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 “unIslamic”.
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, many cases have emerged of Muslim men in India divorcing 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.
Even though it has been practised for decades, triple talaq divorce has no mention in Sharia or the Koran.
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 been thriving in India.
India 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 “unIslamic, 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 differing judgements also recommended that parliament legislate on the issue. However this is not binding and is up to parliament to take up.