Triple talaq: India's top court to rule on Islamic practice of instant divorce

Indian Muslim women participate in a rally to oppose the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) that would outlaw the practice of "triple talaq" in Ahmedabad in 2016.

Story highlights

  • The controversial Islamic practice of triple talaq allows men to divorce wives instantly
  • India's Supreme Court will decide Friday if the practice should be banned

New Delhi (CNN)India's Supreme Court decided Thursday to defer decision on the controversial Islamic divorce practice known as "triple talaq."

The practice, that stretches back over a thousand years, allows a husband to divorce his wife by simply saying the Arabic word for divorce, talaq, three times.
India's Supreme Court has convened a special summer session to hear the much-anticipated case -- alongside others of constitutional importance -- in May, when the court is normally in recess. It would otherwise take years to hear these cases, said the Chief Justice, according to local media.
A verdict could have come as early as Friday, but the Supreme Court announced Thursday it was reserving judgment in the contentious court case.
"In a case of this magnitude, they will take time to decide," said Balaji Srinivasan, one of the lawyers on the petition representing a woman who was divorced via triple talaq.
Zakia Soman, an activist and one of the petitioners on the case, said it had taken a lot of hard work to bring the issue to this level.
"That it has reached the highest body has created a lot of hope that we will get justice. In the past, this was not even possible," said Soman.
India has the world's second-largest Muslim population, but, unlike other countries with significant Muslim populations such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, has has yet to outlaw triple talaq.

No legal recourse

The controversy around talaq stems from how it is practiced.
Men give the command without warning, uprooting a woman's life.
Often it is said in a fit of anger. Sometimes, it's delivered through the cold medium of a Whatsapp message.
One of the women who has suffered from the practice is 30-year old Farha from Jaipur.
Farha's husband divorced her in October 2016, during a festival, when he became angry that their daughter had asked him for five rupees to purchase some fireworks.
Farha, far right, says her husband divorced her last year by saying Talaq three times.
Farha's husband works in the family business of selling diamonds, but she was left to fend for herself without any sort of allowance. "He hasn't given me a rupee since our divorce," she told CNN in January.
Without money, she couldn't leave the house of her ex-husband.
There was no easy way to pursue a case in court as the practice of talaq is not formally banned. Without legal recourse, Farha had to pursue other options.
She ended up approaching the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (Indian Muslim Women's Movement) for help.
With their support, Farha was able to bring her divorce case in front of other members of her community, and, through that pressure, she received alimony from her husband.

Decades-long fight

This triple talaq petition before the Supreme Court is not the first.
In 1985, a woman named Shah Bano fought a case in the Supreme Court against her husband after he left her without providing her money to live on her own.
Her husband was a well-established lawyer. She was already in her seventies at the time and was left with a minimal amount of money per month.
The court ruled in her favor, but the case set off a frenzied response from Muslim religious leaders who saw the judgment as a breach against their religious identity.
They were incensed that the government had applied a "uniform" law to an area they believe should be governed by religious law -- and they were worried it would further erase their rights as a religious minority.
Indian Muslims take part in a protest rally against the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code in Mumbai on October 20, 2016.
In India, each religious community has their own set of laws based on their religious texts which govern family matters. The idea is that Hindus are governed according to practices outlined in Hindu texts, Christians, the Bible and Muslims, the Quran.
In practice, however, "the family law system in India is a very big mess," said legal scholar Tahir Mahmood in an interview in February.
Since India's independence, various politicians have proposed an overarching law known as the Uniform Civil Code, which would make separate religious laws obsolete -- creating one system for every citizen.
India's current government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, favors such a law.
Opponents fear that a ban against triple talaq will start an erosion of their religious rights and lead to the passing of a Uniform Civil Code.
"It is our fundamental -- given in the constitution -- right to abide by our personal laws. You cannot snatch our right from us," said Mohammad Jafar, a life member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the legal organization opposing the petitions filed in the Supreme Court, in an interview with CNN in February.

Petitions and politics

In spite of the opinion of male Muslim leaders, momentum for a triple talaq ban has gradually increased over the years as Muslim women started to speak up.
It's made for seemingly contradictory alliances.
In March, a million women put their signatures behind a petition against triple talaq.
The petition was sponsored by the Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM), an Islamic organization affiliated with the right wing Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Recently, Modi himself has started speaking about the issue. At a rally in 2016, he said that India cannot allow the lives of Muslim women to be ruined by three words over the phone, and the issue has been linked to BJP's electoral success in a crucial local election in Uttar Pradesh.
But for the women fighting the case, at the end of the day, the fight is not political. It is about true equality.
"My creator cannot create me in a way that I am subservient to another human being. My creator cannot make me secondary to a man just because I'm a woman," said BMMA co-founder Noorjehan in January.
"That gave me strength to question patriarchal attitudes. I'm equal to anybody in this world."