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A day after President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the legislation that makes instant triple talaq a penal offence and it became “The Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019”, it was challenged in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court on Friday, Aug 2.

Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama (SKJU), that claims to be the biggest religious organisations of the Sunni Muslim scholars and clerics in Kerala, moved the Supreme Court while the one in the Delhi High Court was filed by an advocate Shahid Ali, reported NDTV. Both allege that “The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019” violates the fundamental rights of Muslim husbands.

They have claimed that the Act is violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution and is liable to be struck down.

“The Act has introduced penal legislation, specific to a class of persons based on religious identity. It is causative of grave public mischief, which, if unchecked, may lead to polarization and disharmony in society,” the plea filed in the top court said.

The petition in Supreme Court

The SKJU has submitted that the legislation is class specific to Muslims and the intent behind the Act is not abolition of triple talaq but “to punish Muslim husbands”.

“Section 4 imposes a maximum sentence of 3 years imprisonment when a Muslim husband pronounces Triple Talaq. The offence is cognizable and non-bailable as per Section 7,” the plea said.

The Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act of 2019 makes instant triple talaq a penal offence. It imposes a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment when a Muslim husband pronounces instant triple talaq. The offence is cognizable and non-bailable.

“If the motive was to protect a Muslim wife in an unhappy marriage, no reasonable person can believe that the means to ensure it is by putting an errant husband in jail for three years and create a non-bailable offence for merely saying ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’. Further, the offence is confined only to Muslim husbands.

“It is absurd that for an utterance which has no legal effect, whether spoken by Muslim, Hindu or Christian, it is only the Muslim husband who is penalised with a three-year sentence. Protection of wives cannot be achieved by incarceration of husbands…,” the organisation, represented by advocate Zulfiker Ali PS, contended.

It urged the court to stay the operation of the ordinance while questioning the haste with which the government promulgated it.

The petition contends that the Supreme Court has already declared the utterance of triple talaq “null and void”. The marriage continues despite the utterance of triple talaq. If triple talaq has thus no legal effect, why should the government go ahead and make it an offence now?

The petition argued that a truly welfare-oriented legislation would promote amicable resolution of matrimonial disputes, regardless of community.

The petition in the top court said there are statutorily prescribed procedures for divorce in other religions too and non-compliance of this procedure for divorce is not a punishable offence for members of other religions.

“There is no reasonableness or constitutional logic for making the procedural infirmity in effecting divorce a punishable offence for members of Muslim community alone and such legislation cannot withstand the test of Article 14,” it said.

It said that a welfare-oriented legislation would not purport to criminalise marital discord and moreover, particularise the criminalization only to one community.

“With respect, it is submitted that any such a legislation ought to shock the judicial conscience. The impugned Act is such an endeavour and ought to be struck down for violating Article 21,” it said.

Petition in Delhi High Court

The petition in the high court said that the new legislation criminalising the practice of ”triple talaq” among Muslims and making it a non-bailable offence punishable with three years of imprisonment, would shut down all room for compromise between the husband and wife.

It said that since triple talaq has been declared as void, the Act of its pronouncement cannot be construed to be a criminal offence or even as a simple wrong or a civil wrong.

The high court petition has alleged that the intentions of central government are “mala fide and ultra-vires” of the Constitution as well as the Supreme Court’s judgment, declaring instantaneous and irrevocable divorce pronounced by a Muslim husband as void and illegal.

It claimed that there could be misuse of criminalisation of ”triple talaq” as the Act does not provide for a mechanism to ascertain the truthfulness of the allegations of such pronouncement.

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