A Victory for Women as Instant Divorce is Banned in India

“Talaq” is the Arabic word for divorce, which when expressed three times in a row by a Muslim husband to his wife in India is all that’s needed to constitute an instant, unilateral and legal divorce. Well, this has been the case until now. On Tuesday 22 August 2017, thanks to a continued two-year effort on behalf of the Muslim organization, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), and the testimonies of five “divorced” women, India’s Supreme Court banned the controversial practice of instant triple talaq on the grounds that it was found to be unconstitutional.

The numbers

According to a report published by the New York Times, while there are no official statistics on the number of women who receive a triple talaq from their husbands informing them of their divorce, one particular study tracked the activity of more than 4,700 married women in India. Data revealed that out of the 525 who had gone through a divorce, 404 had received a triple talaq.

As duly explained by divorce attorneys at Canterbury Law Group, “although marriages do not begin with the anticipation of divorce, it is increasingly common”. But the notion of divorce per se is not the contentious element at hand. Women in India have not been protesting their husbands’ desires or even reasons for wanting a divorce, but instead their right to be able to contest it, to have time to process it and for it to be discussed and meditated in a court of law. While India remains predominantly Hindu, its Muslim population represents one of the largest minority groups. Up until now, the triple talaq has legally enabled its 180 million Muslims to end unions.

Religious contention

And in fact, there is no mention of instant divorce in the Quran. Indeed, as the BMMA argued during the recent hearing, Islam considers marriage as a contract with procedures that must followed and respected. According to Islamic law, a woman can seek divorce through what is known as a “khula” and her husband can choose to end the marriage by pronouncing the word talaq three times. But at that point, arbitration must follow. It has been the misuse of the triple talaq, with too many husbands choosing to divorce their wives via text messages, emails and even social media, that has led the BMMA and India’s female Muslim community to call for justice.

Five women of action

Afreen Rehman, Shayara Bano, Ishrat Jahan, Atiya Sabri and Gulshan Parveen were the five women who testified at India’s Supreme Court hearing and who played a crucial role in the crack down on triple talaq misuse across the country, a practice that has long been banned in neighbouring countries, home to high numbers of Muslims, including Bangladesh. They have been subjected to violent abuse and other distressing situations. In some cases, their husbands have prevented them from being able to have contact with their children after issuing the triple talaq and they have had no legal way of enforcing their rights as mothers.

All five are fully aware that they will have to live with the stigma of divorce for the rest of their lives, but that keeping quiet would have only perpetuated the same kind of injustice for future female generations. Displaying great strength and courage, they decided that this was something they would no longer tolerate.

Thanks to Jane Sandwood

Ayyappa Giri

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