India’s Supreme Court has ruled that a traditional Islamic divorce law is “unconstitutional”, in a move that has been heralded as a victory for Muslim women in the country.
Under the ‘instant divorce’ law, Muslim men are able to legally separate from their wives simply by saying or writing the word talaq (“divorce”) three times. The Independent reports that Indian Muslim women have been left penniless after their husbands divorced them using “triple talaq”, including over Skype and by WhatsApp.
With the help of two rights groups, five Muslim women who had been divorced in this way brought a case to the Indian Supreme Court.
Three out of the five judges sitting on the case ruled that triple talaq was “un-Islamic, arbitrary and unconstitutional”, and the law has now been suspended.
Justice Kurien Joseph told the BBC that the custom was not a crucial part of Islam and should enjoy no protection under Indian law.
However, Justice JS Khehar, who voted against suspending triple talaq, said that he was disappointed with the ruling. “This is a sensitive case where sentiments are involved,” he said. He recommended that the Indian government should legislate on the issue, although this was not a binding order.
Triple talaq is not mentioned in Sharia Islamic law or the Koran, and is banned in more than 20 other Muslim countries, including neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh. Islamic scholars say that divorce between Muslim couples should be spread across three months, to allow partners time to reflect and reconnect.
However, the custom has been allowed to continue in predominantly Hindu India, which does not have fixed laws on marriage and divorce that apply to every citizen. Indian legislation protects the right of Hindu, Muslim and Christian individuals to follow their own religious laws when it comes to matters such as marriage.
The move was hailed by politicians and campaigners of all ideological stripes in India. Right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the ruling was “a powerful measure for women empowerment”.
Geeta Pandey, the BBC’s India women and social affairs editor, described the judgement as “a huge victory for Muslim women”. She added: “For decades, they have had to live with the threat of instant divorce dangling over their heads like a sword.”
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) had previously maintained that India’s courts should have no jurisdiction over how Muslim men chose to divorce their wives. Indian newspaper The Hindu reports that the board has convened a meeting to decide what its response should be to the ruling.
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