A Win For Gender Equality, Indian Supreme Court Rules Triple Talaq Law “Unconstitutional”

The Supreme Court in India just delivered a major ruling that is said to be a major win for gender equality, especially for Muslim women. The ruling concerns the triple talaq law, or “instant divorce” where a Muslim man can divorce his wife simply by uttering the word “talaq” three times, and they can even do this via text message.

According to an article about triple talaq on Al Jazeera, this practice is prevalent among those in the Islamic community who specifically observe the Hanafi Islamic school of law. It is noted that this is not a universal Muslim practice, and has been heavily opposed by many women in the community.

Muslim women can also seek a divorce according to Islamic law, but they must go through an entirely different process. There has been increased uproar over the misuse of triple talaq, especially when it is being done via text message, as it can affect the socio-economic standing of women in the community and her ability to inherit property etc.

Women who have become victims of this practice are speaking out about the injustice. Their cases have become somewhat high profile in the lead up to the Supreme Court ruling. While the government tends to stay out of religious areas, as issues of divorce, marriage, and inheritance come under the purview of the Muslim Personal Laws. India has a provision for personal laws for all religious communities, however.

Now a majority ruling, 3-2 to be exact, have decided that triple talaq is unconstitutional and will require Parliament to create a law that will protect the rights of Muslim women, who are a minority in India. Muslims make up 14% of India’s 1.3 billion population.

As the Hindustan Times reports, since 1986, Parliament implemented a Muslim Women’s Act which overturned an earlier Supreme Court ruling which granted maintenance to Shah Bano, a 62-year-old Muslim mother of five who had been divorced by her husband. Parliament limited the maintenance period to only three months, after which they would be at the mercy and charity of religious “Waqf” boards or friends and family.

While the Indian Parliament hasn’t been the best at protecting the rights of women through legislation, the Supreme Court has. In another case where a man appealed against having to pay a monthly maintenance fee, the Court ruled that the Muslim Women Act had to be read in conjunction with the Constitution that guarantees dignity and equality to women.

There have been other significant rulings to show the Supreme Court is seen as a stalwart for the rights of minority women in India, especially in religious communities.

“When a two-judge bench in 2015 observed that polygamy was not ‘an integral part of religion’, or gave Muslim women the right to adopt, or asked the government to make amendments to an arbitrary rule under which Christian couples seeking a divorce had to be separated for two years, instead of the one by couples from other religions, it was in effect coming to the aid of the rights of women,” writes Namita Bhandare for the Hindustan Times.

The Times of India highlighted 5 women in particular whose cases became instrumental in the Supreme Court ruling to strike down triple talaq as unconstitutional. Gulshan Parveen, 31, from Uttar Pradesh, was married in 2013 and has one child. She was subjected to domestic violence for dowry for over two years. She received talaqnama from her husband on a piece of paper when she was with her parents in 2015.

Aafreen Rehman, 26, from Rajasthan, was married in 2014 but after a few months her in-laws started mentally harassing her, demanding a dowry. Because of this, she went back to live with her parents. In May last year she received a letter via speed post announcing a divorce.

Ishrat Jahan, 31, from West Bengal, was divorced by her husband over the phone after 15 years of marriage, and 4 children. Shayara Bano, 35, from Uttarakhand was divorced after 15 years of marriage and 2 children. Her case was initially filed in court in February of 2016, and told the press how elated she was with the Supreme Court ruling.

“I welcome and support the judgment. This is a historic day for Muslim women,” she said.

She had a nervous breakdown and had to be treated for depression and other ailments after her two children were taken away by her husband. She also alleges that her in-laws forced her to get multiple abortions with the intent to kill her. When Shayara received the triple talaq via letter, she consulted with a local cleric who essentially said he could not help her. But now the Supreme Court has stepped in for her in a big way, and she is hopeful for what it will mean for Muslim women.

“Understand the condition of women in Muslim society, accept the judgment and bring a law on it as soon as possible,” she said.

These women deserve to have the full extent of the law on their side for the sake of their well being and that of their children. While there are many areas in religious as well as secular society in India that need drastic improvement in the way of gender equality, this majority ruling striking down triple talaq is at the very least a step in the right direction.


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