Triple Talaq, the Muslim marriage model which is a fundamental part of the Sharia law, could soon become a legitimate way for Indian couples to divorce.
India’s Supreme Court has formally opened hearings into a clutch of petitions challenging the controversial practice of instant divorce in Islam. The court said it would examine whether the practice known as “triple talaq” is fundamental to the religion. India is one of a handful of countries in the world where a Muslim man can divorce his wife in minutes by saying the word talaq (divorce) three times.
But activists say the practice is “discriminatory”. Many Muslim groups have opposed the court’s intervention in their religious matters, although the move has the backing of the current Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The sensitive issue is being heard by a multi-faith bench made up of five judges – a Hindu, a Sikh, a Christian, a Zoarastrian and one Muslim. The bench has combined several petitions from Muslim women and rights groups into one to examine the issue.
Muslims are India’s largest minority community with a population of 155 million and their marriages and divorces are governed by the Muslim personal law, ostensibly based on Sharia, or Islamic law.
Shayara Bano, one of the petitioners challenging the controversial triple talaq, spoke to the BBC last year. The 35-year-old mother of two was visiting her parents’ home in the northern state of Uttarakhand for medical treatment in October 2015 when she received a letter from her husband telling her that he was divorcing her.
Her attempts to reach her husband of 15 years, who lives in the city of Allahabad, have been unsuccessful. “He’s switched off his phone, I have no way of getting in touch with him,” she told the BBC over phone from her home in the northern state of Uttarakhand. “I’m worried sick about my children, their lives are getting ruined.” In February last year, she filed a petition in the Supreme Court, demanding a ban on triple talaq which, she says, allows Muslim men to treat their wives like “chattels”.
Muslims are governed by the personal law that came into force in 1937. The NDA government has long argued that practices such as triple talaq violate fundamental rights of women. Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also asked the community not to look at the practice that discriminated against women from a political prism, but gender discrimination.
The Muslim personal law board, however, contends that Muslim practices such as polygamy and triple talaq were matters of “legislative policy” that could not be interfered with by the judiciary.