared by Ministry of Law under
Ravi Shankar Prasad. The Bill seeks to ban pronouncement of 
talaq in one sitting orally, electronically or
by any means whatsoever.  The objective and justification for the Bill has
also been listed by the Minister, where it is said that even after Supreme
Court’s verdict against the practice, incidents of triple 
talaq have come to notice. Hence, the
government, to curb the practice and to do gender justice to the Muslim women
has brought this Bill, which criminalises the practice of 
talaq-i-bidat and makes it a cognizable and
non-bailable offence with a jail term of 
upto 3 years.  

So, where is the problem? 
The Bill has been drafted as if the Minister is making
a multimedia campaign for some election. A video surfaced during Gujarat
elections, where a scarf clad Gujarati Muslim woman hailed the decision of the
Modi Government to ban this practice of
talaq and ask the men from the qaum (community) to go away from her, who were seeking her
vote in the name of
qaum. The video portrays that Muslim women are potential
voters for the BJP and Muslim men are basically enemy of that potential voter. Jut
like the BJP itself, the Bill too treats Muslim men as if they are the enemy of
the women of their own families and only the state can protect them from
outside. The Bill makes the practice a cognizable and
non-bailable crime! 
 What does it mean?  A cognizable
crime invites an investigation without permission from the magistrate; the
police officer can make an arrest without warrant. Whereas, a non-cognizable
offence is considered to be private wrong, the aggrieved party needs to file a
complaint before a magistrate and then it is 
upto the magistrate that he orders arrest and
investigation of the matter by a police officer. So, this practice of
talaq has been placed with rape, murder and theft.  Till now, the
matters related to marriages enjoyed judicial oversight on the rationale that
the outside world should not punish an errant husband if the wife does not want
her husband to be punished (of course, if it is not a matter of physical harm).
This can safely be concluded from the fact that the man cannot be punished for
under IPC 494, unless the first wife or her relatives complain before a
magistrate against the man. Similarly, under Section
376B of the Indian Penal Code, which makes the act of a husband raping his wife
while they are separated a cognizable offence, but that can be prosecuted only
if the wife or her relatives lodge a complaint
[1]. If this Bill is passed, a Muslim
married man can be arrested and kept in jail without the consent of his

the Bill says that the method of pronouncing three talaq at one sitting
is void and illegal, which means that, if a husband chooses this method for
divorcing his wife, the divorce, in first place does not take place. And the
husband, according to the Bill shall be punished (for upto three years and fined)
only for pronouncing the word ‘talaq’ three times. This means the man
still is the husband of the woman. It is unlikely that the magistrate would be
able to enforce the maintenance of the wife and the minor children, of whom
custody is with the woman, on the husband who will be in jail for uttering that
‘criminal’ word three times. Further, it is unlikely that on completion of his
jail term, the man who was sent to the jail on the complaints of his wife would
like to continue his marital life with the same woman. It seems, then, the men
will prefer abandoning their wives than divorcing them, which will further
complicate the life of the woman, who will not be able to marry afresh.
draft of the Bill sees Muslim men as an outside enemy of Muslim women and
has given no regard to the fact that men are part of the family
itself. The law must be formulated keeping in mind the whole
community and all the stake holders must be taken into account. It
is unfortunate that
Bebak Collective, the women organisation
who were among the parties in the case, in which the Supreme
Court held the practice of triple 
talaq illegal, were not consulted
in drafting the Bill. The Organisation is correct in saying that the 
talaq will happen even if not
instant, on the whims and fancies of the husband under
the Shariat Act 1937. What can be done for justified and
equal treatment of women in the matter of 
talaq is that the Dissolution
of Muslim Marriages Act 1939 be amended. The Act requires Muslim
women to approach the court for divorce. By amending this Act and making
it gender neutral, the problem of whimsical divorce by men can be
curbed. ‘The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Bill, 2016’ was tabled on 5th
August, 2016 but nothing has happened till now. The Bill must make it mandatory
for men to go to Court for seeking divorce.

It is interesting that the present
government is trying to implement ‘true’ form of sharia by weeding out the
laws which are ‘biddat’ (innovated later on). One may argue that the
Bill has been brought on suggestion of the Supreme Court’s Judgement, but the
apex court had to decide the matter within the existing laws. Bringing this
Bill had no urgency and they could have found the immediate legal remedy for
whimsical divorce by expediting the passage of ‘The Dissolution of Muslim
Marriages Bill, 2016’.
not Uniform Civil Code?
The BJP has always been advocating for
the Uniform Civil Code in place of different personal laws—Hindu Personal Law,
Muslim Personal Law, Parsi Personal Law, Christian Personal Law and Portuguese
Personal Law and many more. When the Modi government first came to power with
overwhelming majority in 2014, people were hoping that the BJP will do
something in this matter. At least a Joint Parliamentary Committee or a
Committee of legal experts was expected from the present regime. But they,
instead chose to target Muslim law and that too with a narrow vision of
fulfilling their immediate desire of mobilizing Hindus on communal lines by
showing them that the present regime is acting against the ‘privileges’ enjoyed
by the Muslim men—of keeping four wives, divorce on their own whims and
fancies, no alimony and maintenance to the wife after divorce etc., which the
Hindus can’t enjoy under their Personal Laws.  For ‘enjoying’ these ‘privileges’ Hindu men
need to convert to Islam like film star Dharmendra did to marry actress and now
BJP Loksabha MP, Hema Malini (also converted to Islam to marry Dharmendra) and the
recent high profile drama where Haryana, EX- Dy. Chief Minister Chandramohan had
to convert to Islam to marry Anita Bali (Fiza Mohammad). Alternatively, Muslim
men’s ‘privileges’ should be curtailed to gratify Hindu men’s desire of
equality with the Muslim men in not enjoying those ‘privileges’. And this can
be done by converting or rather purifying them by ‘shuddhikaran’ to Hinduism. The
latter act is being aggressively performed by the politically backed hooligans
on a regular basis these days. What the present government is now trying to do
is that they want to ‘free Muslim women’ from Muslim men so that it can actually
serve two supposed purposes; Hindu men can feel relief that their Muslim counterparts
are now in worse position as against theirs and secondly, the Muslim women will
vote for the BJP and will not listen to their men in voting. (if this is true,
I feel pity for the people who call themselves think tanks of the BJP!)
But why this change of heart, when they
could have done a great service to the nation by implementing Uniform Civil Code,
a dream of our founding fathers of our modern nation? It seems the legal
experts have seriously advised the BJP that this is not an easy and simple
task. Implementation of Uniform Civil Code requires a uniform set of laws by
removing a number of laws prevalent in India to maintain its diversity,
uniqueness of different cultures and landscape.
Laws guaranteed by Political Cession
Treaties of different states into the Union of India cannot easily be dissolved
to pave the way for the Uniform Civil Code, such as Pondicherry Customary Hindu
Law (and the
Pondicherry (Extension of Laws) Act,
1968, sec. 3 and Sch which gives uniqueness to the Union Territory of

and which is guaranteed by a treaty between
Government of India and the Government of France dated 21-10-1954,
after which the erstwhile, French Settlement of Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe and
Yanam was annexed to India. Similarly, Article 370 and 371 (A) of the
Constitution of India allow considerable autonomies to the states of Jammu and
Kashmir and Nagaland[3].
Under these Articles of the Constitution (which were added later on to accommodate
these states and their uniqueness, when they were made part of the Union of
India), any law to come in force in these states needs to be passed by their
respective legislature. Similarly, Section 42 of ‘The Manipur (Courts) Act 1955
provides for deciding ‘questions regarding succession, inheritance, marriage
or caste or any religious usage or institution’ according to their personal or
custom laws.    
from the personal laws based on religion, several district level Customary Laws
are prevalent in India. These laws, many a time, are given precedence over
communities’ religious laws in the matters of inheritance, marriages and
adoptions. Gujars, Meos and several other tribes/castes have their own
district-wise customary laws of inheritance and marriages.[4] Uttar Pradesh (erstwhile,
United Province and Oudh) has its own Rawaj-i- ‘aum, which is given
precedence in the matter of inheritance and succession. Madras and Bombay
Presidency High Court Acts provide for ‘giving preference to Customary Laws in
Succession and marriage. Hence, many Muslim Communities like, Khojas and
Kutcchi Menons are governed under their customary laws which are contrary to
the Sharia Laws. Mapillas (Mopla Muslims) of north Malabar region are governed
under Marumakkathayam law (Mappilla Marumakkathayam Act,
, a system commonly associated with the Hindu Nayars and Tiyyans and
based on Mitakshara Law[5].      
Despite the fact that replacing the
above personal and customary laws with a Uniform Civil Code is a herculean
task, the modern state should try to hold negotiations with the peoples and
formulate such a law—one and uniform, which can be acceptable to all the
communities to eradicate gender injustice and for promoting individuality. This
will pave the way for equality in all senses. Tax benefits to the Hindu
Undivided Family will either be extended to Muslims, who still practice joint
family or will have to be abolished. Peoples—Hindu, Muslim, Christians, Parsis
and Jains will be replaced by citizens, thus the state will only recognise its
citizens not their religions, which will result in amendment of ‘The Constitution
(Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 which will abolish the bracket of religions
under which a Muslim or a Christian cannot avail the benefit of SC reservations
at present. Therefore, the discrimination on the basis of religion will get
eradicated automatically. At present, the sweeper caste of Muslim comes under
Other Backward Castes, whereas their Hindu counterparts come under Scheduled
Castes. This will change.
as a community should give up their irrational and unchanging attitude, especially
those who consider themselves to be the guardian of the Muslim umma. Islamic
civil law (of Shari ‘a) has enough flexibility and it can accommodate
and adjust itself to give rights to its own women-folks, especially in matters
of marriage and divorce by preparing a standard Nikahnama, which can
empower women by including conditions like:
A. Annulment of marriage by a decree of
B. Condition of monogamy on husband
C. Conditions against domestic violence
D. Some of the conditions which are
enumerated in Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939 under which a
Muslim woman can approach the court for khula or dissolution of her
marriage, can also be included here.
The first three conditions were a
general feature of the medieval nikahnamas (marriage contract papers).
[6] It is unfortunate, that with the
passage of time instead of moving forward in the direction of equality of
genders we have actually undone the achievements of the past. Islam was the first
religion which provided a share in ancestral property for women, though half of
what her brother gets. But, unfortunately, even this share has been denied to
them in modern times. The clerics and their different groups cannot claim
themselves to be the true upholders of the Shari‘a. Have they ever
raised their voices loud enough to amend Section 2 of ‘The Muslim Personal Law
(Shariat) Application Act, 1937’, which limits its (shariat) application in the
matter of inheritance in ‘agricultural land’? This particular, section of the
said Act has barred women from inheriting their rightful share (which Muslim
shariat guarantees them) in their father’s land, even when a great chunk of the
inheritable property is still in the form of land for the large part of the
Muslim population. Whatever women have inherited in their fathers’
property—known as dukhtari, is due to the prevalence of the customary
laws of different communities within the Muslims.         

The author is Assistant
Professor, Department of History in P.G.D.A.V (E) College, University of Delhi 

* All the
Acts/Judgments cited in this article are available at www.indiankanoon.org
[1] Abhishek
Sudhir, ‘The triple Talaq Bill is hasty, impulsive and cruel—much like
the act it seeks to criminalise’, https://scroll.in/article/862502/the-triple-talaq-bill-is-hasty-impulsive-and-cruel-much-like-the-act-it-seeks-to-criminalise
accessed on December 26
, 2017
[2] Faizan
Mustafa, ‘Legal Excess: The triple talaq bill is a textbook case of
overcriminalisation’, http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/triple-talaq-bill-passed-parliament-lok-sabha-legal-excess-5002913/ accessed
on January 01, 2018  

[3] See further on UCC, ‘The
Nagaland turmoil shows why a uniform civil code is neither possible nor
desirable in India,
https://scroll.in/article/829884/the-nagaland-turmoil-shows-why-a-uniform-civil-code-is-neither-possible-nor-desirable-in-india’, accessed on December 28, 2017.

[4] For a
detailed study of Customary Laws of erstwhile territory of Punjab see, Digest
of Customary Law, http://punjabrevenue.nic.in/cust20.htm, accessed
on December 27, 2017 
[5]  A
Haberbeck, Muslims, Custom and the Courts (Application of Customary Laws to
Mappillas of North Malabar, Khojas and Cutchi Memons), Journal of the Indian
Law Institute,
Vol.24, no.1, pp.132-158, available at accessed on December 27, 2017.
[6] Several Nikahnamas
of Emperor Shahjahan’s time are preserved in Blochet Supplement,
Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris, for the English translation see,
Shireen Moosvi, People, Taxation, and Trade in Mughal India, Oxford
University Press, 2008, p. 276