The bill approved by the Lok Sabha now goes to the upper house. Punishment includes up to three years in prison. Mgr Mascarenhas supports women’s rights and dignity. Every religious community should be responsible for its own religious affairs.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) - The Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, has passed legislation outlawing the ‘triple talaq’, the Islamic instant divorce, making husbands liable for up to three years in prison if they break it. Now the bill goes to the upper house, the Rajya Sabha or Council of States.
After waiting for years, many Islamic women’s groups and associations welcomed the law. They were opposed to a practice that leaves wives at the mercy of their husbands, who can divorce even at a distance by simply sending a text message.
"The Catholic Church supports and respects women's rights all over the world,” said Mgr Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI). “Anything that harms their dignity and respect is to be rejected."
The vote was held yesterday, but several opposition parties criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government for not discussing the legislation with them before it was presented in parliament.
For Mgr Mascarenhas, the "method" of making changes within a religious community is also important.
"Every community must be able to change, transform and reform itself.” In this case, "Nobody is against the change in the law,” he noted, “but we must take in account the positions of the communities, discuss with them."
Ultimately, "Laws must be approved by people who know the context,” said the prelate, speaking about the approval process. “When discussing laws concerning the religious affairs of a community, the widest possible consensus must be sought."
In India, the Islamic "instant divorce" is a very sensitive issue. The Indian Supreme Court ruled on the matter back in August, declaring it "unconstitutional", but leaving the resolution to parliament.
The court accepted a petition signed by 50,000 Muslim women, who had long complained of widespread discrimination.
India is one of the few countries in the world where the Islamic marriage law is still in force. More than twenty Muslim majority countries have abolished the practice, including Pakistan and Bangladesh.
India is home to about 170 million Muslims, mostly Sunnis, who come under the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1937, adopted during the British Raj.
The old legislation deals with marriage, divorce, succession, inheritance and charities. It was adopted to uphold Islamic cultural traditions, but ends up justifying discriminatory practices.
Husbands are allowed to divorce their wives by simply saying the word "talaq" (repudiation) three times, either in rapid succession or on three separate occasions.
Muslim women have complained about this, noting that it is often carried out by text messages or mail.
For Mgr Mascarenhas, the new law “should not open the doors to interference within communities. It should not be a first step to meddling in the religious affairs of a community."
This aside, "We welcome this change if it will help women first and then the Muslim religion."