With the government taking ordinance route to make 'instant triple talaq' a penal offence, opposition parties and women activists Wednesday asked why no similar provisions are made for Hindu men deserting their wives and alleged a "human issue" has been made into a "political football".
Some said the ordinance ignores problems it could pose to Muslim women and there is need for a comprehensive law, while the Congress said what needed to be done after the Supreme Court quashed this practice was to provide justice to an abandoned Muslim woman and jailing the husband might not serve the purpose.
Ishrat Jahan, a petitioner in the triple talaq case, welcomed the decision as a big step towards "empowering Muslim women" and said Muslim men and religious leaders should now mend "their ways or be ready to face the music".
She was one of the five petitioners in the case against instant triple talaq. This practice was struck down by the Supreme Court on August 22, 2017.
Jahan, who has a 13-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, had moved court after she was divorced by her husband over phone from Dubai by uttering 'talaq' thrice consecutively in 2014.
As the cases continued to be reported even after the court decision, the government decided to enact a law but could not get it passed in Parliament, after which the ordinance route has been adopted.
The union cabinet has cleared the ordinance to make instant triple talaq a penal offence, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, citing a compelling necessity for the move as the practice continues unabated.
Under the ordinance, giving instant triple talaq will be illegal and void and will attract a jail term of three years for the husband.
The issue, however, soon triggered a political slugfest with the BJP president Amit Shah targetting opposition parties on the issue.
"This ordinance is also a matter of guilt and introspection for them as they forced Muslims women to suffer from this bad practice for decades due to their vote bank politics," he said.
The law minister also attacked the Congress at the cabinet press conference itself, saying the main opposition party was not supporting the bill pending in Rajya Sabha under "vote bank pressures".
"It is my serious charge that Sonia Gandhi ji has maintained silence on the issue," he said, while urging the Congress leader as also the BSP supremo Mayawati and TMC chief Mayawati to support the bill in the next session of Parliament for the sake of "gender justice, gender equality and gender dignity".
Hailing the government decision, the BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra took a dig at Congress leader Kapil Sibal, saying he defended this practice in the Supreme Court.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the government has not acceded to the party's request for making a provision for attaching property of those not providing compensation to the affected women and children after divorce.
"For us, triple talaq has always been a human issue related to women rights and extending justice to them," he said, adding Congress leaders and lawyers such as Salman Khurshid and Manish Tiwari had represented the affected women before the Supreme Court.
"However, the Modi government is treating the issue more as a political football than a matter of justice to Muslim women," he alleged.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi said the ordinance was "anti-Muslim women" and would do them more injustice.
He demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should bring a law to protect Hindu women deserted by their husbands.
Owaisi also said marriage was a civil contract in Islam and bringing penal provisions was "wrong and unnecessary", and hoped the Muslim Personal Law Board will challenge it in court.
"Prime Minister Modi, this nation requires a law for those poor married women who are 24 lakhs according to 2011 census. They are married and their husbands in the election affidavit say they are married but their wives are not living with them," he said.
Owaisi claimed the ordinance was to divert attention from issues like rising fuel prices and dwindling rupee.
Several women activists also criticised the decision, saying this "politicised move" was taken without considering the complications it could pose to Muslim women.
Kavita Krishnan, activist and Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA), asked, "Why only Muslim men are getting punished for abandoning their wives, why not Hindu men?"
"Triple talaq is not an official divorce, it is a form of abandonment. Does an Hindu man gets imprisoned for abandoning his wife?" Krishnan said.
Annie Raja, National Federation of Indian Women's general secretary, said she doubts the "intention and sincerity" of the government.
"There needs to be a comprehensive law... But the government has taken this step for political gains in upcoming elections. There are issues related to maintenance of women and children after her husband goes to jail, no one is talking about them," she said.
Woman rights activist Shabnam Hashmi alleged criminalising triple talaq intends to polarise people ahead of of general elections.
All India Democratic Women's Association General secretary Mariam Dhawale said the move would create problems for Muslim women without clarity on issues like property rights.
The proposed law gives power to the victim to approach a magistrate seeking "subsistence allowance" for herself and minor children.