India bans instant divorce by Muslim men

Muslim women participate in a protest against the draft law for banning "triple talaq," a Muslim practice of instant divorce, that was approved last year by India's lower house, in New Delhi, on April 4, 2018. Several opposition parties had criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government for not discussing the legislation with them before introducing it in Parliament. The bill now needs the approval of the upper house of Parliament before it becomes law. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s government approved an ordinance to implement a top court ruling striking down the Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce.

The government decision came after it failed to get approval from Parliament a year after the court ruled that the practice of allowing men to divorce by simply uttering the Arabic word for divorce — “talaq” — three times violated the constitutional rights of Muslim women.

Most of the 170 million Muslims in India are Sunnis governed by the Muslim Personal Law for family matters and disputes. The laws include allowing the practice, known as “triple talaq,” whereby men can divorce by simply saying the word three times — and not necessarily consecutively, but at any time, and by any medium, including telephone, text message or social media post.

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.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that nearly 22 countries, including neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the practice and appealed to the opposition to approve the Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill.

“The issue of triple talaq has continued unabated,” Prasad told a news conference, adding that the government had recorded 201 such divorces since the Supreme Court struck down the law last year. “In a secular country like India, gender justice was given the complete go-by.”

India’s Muslim Law Board had told the court that while it considered the practice wrong, the board opposed any court intervention and asked that the matter be left to the community. But several progressive Muslim activists decried the law board’s position.

After the Supreme Court verdict, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government introduced a bill criminalizing the practice and it was approved in December by the lower house of Parliament, where his party commands a majority. But it couldn’t get the approval of the upper house, where the opposition controls a majority of seats.

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.

On Wednesday (Sept. 19), Congress party spokesman Randeep Surjewala said the government should provide a provision for Muslim women to receive some of their husband’s property after divorce.

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

Muslims make up 13 percent of India’s population of 1.3 billion, which is 81 percent Hindu, the latest census data shows.

The government’s move Wednesday comes months ahead of general elections next year. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been criticized for polarizing Indian voters along religious lines.

Mob attacks of Muslims by Hindus have been on the rise in India since the Bharatiya Janata Party took power in 2014.

(Ashok Sharma writes for The Associated Press. Emily Schmall in New Delhi contributed to this report.)

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  • More nations are repudiating the rule of clerics and myth. That’s nothing but good for man as a species and individually.

  • Where are the defenders of Religious Freedom (TM)? If muslim men want instant divorces for religious reasons, they ought to be able to have it, and not have some dam’ hindoo gummint step in and stop therm.

  • Stories like this SHOULD serve to reinforce our understanding that religions are never (never) to be entrusted with defining or administering civic affairs or legal matters. The evidence is overwhelming that all you ever get from this are fools and evil men standing in the way of human rights.

    We need to generalize about all of this. Islam has some really nutty ideas. But Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity do too. Secular people should be making all the laws everywhere—–period. No exceptions.

  • “In India, triple talaq has continued with the protection of laws that allow Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities to follow religious laws in matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption.”

    I have wondered how well this was working – this effort by the government of India to support/defend/allow religious community leaders to also be (what I think folks from the West would consider) the local government. Mostly, I hoped India will show the rest of the world how to do that. Is there a solution to secularization? How far can the freedom of a religious group go and can differing religious groups co-exist?

    But it has some glaring problems when looking at issues such as women’s rights, justice for women in cases of rape, the treatment of people differently according to caste. And real problems of one religion imposing a religious viewpoint – such as not allowing anyone to eat the meat of a cow – this has caused Hindu’s (for whom the cow is sacred) to lynch people of other faiths for eating or killing a cow. Can we be religious and co-exist with those who don’t believe the same?

  • “Is there a solution to secularism?”

    What problem do you see with secularism? Secularism doesn’t fit India very well, but I assume that you are writing from the US, or some other Western country, where secularism might be a good fit.

  • ATF45 was not really describing secularism accurately.

    Secularism fits any country which is a democracy. Deferring to religious beliefs and allowing them to be enforced on others under color of law is not inherently workable in a free society.

  • I think I am reacting to a change from a society that was basically cohesive in a religious outlook to one that is very much less cohesive. Of course, since I am Christian, I was part of the majority and “fit” into the general Christian atmosphere. Religion played a larger part in defining our sense of community than it does now.

    I am not sure where we are going without that sense of a faith that we shared. I think faith helps make us kinder, gentler, more compassionate. I thought maybe India, with a mix of different religious groups, could find a way to form a cohesive multi-religious society. But, they are having problems, too. I wonder now if India won’t have to go toward greater secularism.

  • Faith makes some people kinder, gentler, and more compassionate. For others, it is their weapon of choice.