NEW DELHI: The debate in the Lok Sabha over the Triple Talaq Bill that criminalises the practice with a three year, non bailable prison term, for the erring Muslim husband belonged to Congress MP Sushmita Dev from Assam. After her senior leader Maillkarjun Kharge, had assured the BJP that the Congress was supportive of the Bill, but would like “some lacunae” to be sorted out by the Standing Committee of Parliament Dev tore into the government’s Bill with hard hitting facts and arguments that remain irrefutable.

Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, shed tears for the “poor Muslim woman” placed on the streets by the husband with the instant declaration of triple talaq. BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi spoke of the need to codify the Muslim personal law, a demand incidentally of several women organisations including the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan for reasons of course, placed in secular polity, and not in the Hindu-Muslim arguments raised by the woman MP of the ruling party. Lekhi said that there should be a law against the maulvi-maulana who “mislead” the people.

In the process the government admitted that it had not consulted the stake holders, the women’s organisations, or other groups. All Opposition parties---including the till recently reticent Biju Janata Dal--- united in demanding the Bill be deferred to a parliamentary Standing Committee to sort out the issues after full discussion with all stake holders, women, experts and others. A demand that Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad rejected at the onset.

But the questions asked by Dev remained on the table, and are also the questions being asked by women organisations outside Parliament:

1. If the man is put into jail for three years, in what this Bill makes a non-bailable offence who will pay the subsistence for his wife and children? The Bill is silent on this. Will the government beating its chest for Muslim women set up a corpus out of its concern for Muslim women to ensure they receive maintenance?

2. The Supreme Court abolished instant triple talaq on the grounds that this makes it impossible for reconciliation, and this opportunity has to be provided to the marital couple. The Bill places the husband in jail, so where is the opportunity for reconciliation? Or does the government think that the husband being put into jail will actually sit down and reconcile the marriage?

3. What is the method of calculating maintenance? The Bill is completely silent on this. Earlier it was to be assessed according to the standard of married life of the couple, and the financial ability of the husband. How will it be determined now?

4. The BIll places the man for three years, without bail, in jail. Other crimes that get the same punishment include rioting and armed violence, promoting enmity between groups, outraging religious sentiments. Is the Bill equating triple talaq with such criminal activity? And criminalising what is essentially a social injustice?

5. The government refused to bring a law against marital rape saying this would open a flood of litigation and raise other issues. Will not the same happen by criminalising triple talaq and making the Muslim man vulnerable to the same abuse in the guise of helping the Muslim woman?

6. Social reforms is the need of the hour, it is not just an idea, it is a right. Why did the government not bring in the Womens Reservation Bill instead to ensure empowerment and the protection of these rights?

This remains the crux of the issue being debated in the Lok Sabha. Triple Talaq, admittedly an abhorrent practice, is mired in the polity of women’s rights and justice.Criminalisation by making it a non bailable offence,with a three year jail term for the erring husband, does not ensure justice under the present Bill moved by the BJP government.