In Victory for Women’s Rights, India’s Supreme Court Bans Islamic Insta-Divorces

In India, where Muslim women are often married at a young age and become wholly dependent on their husbands, it was frightening to learn how simple it was for their husbands to get a divorce:

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All that’s required for a Muslim man in India to end a marriage is to declare, talaq, which means divorce in Arabic. Pronounced three times, it’s irrevocable. Many Islamic countries have banned the practice.

Say the magic word and the bond is broken. What’s worse is that women rarely got the financial support they needed following a divorce. Only 5 percent of women divorced through this method received any form of child support.

And in case you were wondering, this only worked in one direction. It’s not like women could say talaq three times and end the marriage, even if they were physically or emotionally abused at home. To end a marriage, they had to consult a cleric first, and who knew if anything would come of that.

It was just another example of religion making an already difficult issue even worse.

That’s why a number of organizations were pressing India’s Supreme Court to abolish the practice. They said it was unfair to women and not even based on anything the Qur’an said, meaning this wasn’t a “religious freedom” issue.

“The original version of the Quran … insists on gender equality. And that is precisely what is missing in India,” [Islamic law expert Tahir Mahmood] says. He says many of the country’s politicians are careful not to offend powerful clerics within India’s sizable Muslim community. Such politicians are interested “in votes” not “in social change,” Mahmood says. “The only hope is the judiciary.”

Some of the women who have petitioned the courts to abolish instant divorce say aligning it with the Quran would end the exploitation. Others, like thrice-deserted Seema Parveen, would like divorce placed before the civil courts, removed from religion altogether.

That pressure appears to have had an effect. By a 3-2 vote today, India’s Supreme Court declared Islamic insta-divorces unconstitutional.

Three of the five Supreme Court judges called the controversial practice “un-Islamic, arbitrary and unconstitutional”. One of the judges, Justice Kurien Joseph, said the practice was not an essential part of Islam and enjoyed no protection.

The judges also said it was “manifestly arbitrary” to allow a man to “break down (a) marriage whimsically and capriciously”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among those celebrating the ruling:


Divorces must now go through the (secular) court system, which currently entitles a woman to up to a third of her husband’s salary for alimony and child support if they split up.

The critics of the ruling are upset that the government has issued a ruling concerning religious law — how dare they?! — but the “Triple Talaq” had consequences in the real world, not just a religious bubble, so it was fair game for the Supreme Court.

And after today, women will have a little more power in a country where sexism often runs rampant.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Saee for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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