India’s top court today banned a controversial Islamic practice that allows men to divorce their wives instantly, saying it was unconstitutional.
Victims of the practice known as “triple talaq”, whereby Muslim men can divorce their wives by reciting the word talaq (divorce) three times, had approached the Supreme Court to ask for a ban.
Triple talaq “is not integral to religious practice and violates constitutional morality,” a panel of Supreme Court judges said.
In a 3-2 majority verdict India’s Supreme Court also stayed the practice.
The five judges were from India’s major faiths — Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.
In their ruling they said it was “manifestly arbitrary” to allow a man to “break down (a) marriage whimsically and capriciously”.
“What is sinful under religion cannot be valid under law,” they said.
The practice had been challenged in lower courts but it was the first time India’s Supreme Court had considered whether triple talaq was legal.
The landmark court decision came after it considered petitions challenging the so-called “triple talaq” custom.
The cases were filed by five Muslim women who had been divorced this way and two rights groups.
Three of the judges called the controversial practice “unIslamic, arbitrary and unconstitutional”. The court has also asked parliament to legislate on the issue.
“Muslim women in India have suffered for the last 70 years. It’s a historic day for us, but it doesn’t end here. I cannot tell you how much Indian women have supported us, despite their religions,” Zakia Soman, a women’s rights activist, from Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, one of the organisations who contested the practice, told reporters.
India allows religious institutions to govern matters of marriage, divorce and property inheritance in the multi-faith nation, enshrining triple talaq as a legal avenue for its 180 million Muslims to end unions.
But the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had backed the petitioners in this landmark case, declaring triple talaq unconstitutional and discriminatory against women.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has long pushed for a uniform civil code, governing Indians of all religions, to be enforced.
But the issue remains highly sensitive in India, where religious tensions often lead to violence.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a grouping of Islamic organisations, had opposed any efforts to ban triple talaq.
Some Islamic scholars say there is no mention of triple talaq in the Koran, which instead details a different process for divorce based on mediation.