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Triple Talaq, a 1,400 year-old practice among Sunni Muslims, in which Muslim men could instantly divorce their wives, has been criminalized by India’s government. The practice allows Muslim men to divorce their wives by using the word “talaq,” meaning divorce in Arabic, three times in oral, written; or more recently, electronic form. The option is not available to Muslim women, who can seek a divorce only after getting permission from their husbands, a cleric or other religious authorities.
The New York Times reports:
The Supreme Court last year struck down a legal provision that had permitted the practice. A new ordinance approved on Wednesday by an executive body led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes a step further, making it a criminal offense and setting a fine and a jail sentence of up to three years for men convicted of using the practice.
The measure applies to all of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has a largely Muslim population. Nearly 22 predominantly Muslim countries have already banned triple talaq, including neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In March 2017, over one million Indian Muslims, a majority of whom were women, signed a petition to end instant Triple Talaq. The petitioners against instant Triple Talaq have given evidence showing how Instant Triple Talaq is simply an innovation that does not have much to do with Quranic beliefs. This is supported by the interpretation of Quranic text by many Islamic scholars, historical evidence and legal precedent. On 10 May 2017, senior cleric Maulana Syed Shahabuddin Salafi Firdausi denounced Triple Talaq and nikah halala, calling them un-Islamic practices and instruments to oppress women. The practice was also opposed by Hindu nationalists and Muslim liberals.
The bill called the Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill, passed the lower house of Parliament in December but the upper house of India’s Parliament failed to pass it. While India’s Constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion, issues involving marriage, divorce, alimony and inheritance are handled differently among religious populations.
As the New York Times reports, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the law minister and a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has heavily criticized the leading opposition party, Indian National Congress, for stalling the marriage bill. On Wednesday, he described passing of the executive ordinance to criminalize talaq as a matter of “overwhelming urgency.”
“I have said this before: The issue of triple talaq has nothing to do with faith, mode of worship or religion,” he said. “It is a pure issue of gender justice, gender dignity and gender equality.”
The government will have another six months to get Parliament’s approval for the ordinance to become law. But in the meantime, those who violate it can be prosecuted under the ordinance. The main opposition Congress party is opposing a three-year prison sentence for offenders and wants a parliamentary committee to discuss the issue to reach a consensus. It favors a lesser sentence.