India Criminalizes Instant Divorce

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India has issued an executive order criminalizing the Muslim practice which allows Muslim men to instantly divorce their wives.

The practice, called triple talaq, allows men to divorce their wives instantly by repeating the word “talaq”, meaning divorce in Arabic, three times over the phone, in person, or even in writing or in a text message. This practice is not available to Muslim women. It’s important to note, many Muslim schools of thought do not practice triple talaq, and the practice is banned in many Muslim-dominant countries.

The practice of triple talaq can turn a wife’s life upside down. The husband can then oust his wife from the home with little/no financial support, leaving her with few options or resources. She often also bears the burden of looking after their children single-handedly. Only around 62% of Indian women are literate, and many lack work skills outside the home, so an instant divorce could be disastrous for her well-being. A 2015 survey of India’s Muslim community “found that 1 in every 11 women had their marriage end by talaq” and “of those divorced women, few than five percent ever gets any financial support”

Under the Indian Constitution, citizens are granted the right to “equality before the law”. However, until very recently, religion managed all issues regarding marriage and divorce.

In 2017, India’s Supreme Court outlawed triple talaq, but since last year’s ruling, the government recorded 201 triple talaq cases. Because the practice was continuing even after the Supreme Court ruling, it was petitioned for triple talaq to become a criminalized offence.

On September 18th, by a 3-2 vote, a Supreme Court panel declared the practice of triple talaq to be unlawful. Two who voted against said the practice was unconstitutional, and one said it went against Islamic Law. Now, Muslim women are able to come forward to police in a case of triple talaq. The practice of triple talaq is now punishable by arrest and jail time, although it is not yet clear on how much jail time a triple talaq punishment will receive.

While the ruling is welcomed by many, several Muslim groups feel as though the government is taking away their fundamental religious rights. Others argue this perpetuates Islamophobic rhetoric in the majority Hindu country.

Overall, this ruling is a step in the right direction for women’s rights, equality and the divorce process in India.

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