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Long pending injustice to Muslim Women! Supreme Court Hearing in India to Decide Validity of Muslim Divorce Practice “Triple Talaq”

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Muslim women in India are vulnerable and insecure due to the community's practice that lets Muslim men divorce their wives by saying the word "talaq (divorce) " according to women rights campaigners. (Photo: A. Pasricha/VOA)

New Delhi, May 10, 2017: Muslim women’s rights groups in India are hoping a supreme court hearing to decide the legality of Islamic family laws that allow Muslim men to divorce their wives by saying the word “talaq,” or divorce, three times will correct what they call a “long pending injustice” to Muslim women.

A charged debate has taken place ahead of the hearing scheduled to begin Thursday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has supported calls to end what has come to be known as instant divorce, but conservative Muslim clerics staunchly oppose overturning the practice, calling it a political ploy by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to take away Muslim identity.

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It was the lawsuit of 35-year-old Shayara Khan, a quiet, middle class woman living far away from the spotlight in the town of Kashipur in Uttarakhand state, that brought the controversial practice before the top court.The three brief words, “talaq, talaq, talaq” that came in a letter from her husband abruptly ending her marriage have been heard by thousands of Muslim women before her. In India, where each religion has separate laws that govern marriage, succession, adoption and maintenance, the practice that allows a Muslim man to unilaterally end a marriage in a matter of seconds is sanctioned under the community’s law.

The Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi: The All India Muslim Personal law Board says that clerics educate Muslim men during Friday prayer sermons about using “triple talaq (husband saying t o wife: ‘you are divorced’ thrice)” only as a last resort if life with her becomes impossible but maintains that the controversial practice cannot be overturned. Under the Muslim divorce law, women have many rights given to her by Islam. (Photo: A. Pasricha/VOA)

But Khan’s quest for justice in a life-changing decision that gave no room for her voice to be heard, takes a different track – she is challenging the practice of “triple talaq” as violating the Indian constitution that protects gender equality.

Shayara’s petition highlights how the arbitrary practice leaves them vulnerable and insecure. “Muslim women have their hands tied while the guillotine of divorce dangles, perpetually ready to drop at the whims of their husbands who enjoy undisputed power,” it said, pointing out that women have been divorced through Skype and text messages. Several other petitions have now been joined with hers.

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The court will also hear pleas challenging the validity of polygamy and another practice concerning marriage reconciliation.

As the court begins to deliberate on these controversial customs, women activists exude confidence. Zakia Soman of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (Indian Muslim Women’s Movement) is “100 per cent optimistic” that the judgment will correct a “long pending injustice” to Muslim women in India. “We want a Muslim personal law that enables equality in marriage and family matters,” she said.

However, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which is at the forefront of the counter campaign to retain “triple talaq,” is arguing that the practice cannot be banned as it is allowed under Sharia laws. He said the body is educating Muslim men during sermons at Friday prayers that it should only be used as a last resort when all attempts at reconciliation have failed.

Kamal Farooqui, a board member, is emphatic that the religious laws of Islam cannot be rewritten in the name of social reform.

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“The whole jurisprudence is a God-gifted one, it is not a man-made constitution and these laws are the laws of divine which cannot be changed,” he told VOA. He questioned the courts standing in the matter. “Those honorable judges who do not know anything about Islam, who do not know the background of Quran, how can they interpret it?”

Women’s groups refute these arguments saying that what is practiced in India is a patriarchal system and a misinterpretation of Islamic law.

They point out that countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan do not allow the pronouncement of triple talaq in one go.

Hasina Khan of Bebaak Collective, another women’s organization, laments that Muslim religious leaders in India have failed to be responsive to women’s concerns. Saying that Muslim personal law is problematic in terms of divorce, property rights and inheritance, she said women have knocked at the door of Muslim bodies several times. But “they have not listened, not given priority for the Muslim women’s struggles, that is why we had to come to the court,” she said.

The Supreme Court begins a landmark hearing on Thursday to decide the legality of the Muslim divorce practice known as “triple talaq” which is allowed by Muslim family law in India. (Photo: A. Pasricha/VOA)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has told the court that the practice denies Muslim women “the full enjoyment of fundamental rights under the constitution,” and cannot be regarded as an essential practice in Islam.

Modi himself has supported the cause of ending triple talaq from public platforms on several occasions. In his latest reference to it, he expressed confidence that reformers from within the community will come forward to change the status quo. “I appeal to the Muslim community to not politicize the issue.”

However conservative Muslim bodies remain deeply suspicious of the BJP’s support for ending triple talaq. “It is nothing but a political propaganda against Islam,” said Farooqui.

Underlying their suspicion is the fear that the issue is being used by the Hindu nationalist BJP with an eye to bring in a common family law for all citizens, irrespective of religion. The issue has been long debated in India, but always consigned to the back burner by political parties. (VOA)

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Ban ‘Triple Talaq’: India Criminalizes Centuries-Old Practice of Sudden Divorce Among Muslims

The bill sets a fine and a jail sentence of up to three years for men convicted of using the practice

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FILE - Indian Muslims protest against the government approving an ordinance to implement a top court ruling striking down a Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce in Mumbai, India, Sept. 19, 2018. VOA

India’s parliament has passed a measure to criminalize the centuries-old practice of instant divorce among Muslims and punish men with jail terms if they defy a ban on what is known as “triple talaq.”

The government said a law was necessary because there have been instances of Muslim men continuing to terminate marriages by repeating the Arabic word “talaq” three times, although the practice was outlawed by India’s Supreme Court in 2017.

The bill sets a fine and a jail sentence of up to three years for men convicted of using the practice. It will become law as soon as the president signs it. In a tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “an archaic and medieval practice has finally been confined to the dustbins of history,” and it “corrects a historical wrong done to Muslim women.”

The measure, called the Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill, was passed in the upper house of parliament amid protests from the main opposition Congress party,  which opposed setting a prison term for offenders and wanted further scrutiny of the bill.

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Indian Muslims stand outside Parliament House in New Delhi, India, Friday, July 26, 2019. VOA

Critics of the law say it is a harsh measure that’s open to misuse and is being used by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to target Muslims. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the bill, saying it was necessary to protect the dignity and honor of Muslim women and ensure gender justice.

The bill’s passage is seen as a major victory for Modi’s government, which failed to pass it during Modi’s first term in office. The bill had been passed by the lower house last week, but all eyes were on Tuesday’s vote because the government does not have a majority in the Upper House. It passed 99 to 84.

The practice of “triple talaq” has long been banned in several Muslim countries like Egypt, Bangladesh and Pakistan but continued in India.

Zakia Soman, a cofounder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) organization, which was at the forefront of the legal battle to scrap “triple talaq,” welcomed passage of the bill. “It will not change our lives overnight, but it would give strength to the movement for justice for Muslim women,” according to Soman. She said “it was a moment to rejoice.”

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If we don’t cry now, Triple Talaq, and such other vices, might go digital, and burn millions of households. VOA

Women rights activists had cited many cases where men had divorced women via letter, telephone and, increasingly, by text message, WhatsApp and Skype by uttering or writing the three words. They said what was practiced in India was a misinterpretation of Islamic law.

Conservative Muslim clerics, however, had staunchly opposed efforts to scrap “triple talaq,” calling it a religious issue that should not be interfered with. Although India’s constitution guarantees equality, it allows matters such as marriage, divorce and alimony to be governed by religious laws.

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Tahir Mahmood, an expert on Islamic law, said he hoped the law would act as a deterrent on Muslim men divorcing wives in an arbitrary manner. He said the practice should not have been made a criminal offense, but he pointed out that religious leaders of the community had failed to do anything to curb the practice.

Some scholars of Sharia law call “triple talaq” a travesty of divorce as envisaged in the Quran. They say the word has to be pronounced over three months and accompanied by efforts at reconciliation. (VOA)