India’s top court has banned a controversial Islamic practice that allows men to divorce their wives instantly, saying it was unconstitutional.
Victims of the practice known as “triple talaq”, whereby Muslim men can divorce their wives by reciting the word talaq (divorce) three times, had approached the supreme court to ask for a ban.
Triple talaq “is not integral to religious practice and violates constitutional morality”, a panel of judges said.
“It’s a very happy day for us. It’s a historic day,” said Zakia Soman, the co-founder of the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement, which was part of the legal battle to end the practice.
“We, the Muslim women, are entitled to justice from the courts as well as the legislature,” she added.
The five supreme court judges were from India’s major faiths – Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism. In their ruling, they said it was “manifestly arbitrary” to allow a man to “break down [a] marriage whimsically and capriciously”.
“What is sinful under religion cannot be valid under law,” they said.
The practice had been challenged in lower courts but it was the first time India’s supreme court had considered whether triple talaq was legal.
India allows religious institutions to govern matters of marriage, divorce and property inheritance in the multi-faith nation, enshrining triple talaq as a legal avenue for its 180 million Muslims to end unions.
More than 20 Muslim countries, including neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the practice while in India, the practice has continued. While most Hindu personal law has been overhauled and codified over the years, Muslim laws have been left to religious authorities and left largely untouched.
The Hindu nationalist government of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, had backed the petitioners in this landmark case, declaring triple talaq unconstitutional and discriminatory against women. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party has long pushed for a uniform civil code, governing Indians of all religions, to be enforced.
The issue remains highly sensitive in India, where religious tensions often lead to violence.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a grouping of Islamic organisations, had told the court that while they considered the practice of triple talaq wrong, they opposed any court intervention and asked that the matter be left to the community to tackle.
Progressive Muslim activists had criticised the board’s position. “This is the demand of ordinary Muslim women for over 70 years and it’s time for this country to hear their voices,” activist Feroze Mithiborwala told New Delhi television station.
Some Islamic scholars say there is no mention of triple talaq in the Qur’an, which instead details a different process for divorce based on mediation.(The Guardian)