India outlaws controversial practice of instant Muslim divorce

The controversial practice allowing Muslim men to instantly divorce their wives without explanation has been made illegal in India.

The BJP-dominated Indian Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, with 303 for and 82 against.

The ruling will make ‘triple talaq’ – in which a husband can annul a marriage by saying the Arabic for divorce three times – punishable by three years imprisonment.

Triple talaq has already been banned in Saudi Arabia and in India’s Muslim-majority neighbours of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

However, its use had persisted in India due to ambiguity around marriage laws.

Muslim couples are not required to register their marriages with civil authorities and instead are allowed to enter into unions and also divorce according to separate Islamic custom. 

The government said it was aware of over 570 cases since August 2017. No explanation needed to be offered and if a woman wanted to re-marry she also had to give up custody of her existing children.

Activists had long campaigned against the practice, arguing that the sudden divorce left Muslim women vulnerable. Brides faced being kicked out of homes they shared with their husbands and onto the streets.

There were also cases of Muslim men in India divorcing their wives via email, text message and WhatsApp. In August 2017, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the practice was ‘unconstitutional’.

This came several months after over one million Indian Muslims – mostly women – signed a petition to end the practice. 

Parliament was dissolved for the May 2019 General Elections before a bill tabled by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to outlaw the practice could be addressed.

Mr Modi vowed to re-introduce the bill if re-elected and has said its successful passing should be interpreted as a major victory for women’s rights.

“Parliament abolishes Triple Talaq and corrects a historical wrong done to Muslim women,” Mr Modi tweeted. “This is a victory of gender justice and will further equality in society.”  

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