The Lok Sabha on Monday (7 January) passed a bill to remove leprosy as a ground for divorce in personal laws, even as AIMIM leader and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi raised staunch objection calling it an infringement of the Islamic law.
All the five acts related to marriage, divorce, and separation of Hindu and Muslim couples - the Divorce Act, 1869, Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939, Special Marriage Act, 1954, Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 - contained provisions prescribing leprosy as a ground for seeking divorce or separation from the spouse.
NDA government passed the Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018 that amended these acts to scrap leprosy as a ground for divorce or separation.
“Leprosy is being removed as a ground for divorce as it is now a curable disease as against the earlier notion of it being incurable,” Minister of State for Law P P Chaudhary said, replying to a discussion on The Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
Owaisi, who is increasingly positioning himself as a pan Indian Muslim leader, objected to the bill arguing that unlike other marriage laws, Islam recognised marriage as a “contract between two people”.
“Therefore as per Contract laws in India, if one party wilfully hides any information, like illness such as leprosy, it is a ground for divorce,” he said. He also claimed that contrary to the government’s claims, leprosy has not yet been eradicated in India.
Linking the amendment to the recent Triple Talaq Bill passed in the Lok Sabha recently, Owaisi said the government should stay away from interfering into the Muslim personal laws. “Do not interfere in Muslim Personal law,” Owaisi thundered, adding that other Muslim countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh still allow divorce on grounds of leprosy.
In August last year, Union Cabinet had given its consent to the bill given that leprosy is completely curable with multi-drug therapy and no justification exists in keeping the provision. The Law Commission had also recommended repealling laws and provisions which were discriminatory to leprosy patients.
Leprosy is considered one of the world's oldest and most dreaded diseases which has tormented humans throughout history, leaving lasting impressions on religion, literature and art.
Islamic tenets are believed to have taken ambiguous positions on the disease.
There are three 'Hadiths' that mention the disease. In one 'Hadith' Prophet Mohammed, was quoted to have said: “...Escape from the leper as you escape from the lion”.
In another 'Hadith' it is said that a leprosy patient who was coming to the Mosque to swear his fealty to the Prophet was asked to stay away but his allegiance was accepted.
In the third 'Hadith' it is said that the Prophet asked a leprosy patient to eat with him and he actually took the patient's hand and put it in the dish.