New Delhi: The government scored a major victory on Tuesday, managing to get its contentious bill seeking to ban the practice of instant triple talaq passed by a slim margin in the Rajya Sabha on the back of a divided Opposition.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) succeeded in getting the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 voted through despite the fact that it is in a minority in the Upper House, pointing to the government’s effective floor management.

Despite stiff opposition from the Congress and Opposition demands for the bill to be sent to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny, the government won the day by 99-84 votes.

The attempt to send it to a select committee was defeated 100-84.

“An archaic and medieval practice has finally been confined to the dustbin of history! Parliament abolishes Triple Talaq and corrects a historical wrong done to Muslim women. This is a victory of gender justice and will further equality in society. India rejoices today!" Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter.

President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday said the passage of triple talaq bill by Parliament was a milestone in the quest for gender justice. “Passage in the Rajya Sabha of Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill completes Parliament’s approval of ban on the inequitable practice of triple talaq. A milestone in the quest for gender justice; a moment of satisfaction for the entire country," the President tweeted.

The numbers tilted in favour of the NDA when members of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIADMK) and Janata Dal (United) opted to walk out rather than vote against the bill. The walkout by the two parties, which together account for 19 seats, helped bring down the numbers needed for passage of the bill and tilted the balance in favour of the government. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), with seven members, voted for it.

“India is a secular country. In 2013, triple talaq victims moved Supreme Court and the Supreme Court decided it is arbitrary and unconstitutional. What is declared wrong in the Quran cannot be valid in our law," law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told Parliament.

Leaders of the Congress, Samajwadi Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) said the bill was partisan, unconstitutional and arbitrary, while accusing the government of getting it passed through a “managed majority."

“The Muslims in India should not be compared with Muslims from any other country...If the man is in jail because of his wife’s complaint, after that do you think that husband and wife will be able to live in peace once he comes out?" said Ghulam Nabi Azad, senior Congress leader and leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, adding that the bill was not about sustenance of divorced Muslim women, or taking care of them or their children.

The government pitched the bill as an attempt to protect the rights of married Muslim women by prohibiting the practice under which a Muslim man can divorce his wife by uttering the word “talaq" three times at one go.

The bill makes the declaration of triple talaq a cognizable offence, attracting up to three years imprisonment with a fine. This means the police can arrest an accused without a warrant.

“There are actual instances of triple talaq ending marriages over WhatsApp that happen. And we did need legislation despite a Supreme Court ruling because the man will now face punitive action. At the same time, if the woman misuses the law, the man should have the right to appeal," said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

The bill, which was passed by a voice vote in the Lok Sabha last week, will become law after receiving the assent of the President. Its passage comes against the backdrop of the Rajya Sabha clearing key legislation such as the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 as well as the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill—all of which had caused a furore among Opposition parties.

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