India’s top court: Instant divorce among Muslims unlawful

In this May 11, 2014, file photo, an Indian Muslim bride sits during a mass marriage where 35 couples got married in Mumbai, India. India's Supreme Court said Aug. 22, 2017, that the Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce their wives is unconstitutional and requested the government legislate an end to the practice. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade, File)

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday (Aug. 22) struck down the Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce their wives as unconstitutional.

The bench, comprising five senior judges of different faiths, deliberated for three months before issuing its order in response to petitions from seven Muslim women who had been divorced through the practice known as triple talaq.

Indian law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on NDTV that since the court deemed the practice unconstitutional there is no need for any further legislative action by the government.

The decision was widely lauded by women’s rights activists as a step toward granting Muslim women greater equality and justice.

“It’s a very happy day for us. It’s a historic day,” said Zakia Soman, the co-founder of the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement, which was part of the legal battle to end triple talaq.

“We, the Muslim women, are entitled to justice from the courts as well as the legislature,” she said.

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 matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption. 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.

Most of the 170 million Muslims in India are Sunnis governed by Muslim Personal Law for family matters and disputes. Those laws include allowing men to divorce their wives by simply uttering the Arabic word “talaq,” or divorce, three times — and not necessarily consecutively, but at any time, and by any medium, including telephone, text message or social media post.

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.

The government supports an end to the practice. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said in many public addresses that the practice oppresses Muslim women and needs to be ended.

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.

About the author

Muneeza Naqvi


Click here to post a comment

  • “Instant divorce” is standard in many other cultures. Why restrict it instead of opening it up to both genders??

  • The issue is seen from a different angle in India, namely, why hasn’t a liberal Muslim intelligentsia emerged.

    Law ideally is a product of intellectual discourse. And intellectual discourse means there should exist an intelligentsia. Ideally a liberal Muslim intelligentsia should have emerged, generated an intellectual discourse, and created a law concerning instant divorce long ago. That didn’t happen, so a panel of judges (most of whom are not Muslim) have come up with this judgment.

    There is dissatisfaction that social science curricula are failing to develop a liberal Muslim intelligentsia.

  • I’ve met a lot of liberals from the Indian subcontinent, mostly Muslim (not entirely) in the U.S. Most are highly intelligent. So, have they just left, figuring it would be too difficult to effect change at home?

  • Your question is broad in scope. Very likely I will talk beside the point. For what it is worth, here goes:

    The social sciences generally explore a small number of themes, and leave other themes out (i.e, there is no investment in exploring these other themes.)

    The the theme of the misunderstood Muslim is well-explored; the theme of the liberal Muslim who seeks to understand the pain of the non-Muslim is left out. The theme of a minority that is under siege from majoritarianism is well-explored; the theme of a minority that is too large to be deemed “microscopic” is left out.

    I speculate that your friends may feel that they are constrained to play one or two pre-determined or stereotypical roles. They might figure that it is too difficult to effect change at home.

    Now, let me broaden the scope of your question.

    First, American social sciences also explore a small number of themes. The theme of LGBTs and blacks is well-explored; the theme of lower middle class (or poor) whites is left out. Your friends are probably naturalized American citizens; as American citizens, they may want to reflect on the problems lower middle class (or poor) whites also. Your friends might be dissatisfied with the view that Trump is about whites hating non-whites. But American social sciences do not explore such a theme at all—the investment is not there.

    Second, in the Indian subcontinent there is an unspoken assumption that the Indian culture is stuck in the pre-scientific or pre-literate era; and the fastest way to progress is to emulate upper middle class Americans as much as possible. (This seems to be what is called “linear view of history” or “teleological view of history” or “developmental view of history”.)

    This unspoken assumption has led to a problem variously known as “colonial consciousness”, “deracination”, and so on. Namely, we react to our own culture, our own institutions, our own fellow countrymen in the same way as a Western visitor would. (I use the words “we” and “our” because all of us, Muslim or not, face this problem.) In a way, we become unfit even to formulate the problems of our native countries. If you like, you can read the first paragraph of