Today, India’s Supreme Court took the first steps to outlaw a practice called "triple talaq." Before now, Indian men could declare instant divorce by repeating the word talaq—the Arabic term for divorce—three times. A group of five judges declared the practice unconstitutional and blocked it for the next six months. Parliament will discuss the creation of a law that would institute a permanent ban, and the decision has been supported by India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi.
While triple talaq might just seem like a fast-track to divorce, it’s actually quite sexist: While men can utter a single word three times to split from their wives, women still have to receive consent from their husbands in order to pursue divorce. Not only does this call into question gender equality in households across India, it has led to great hardship for women whose husbands have engaged in the practice without hesitation.
Zeenat Ali Siddiqui, who showed up to the court for today’s verdict, experienced this firsthand in 2015 when her husband used triple talaq to divorce her and leave behind their two children.
“Narendra Modi has ended the practice of men throwing their women out from trivial reasons like making the lentils too sour,” she said to news cameras after the verdict. “When this happens to women, they are looked at with an evil eye. I know how it feels because it has happened to me.”
While some scholars consider triple talaq to be part of Islamic law, many Muslim countries have outlawed the practice. In India, instant divorce has been a source of contention for years; with 172 million Muslims living there (14 percent of the population), India has one of the top 10 largest concentrations of Muslims worldwide.
Unsurprisingly, there are groups that disagree with the court’s decision to block triple talaq. “We don't see this as a favorable verdict,” said Kamal Faruqui of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a non-government organization that seeks to protect Muslim laws. “Triple talaq is a part of our religion and of sharia,” or Islamic law.
Groups like Faruqui’s see a ban on triple talaq as a threat to Indian Muslims’ right to practice Islam. But, as India's Supreme Court Justice Kurian Joseph argued, “Triple talaq is against the basis of sharia. What is said to be bad in the Holy Koran cannot be good in sharia.”
Regardless of the scholarly disagreements on triple talaq’s place in Islamic law, the women’s rights advocates who fought for this verdict are happy to see a sexist practice on its way out.
“It is not a victory that has been achieved after one or two years,” said Hasina Khan, of Bebaak Collective, one of the organizations standing against triple talaq. “Muslim women have been coming to courts and filing petitions and laying the groundwork for this for years.”
The issue still has to be debated in parliament before a law can be instituted, but at least for the next six months, Indian women won’t have to worry that a single word (even if repeated) stands between marriage and divorce.