SC asks govt to file report on personal laws
Apex court’s direction to Centre comes on a plea challenging Muslim practices like polygamy and ‘ triple talaq’
New Delhi, March 28: A plea challenging Muslim practices like polygamy and ‘triple talaq’ has come up before the Supreme Court, which on Monday asked the government to file the report of a committee, set up during the UPA rule to assess the personal laws related to marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance and succession.
A bench, comprising Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justice U U Lalit asked Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, to file within six weeks the panel's report which was given to the Ministry of Women and Child Development last year.
The bench, which has also taken suo motu cognisance of issues relating to the quest for equality of Muslim women, asked the government to reply to the plea of one Shayara Bano, challenging the constitutionality of Muslim practices of polygamy, triple talaq (talaq-e-bidat) and nikah halala.
The court also allowed All India Muslim Personal Law Board to become a party in the two matters on personal law.
During the brief hearing, senior advocate Amit Singh Chadha and lawyer Balaji Srinivasan, counsel for Bano, said a high-level committee was set up by the government to assess the functioning of Muslim personal laws.
The report, submitted in 2015 to the Ministry, was titled “Women and the law: An assessment of family laws with focus on laws relating to marriage, divorce, custody, inher- itance and succession”, they said.
The panel had recommended a ban on various practices that are purportedly Islamic but require reform, including the practice of talaq-e-bidat and polygamy, the lawyers said.
The bench, which asked the apex court registry to provide the records of the suo motu petition to Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, has now fixed the matter after six weeks.
Earlier, the court had sought the government’s response on Bano’s plea challenging the validity of Mus- lim practices like polygamy and triple talaq (talaq-e-bidat).
Talaq-e–bidat denotes divorce of the wife by a Muslim man by pronouncing ‘talaq’ more than once in a single ‘tuhr’ (the period between two menstruations), or in a tuhr after coitus, or pronouncing an irrevocable instantaneous divorce at one go (unilateral triple-talaq).
“Muslim women have their hands tied while the guillotine of divorce dangles, perpetually ready to drop at the whims of their husbands who enjoy undisputed power. Such discrimination and inequality hoarsely expressed in the form of unilateral triple-talaq is abominable when seen in light of progressive times of the 21st century.
“Further, once a woman has been divorced, her hus- band is not permitted take her back as his wife even if he had pronounced talaq under influence of any intoxicant, unless the woman undergoes nikah halala which involves her marriage with another man who subsequently divorces her so that her previous husband can re-marry her,” Bano's plea has said.
She has also challenged the constitutionality of Section 2 of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 in so far as it seeks to recognise and validate polygamy, triple talaq and nikah halala.
The bench, after issuing notice on Bano's plea, tagged it with a similar suo motu petition.
Bano has said she was subjected to cruelty and dowry demands from her husband and in-laws and was administered drugs that “caused her memory to fade, kept her unconscious” and made her “critically ill”, at which point her husband divorced her by triple talaq.
The petitioner has also challenged the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939, saying it fails to provide Indian Muslim women with protection from bigamy.
Bano has stated that the issue of gender discrimination against Muslim women under Muslim personal laws, specifically the lack of safeguards against arbitrary divorce and second marriage by a Muslim husband during currency of first marriage notwithstanding constitutional guarantee, needs to be examined by the Supreme Court. PTI