Asserting that the triple talaq bill is about "Insaaniyat aur insaaf", the government on Thursday said the legislation should not be weighed on the scales of politics while a united opposition strongly demanded that it should be referred to a joint select committee of Parliament, dubbing its provisions "unconstitutional".
The debate on the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, which was tabled by Prasad last week, began in Lok Sabha amidst exchange of barbs between the treasury benches and the Opposition.
With opposition parties, including the Congress and the Trinamool Congress demanding that the bill be sent to a select committee for a greater scrutiny, Prasad said the government has already taken note of concerns expressed by members earlier and amended the bill accordingly.
Prasad told the Lok Sabha that the bill has made the offence compoundable, meaning that the case can be withdrawn if the man and his estranged wife reach a compromise, and that only the wife and her close relatives can file an FIR, ruling out the law's misuse.
"Don't weigh the bill on the scales of politics. The bill is about Insaaniyat aur insaaf (humanity and justice)," he said, urging lawmakers of different parties to speak in one voice to support the legislation.
Parliament had earlier unanimously supported laws, including the one prescribing death in rape cases, aimed at giving justice to women, and the triple talaq bill is also a step towards justice for women, he said.
As soon as the House met at 2 pm after an adjournment to take up the bill, Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said that it be referred to a joint select committee of the two Houses for greater scrutiny. He said several provisions of the bill were "unconstitutional".
AIADMK leader P Venugopal, TMC's Sudip Bandhopadhyay, AIMIM's Assaduddin Owaisi and Supriya Sule (NCP) also made similar demands.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said an earlier bill on triple talaq was discussed and passed by the Lok Sabha. Therefore, members can flag issues during the debate. She said all of a sudden a demand cannot be made to send it to a committee.
Opposing the bill in its current form, Congress MP Sushmita Dev said the real purpose of the bill was not to empower Muslim women but to "penalise" Muslim men and added criminalisation of triple talaq goes against the Supreme Court verdict.
"In the name of empowerment you (the government) has given nothing but a criminal case to women...the aim of the bill is not to empower Muslim women but to penalise Muslim men," she said.
The fresh Bill to make the practice of triple talaq among Muslims a penal offence was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 17 to replace an ordinance issued in September.
Under the proposed law, giving instant triple talaq will be illegal and void, and will attract a jail term of three years for the husband.
The fresh bill will supersede an earlier bill passed in Lok Sabha and pending in the Rajya Sabha.
The earlier bill was approved by the Lower House. But amid opposition by some parties in the upper house, the government had then cleared some amendments, including introduction of a provision of bail, to make it more acceptable.
However, as the bill continued to face resistance in the Rajya Sabha, the government issued an ordinance in September, incorporating the amendments.
An ordinance has a life of six months. But from the day a session begins, it has to be replaced by a bill which should be passed by Parliament within 42 days (six weeks), else it lapses.
The government is at liberty to re-promulgate the ordinance if the bill fails to get through Parliament.