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India's Supreme Court Blocks Muslim Instant Divorce Law


Until today, Muslim men in India could instantly end a marriage just by uttering, I divorce you, three times. India's Supreme Court has struck down the practice. From New Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports on the landmark decision.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The case split India's Muslim community and the decision split the Supreme Court. The 3 to 2 vote heralds the end of so-called triple talaq, or three utterances of the Arabic word meaning divorce. For many women, it was a case of flagrant discrimination. For many Muslim men, it was a tradition as old as Islam. But in the words of Justice Kurian Joseph, who joined the majority, it posed a simple question. Does triple talaq have any legal sanctity?

Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde says the answer was a resounding no.

SANJAY HEGDE: Court basically said that triple talaq does not stand constitutional scrutiny because it was entirely arbitrary. It ran against the constitutional guarantee of equality.

MCCARTHY: Reports surfaced during the case of men divorcing their wives via text messages. Defenders of triple talaq, largely the self-appointed Muslim Personal Law Board, which governs the community, agreed that it was not a favored form of divorce in Islam. One just as reasoned that this instant form of ending a marriage foreclosed something that Islam promotes, a chance of reconciliation between a man and wife. On those grounds, he declared the triple talaq is against the holy Quran and failed a key legal test.

It was not essential to the Muslim faith. Sanjay Hegde said the ruling could have far-reaching impact.

HEGDE: A door has been opened for courts to reign supreme over personal religious practices and especially personal religious practices which are seen as contrary to constitutional morality.

MCCARTHY: The Muslim women who pleaded before the court, victims of instant divorce, had faced down formidable pressures from within their own community to be silent. And the fact that right-wing Hindu activists supported their cause only made their isolation deeper. Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy says theirs was no small victory.

KARUNA NUNDY: To be able to approach the court themselves, to seek rights that are due to them, to not be bound by the patriarchs of their community and be given justice, I think is very important.

MCCARTHY: Finally, I feel free, said Shayara Bano, one of the women who had brought the case. I have the order that will liberate many Muslim women. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.

(SOUNDBITE OF RJD2'S "SUITE 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.