An analysis of Indian census data conducted by Abusaleh Shariff, an economist at the U.S.-India Policy Institute, based in Washington, D.C., and Syed Khalid, a research associate at the Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, showed that the number of separated and abandoned women in India, at 2.3 million, is twice the number of divorced women. If the government were serious about women’s rights, the researchers said, it would introduce reforms across communities, rather than focusing on one religious practice pertaining to Muslims.
The BMMA calls that argument irrational. Just “because there is no law against terrible spouses in other religions, a law specifically meant to punish Muslim men, when the complaint is initiated by the aggrieved wife or her family, [isn’t] discriminatory,” Mariya Salim, a researcher and BMMA member, told me. She said that rather than being a victory for the BJP, the bill’s passage is “the triumph of Muslim women fighting against the unconstitutional and non-Islamic practice.”
Opposition parties, as well as human-rights advocates, have condemned the practice of instant divorce, but they also accuse the BJP of demonizing Muslims. They say the ban feeds into the perceived marginalization of Muslims who feel threatened by recent attacks by Hindu vigilantes. Additionally, they say, Indian Muslims face more pressing issues: Various surveys have highlighted their poor economic and social conditions.
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The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), an NGO that supervises the implementation of Muslim personal law in the country, says the Indian government should abstain from matters of faith, citing the Indian constitution. The AIMPLB and some Islamic scholars in India say they believe that the legislation is a step toward replacing personal laws with a uniform civil code that would encompass all Indian citizens, irrespective of faith. This idea, which they oppose, is supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an influential Hindu nationalist group that is the BJP’s ideological parent.
Additionally, says Ziya Us Salam, a New Delhi–based journalist and the author of Till Talaq Do Us Part, “The Koran gives a squabbling couple two chances for reconciliation.”
“The bill takes away a chance at any reconciliation,” he told me. “Any man jailed because of the wife’s complaint will never opt for reconciliation. The bill leaves women penniless, children practically orphaned. If the man [is] imprisoned, how will he provide maintenance to his wife? The bill amounts to a state coercion.” (Under Islamic law, a woman is entitled to seek a subsistence allowance from her husband for herself and her dependent children.)
Salam and many Muslim groups in India question the need for legislation when the Supreme Court, in multiple hearings, has struck down instant divorce. “According to the court, the marriage is intact after triple talaq. Where is the crime?” he asked.
But for Rehman and other women who pushed for the change, the bill’s passage is historic. “We cannot change whatever happened to me,” she told the Indian Express newspaper. “But we now have a way to stop this practice which has been going on for centuries.”