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India's top court blocks 'instant' Muslim divorces

August 22, 2017

India's Supreme Court has banned a Muslim law that allows men to divorce their wives by saying the word "talaq" three times. In some cases, women were left destitute after receiving "triple talaq" WhatsApp messages.

A bride covers her face at a mass Muslim wedding in India
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

A controversial Islamic practice that allows men to instantly divorce their wives was ruled unconstitutional by India's top court on Tuesday.

A panel of five Supreme Court judges comprised of different faiths said the practice "is not integral to religious practice and violates constitutional morality." 

The fight against ‘instant’ divorce in India

Three of the five judges hearing the case ruled it was unconstitutional, effectively ending its legal practice.

Read more: Instant divorce debate exposes rifts among India's Muslims

"This is a sensitive case where sentiments are involved. We are directing the Union of India to consider appropriate legislation in this regard," said Justice J.S. Khehar.

In their ruling the judges said it was "manifestly arbitrary" to allow a man to "break down (a) marriage whimsically and capriciously."

'I feel free today'

The current Muslim law allows a husband to divorce his wife by uttering the word "talaq" (trans: "I divorce you") three times. 

Muslim women have long argued that the law violated their right to equality, saying that they have been left destitute by husbands divorcing them with a "triple talaq" messages, sometimes sent using instant messaging services like WhatsApp or Skype.

"Finally I feel free today. I have the order that will liberate many Muslim women," Shayara Bano, one of the women who brought the case, told Reuters news agency after the decision was announced.

A Muslim bride takes part in a mass marriage ceremony in Bhopal, India
Some Muslim women said they received the 'triple talaq' divorce through text messageImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Gupta

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, backed the petitioners in the case, saying that it was discriminatory against women. Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been pushing for a uniform civil code, but the issue remains highly sensitive in India.

Read more: Muslim women in India struggle to end 'triple talaq'

The government must now amend portions of India's Muslim personal law that allows the practice.

Over 20 Muslim countries, including neighboring Bangladesh and Pakistan, have banned "triple talaq." In India, however, the practice has continued under the protection of laws that allow Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities to adhere to religious edicts in matters such as marriage, divorce and property inheritance.

rs/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)