Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges. (The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government), said ancient Roman lawyer, Tacitus.
One may agree or disagree with what he said 2,000 years ago but it is a fact that, as per the latest official figure, 21 dowry death cases are reported in India every day in spite of the presence of Section 498 (A) of the Indian Penal Code. Thus over 7,600 brides are officially killed, mostly burnt every year; yet neither the TV channels nor the members of Parliament ever discuss or debate it. Instead there is a demand to change this law as the brides are allegedly misusing it.
Enactment of new laws at the drop of a hat–not only in India but elsewhere too–is not solving the problems. In fact it is compounding them as instead of reforming the people and asking them to be law-abiding we go on criminalising one wrongdoing after another.
Take the case of the Muslim Women (Protection of Right on Marriage) Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on December 28, 2017. The biggest irony about it is that it has seriously let down many women groups who had been demanding enactment of some type of law against those who pronounce three instant Talaqs–a practice condemned by Islam.
Most of them are now critical of the Narendra Modi government for hurriedly passing the Bill in the Lower House of Parliament without any discussion and debate and without involving any women group and Muslim outfit.
But their case amounts to crying over spilt milk as this was the obvious fall out of what they had been doing all these years.
It is not that one is not sympathetic towards the plight of the victims of instant Triple Talaq. This evil should be stamped out from the society.
The problem does not lie in the law as such, but in its misuse. The need is to understand the spirit of the law and the in-built elasticity.
What is more important, for whom the law is legislated–any state, nation or country.
Besides, law has its own limitation too–whether it is a man-made or God-ordained. All the crimes or wrongdoings cannot be reported. An overwhelming number of crimes, even the most heinous ones, go unreported and the law is simply helpless. In some cases the victim is so terrorised that he or she does not report or in some case she or he may not be alive to approach the police. This happens in all the countries.
Herein lies the crux of the problem. For example, Islamic laws are meant only for those who believe in Islam. If a person violates the spirit of Triple Talaq and indulges in any wrongdoing he may or may not go scot free. He may circumvent the law for his own end. A certain cleric may help him out by making some strange and totally wrong interpretation of the law–as the absurd practice of ‘halala’.
So he may go unpunished as many others go in the world for some other wrongdoings.
But Quran repeatedly warns such wrongdoers. It says that a person may one way or the other go unpunished but on the Day of Judgement he would not be spared.
It is more than the law than this faith in the Hereafter which has been given emphasis in Islam. This was necessary to keep balance and sanity in the society.
Those who had been demanding strict punishment for those who pronounce instant Triple Talaq now find that in the name of enactment of law the government has tried to make political capital out of it.
If the fear of punishment after death does not deter a person from committing any crime it is even more easy to hoodwink any new legislation.
It is now that the women groups are realizing that in case of new enactment the errant husband would simply abandon the wife and thus avoid any punishment. Once again the sufferer would be the woman.
What many people forget is that all sorts of strict legislations have failed to check the number of divorces even in the West. To circumvent the law the males there have evolved the concept of live-in relationship. In case of separation the male has nothing to pay to his female partner. Once again the woman is the victim as they do not get any maintenance or share in property. They are even subjected to the brutality of their boy-friends. This is happening in India too, where enactment of laws against dowry and domestic violence have not brought down violence against women. This is simply because there is no mechanism to teach the people about human rights, dignity of women, equality and justice.
(Soroor Ahmed is an eminent journalist based in Patna)