New Delhi: A bill criminalizing the practice of instant triple talaq was pushed through by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the Lok Sabha on Thursday but the ruling coalition now faces the hurdle of getting it passed in the Rajya Sabha where it is in a minority.

The government had earlier rejected the opposition’s demand for sending the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, to a parliamentary committee. The bill is one of the key pieces of legislation being considered in the ongoing winter session of Parliament which has seen a series of disruptions in both Houses. The discussion on it on Thursday lasted for more than five hours before it was passed with 245 votes in favour and 11 against.

Earlier, opposition parties including the Congress staged a walkout disagreeing particularly with the criminality clause and claiming that provisions of the bill are unconstitutional. The party questioned why other bills such as one on reservation for women, were not being taken up.

However, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad took on the opposition. “We do not understand the contradiction that everyone in this House agrees that triple talaq is wrong but they ask why we are bringing this bill. Even in dowry prohibition law there is jail and punishment...why did people not raise these issues then?" Prasad said in his reply to the debate.

The bill was not “against any community, religion or belief" but for “insaniyat (humanity) and insaaf (justice) for women," the minister said.

In August 2017, the Supreme Court declared the practice of instant triple talaq unconstitutional and asked Parliament to bring in legislation governing Muslim marriages and divorce. An earlier version of the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on 28 December last year. An ordinance to that effect was promulgated in September.

Sushmita Dev, who heads the Congress women’s wing, led the party’s charge in the discussion and demanded that the bill be sent to a joint select committee. “This law is not about empowering a Muslim woman but penalizing a Muslim man...If this government cares about the empowerment of Muslim women they should let this bill go to a joint select committee. We are representatives of the people and we must listen to them," she said.

Supriya Sule, senior leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), questioned why the government was not taking up other women’s empowerment bills such as those on reservation and marital rape.

Ahead of the 2019 general elections, the bill is politically significant because while the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to position it as a key tool for empowering Muslim women, opposition parties have questioned the “hurry" to get the bill passed.

The bill provides for making triple talaq a cognizable offence if a complaint is filed by the affected married woman or any person related to her by blood or marriage. A violation can attract a jail term of up to three years and a fine. Bail may be granted by a magistrate only after hearing the woman.

There are provisions of compounding (settling dispute), woman seeking subsistence allowance from the husband for herself and dependent children, and the woman having the right to seek custody of minor children.