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Women’s rights activists view the ruling as a step toward granting Muslim women greater equality and justice.
India’s Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional a Muslim practice that reportedly allows men to “instantly divorce” their wives, a move some claim is a landmark victory for Muslim women to get greater equality.
The practice, known as “triple talaq,” allows Muslim men to divorce their wives by simply uttering the Arabic word “talaq,” or divorce, three times. It doesn’t need to be consecutive, but at any time, and by any medium, including telephone calls, text messages or social media posts.
Muslim women say they have been left destitute by husbands divorcing them through triple talaq, including by Skype and WhatsApp.
Under the ruling, the government will need to frame new divorce legislation, which would replace the abolished practice, within six months.
The ruling was delivered by a panel of five male judges from different faiths: Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism. Three of the five ruled that the practice was unconstitutional, overruling the senior-most judge in India, the chief justice.
“Finally, I feel free today,” Shayara Bano, who was divorced through triple talaq and was among the women who brought the case, told Reuters after the ruling.
“I have the order that will liberate many Muslim women.”
More than 20 Muslim countries, including neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the practice. But in India, triple talaq has continued with the protection of laws that allow Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities to follow religious law in family matters and disputes.
Most of the 170 million Muslims in India are Sunnis governed by Muslim Personal Law. While most Hindu personal laws have been overhauled and codified over the years, Muslim laws have been left to religious authorities and left largely untouched.
India’s Muslim Law Board had told the court that while they considered the practice wrong, they opposed any court intervention and asked that the matter be left to the community to tackle. But several progressive Muslim activists decried the law 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 NDTV.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also offered his support to end the practice, calling the law “derogatory” and “discriminatory” against women.
On Tuesday, Modi took to Twitter to praise the judgment as “historic.”
“It grants equality to Muslim women and is a powerful measure for women empowerment,” he said.
The ruling could spur Modi’s party to push again for its long-held desire for a uniform civil code, which would end the application of religious laws to civil issues.
“The Supreme Court has a right to interfere in the personal space and they have done so,” said Maneka Gandhi, minister for women and child development.
However, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said it would contest the court’s decision.
“The fact that only three of the five judges have deemed the practice illegal shows that there was no clear decision,” member Maqsood Hasani Nadvi said.
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