As Speaker Om Birla asked the minister to introduce the Bill, AIMIM’s Asaddudin Owaisi, NCP’s Supriya Sule, DMK’s A Raja and Kanimozhi, Samajwadi Party’s Kunwar Danish Ali and leader of Congress in the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury objected, claiming that they be given a chance to present their objections.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, which proposes to criminalise instant triple talaq was introduced in Lok Sabha on Friday amid commotion and confusion.

The government introduced the new Bill to replace an ordinance, but even before Union Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad could introduce it, there was confusion on whether the Opposition members should get an opportunity to object to the introduction before he introduced it or after his opening statement.

As Speaker Om Birla asked the minister to introduce the Bill, AIMIM’s Asaddudin Owaisi, NCP’s Supriya Sule, DMK’s A Raja and Kanimozhi, Samajwadi Party’s Kunwar Danish Ali and leader of Congress in the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury objected, claiming that they be given a chance to present their objections.

Prasad said once he moves the Bill, the Opposition will get a chance to speak before the introduction of the Bill and he will respond to them before the vote.

The minister “is only asking the permission to move the Bill”, Birla clarified. Finally the Opposition relented, and Prasad moved the Bill.

Leaders of the Opposition then countered it, mostly on two points — that it criminalises “a civil wrong” and that it targets just one community in the garb of helping women of the country.

Shashi Tharoor of the Congress said he is not “defending Triple talaq” but was opposing the Bill because of the “text, draft and thrust of this Bill”. “This Bill conflates civil law and criminal law by criminalising the act of triple talaq, which is an irregular form of divorce already null and void in our country post the decision of the Supreme Court in Shayara Bano Vs Union of India,” he said.

“Is the action of abandoning or deserting a wife and family without responsibility a criminal act or is the form of desertion, namely, doing it by uttering talaq… since abandoning or deserting wives and dependents is not unique to the Muslim community, then why not make a law that universally criminalises the abandonment of family and dependents without taking responsibility instead of just focusing on one community.”

The bill, he said, was an example of “class legislation, which is pointed at one community or class and that violates Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution”. Further, he said the Bill lacks “procedural safeguards and can be easily misused,” Tharoor added.

RSP’s N K Premachandran said the Bill “exceeds the legislative power of Parliament”. Also, he said, “criminalising a civil wrong done by a particular community, that is, the Muslim community, alone is discriminatory”.

Speaking last from the Opposition, Owaisi said the Bill failed on parameters of “intelligible differentia” and “rational nexus”. “You are not in favour of women, you are putting the burden of proof on women. For three years (the husband) will remain in jail, who will give the maintenance, will you give maintenance?” Owaisi said. He said if the BJP was for women, why was it against the entry of women in Sabarimala.

Responding to the objections, Prasad said the Bill was not aimed at a religion, but was a question of “naari nyay, naari garima, naari insaaf”. He said that even after the Supreme Court’s order, the practice of instant triple talaq continues and stated that 229 cases have happened since. He said lawmakers are elected “to make laws” and the court is responsible for “interpretation” of those laws. “Do not make the Lok Sabha a court,” Prasad said.

As Prasad was speaking, Birla asked the members to not speak among them. When Chowdhury got up to speak to his party members, Birla asked him to sit down or go to the gallery outside to talk. This prompted a furore from the Opposition, with Chowdhury saying it was like “Emergency inside the House”.

After Prasad had spoken, Birla put up the introduction for a voice vote. Owaisi insisted that a division vote be allowed. Birla finally agreed for a division vote, but then, since seats have not yet been allotted to the members of the new Lok Sabha, machine voting was ruled out.

Eventually, the division vote was conducted using paper slips. With 186 votes in favour and 74 against it, Prasad was allowed to introduce the Bill, which will be discussed later.

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