India rules Islamic practice of instant divorce 'unconstitutional' in major victory for women's rights

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India’s top court has called on the government to ban the Islamic practice of instant divorce in a landmark ruling for women’s rights.

The country is one of a handful where a Muslim man can divorce his wife by saying the word talaq, which means divorce, three times.

India’s top judges ruled the act “un-Islamic” and “unconstitutional” by a 3-2 majority verdict on Monday.

The ruling came in response to legal cases launched by five women who had fallen victim to the custom which sparked petitions calling for it to be outlawed.

During the court hearing one of the judges Justice Kurien Joseph, said the practice was not an essential part of Islam.

The ruling means parliament will be pressured to discuss the introduction of new legislation on the issue. 

What is instant divorce?

The practice allows Muslim men in a handful of countries, including India, to divorce their wife by saying talaq (divorce) three times.


Men can issue the so-called triple talaq by letter, telephone and in more recent years, by text, Whatsapp and Skype.


The custom is not mentioned in the Koran or in Sharia law.


Activists say most Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned triple talaq.

More than 20 Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the custom. 

But in India, the practice has continued with the protection of laws that allow Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities to follow religious law in matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption. 

The current government supports an end to instant divorce and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said in many public addresses that the practice oppresses Muslim women and needs to be ended.

The court also heard that the custom is not mentioned in the Koran or in Sharia law. 

However, Chief Justice JS Khehar, claimed that personal law could not be touched by a constitutional court of law.

Zakia Soman, an activist from Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, one of the groups which contested the practice, told the BBC: “Muslim women in India have suffered for the last 70 years. It’s a historic day for us, but it doesn’t end here.”


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