Muslim women in India seek to change discriminatory divorce law


In India, a civil law allows Muslim husbands to divorce their wives by stating “talaq” – the Arabic word for divorce – three times. Doing so results in an instant divorce, but the questionable practice is now being challenged. The chief justice of India (CJI) is poised to rule on whether the law violates equality under the Indian Constitution.

The instant divorce is practiced according to one interpretation of Islamic law. The word can be spoken in person or over the phone, and can even be delivered by written letter or text message. However, the convenient end to a marriage is only available only to men.

Five Muslim women have filed complaints with the Indian Supreme Court, saying that being divorced so abruptly violates their right to equality and that the practice is misused.

The CJI will decide on a petition filed by the women and other activists who want the law to end. In a letter signed by members of the India Muslim Women’s Movement, the petitioners tell CJI Jagdish Singh Khehar:

“Triple talaq happens despite there being no Quranic sanction for it. Absence of any legal protection leaves Muslim women vulnerable to this practice of arbitrary and unjust divorce. She is rendered homeless and destitute in an instant. She is left without any support for herself and her children.”

In most Muslim countries, triple talaq is banned. It is still legal in India because their constitution allows most religions to decide on its personal law, such as in marriage, divorce and inheritance, according to its values.

A non-governmental body, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board oversees the application of Muslim personal law in the country. The board opposes any ban on triple talaq, saying it’s a religious matter.

The India Muslim Women’s Movement is confidant of a victory, however. In their letter to the CJI, they wrote:

“Muslim women have fought against tremendous hardships and threats on their way to the court. We are confident that the Supreme Court will give a ruling upholding the Constitution and equal rights for women.”

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