India’s Supreme Court ruled the Islamic divorce practice “triple talaq” unconstitutional in a landmark three-to-two vote, calling the practice “un-Islamic.”
“Triple talaq,” which is practiced among India’s Muslim community, allows a man to instantly divorce his wife simply by uttering the word “talaq” (divorce) three times in a row. This divorce practice is more commonly practiced by Muslims following the Hanafi Islamic school of law, as other Islamic schools handle divorce in vastly different ways.
The case against “triple talaq” was filed by five Muslim women, who were divorced by their husbands using this method, and two human rights groups, including the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA).
A study by BMMA shows that more than 90% of 4,710 women interviewed desired a ban on unilateral divorce, which includes any divorce in which one spouse is allowed to terminate a marriage without the consent of his or her partner.
India, unlike its neighboring countries Pakistan and Bangladesh, took longer to ban the practice most likely due to its lack of a uniform set of laws that govern the marriage and divorce of all of its citizens.
Though India took its time banning the controversial practice, its Supreme Court judges had harsh words for the “manifestly arbitrary” custom.
The three Supreme Court judges who voted for the banning of the practice all called it “un-Islamic, arbitrary and unconstitutional.” Justice Kurian Joseph added that the practice was not an essential part of Islam and should have no protection under the law.
India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted to express his thoughts after the Supreme Court’s decision, writing, “Judgement of the Hon’ble SC on Triple Talaq is historic. It grants equality to Muslim women and is a powerful measure for women empowerment.”
Not everyone agreed with the Prime Minister, though. A New York Times article on the Supreme Court’s decision quoted Ratna Kapur, a law professor and author who expressed her sentiments on the ruling via Facebook. “Women are talked about as if they are in need of protection,” she said, “not in terms of their rights.”
She continued, “Nearly every reference to the Muslim woman in the majority and dissenting opinions reduces Muslim women to ‘suffering victims.’”
Kapur is drawing on both the way the decision was justified and the way the ban was fought for. In the fight against “triple talaq,” many mentioned the way women suffered from the practice—forced to return to their parent’s homes with their children and no money to their name.
Banning the practice is certainly still a step in the right direction as it will provide protection under the law for countless women and children,regardless of whether or not this specific ruling leads to an ideal situation for Indian women or more rights.
While the justification for the decision may be disappointing for some, this victory was one fought for and won completely by and for women. It’s just one victory on the long road to equality, but one that will certainly put more power into the hands of millions of Indian women for years to come.
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