India’s top court has ruled the practice of instant divorce in Islam unconstitutional, marking a major victory for women’s rights activists.
In a 3-2 majority verdict, the court called the practice “un-Islamic”.
India is one of a handful of countries where a Muslim man can divorce his wife in minutes by saying the word talaq (divorce) three times.
The landmark court decision came in response to petitions challenging the so-called “triple talaq” custom.
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The cases were filed by five Muslim women who had been divorced in this way and two rights groups.
“Muslim women in India have suffered for the last 70 years. It’s a historic day for us, but it doesn’t end here. I cannot tell you how much Indian women have supported us, despite their religions,” Zakia Soman, an activist from Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, one of the groups which contested the practice, told reporters.
What is instant divorce?
In recent years, there have been cases in which Muslim men in India have divorced their wives by issuing the so-called triple talaq by letter, telephone and, increasingly, by text message, WhatsApp and Skype. A number of these cases made their way to the courts as women contested the custom.
Yet triple talaq divorce has no mention in Sharia or the Koran, even though the practice has existed for decades.
Islamic scholars say the Koran clearly spells out how to issue a divorce – it has to be spread over three months, allowing a couple time for reflection and reconciliation.
Activists say most Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned triple talaq, but the custom has continued in India, which does not have a uniform set of laws on marriage and divorce that apply to every citizen.
What did the court say?
Three of the judges called the controversial practice “un-Islamic, arbitrary and unconstitutional”. One of the judges, Justice Kurien Joseph, said the practice was not an essential part of Islam and enjoyed no protection.
Chief Justice JS Khehar, in a differing opinion, said that personal law could not be touched by a constitutional court of law.
The opposing judgements also recommended that parliament legislate on the issue. However this is not binding and is up to parliament to take up.
‘Strong message’ – By Geeta Pandey, Editor, India women and social affairs
The judgement is a huge victory for Muslim women. For decades, they have had to live with the threat of instant divorce dangling over their heads like a sword.
Campaigners say over the years thousands of women, especially those from poor families, have been discarded by their husbands in this manner. Many have been rendered destitute, with nowhere to go, or have been forced to return to their parental homes or fend for themselves.
The top court has also sent a very strong message to Muslim clergy. India’s Muslim personal law board had called the practice “reprehensible” but said that it was not an issue for the courts and government to interfere in. With this latest ruling, this will no longer be the case.
How are people reacting?
The judgement is being widely hailed as a major victory for Muslim women and women’s rights.
The hashtags #TripleTalaq and #SupremeCourt began trending on Twitter India even as the verdict was being announced. The hashtag #Tripletalaq is also trending globally on Twitter.