As It Happens

Mumbai divorce lawyer cheers end of India's instant divorce law

In what's being called an historic day for Muslim women in India, courts have ruled the practice of allowing Muslim men to instantly divorce their wives unconstitutional.
Divorce lawyer and columnist Vandana Shah says the Indian supreme court's decision to strike down a Muslim divorce law 'ends the arbitrary, undemocratic use' of a practice that has violated human rights. (Vandana Shah )

Story transcript

In what's being called an historic day for Muslim women in India, the country's top court on Tuesday ruled the practice of triple talaq, which allowed Muslim men to instantly divorce their wives, unconstitutional.

The Indian supreme court's 3-2 decision places a six-month ban on the practice. The court said the government should frame new divorce legislation to replace the abolished practice.

"It ends the arbitrary, undemocratic use of using a methodology of divorce which, anyway, was against human rights," divorce lawyer Vandana Shah told As It Happens guest host Jim Brown.

Indian Muslim women participate in a rally to oppose the Uniform Civil Code that would outlaw the practice of triple talaq in Ahmedabad, on Nov. 4, 2016. (Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)

According to the law, Muslim men were able to legally and unilaterally dissolve a marriage simply by saying the word "talaq," which loosely translates into "divorce," three times — and not necessarily consecutively, but at any time, and by any medium, including telephone, text message or social media post.

Many Muslim countries have banned triple talaq, including neighbouring Pakistan and conservative Saudi Arabia. It survived in India because the officially secular country allows religious communities to apply their own laws in personal matters such as marriage, divorce and property inheritance.

Shah says she has clients who have been the victim of this.

In one case, she said a woman went to the gym in the morning, and by the time she returned home, she was divorced.

"When she came back, all her husband asked her asked was, 'Did you check your messages?' And she says, 'No.' And he says, 'I have sent you a text divorcing you,' Shah said. She told me, 'Ma'am, my first thought was maybe he's joking.'"

But it was no joke. In fact, her husband had already shipped the children off to her parents' home and told her he expected her to move out immediately.

"What goes through a woman's mind at that point of time is basically a lot of 'What do I do now?' and 'I'm totally helpless.'"

'Trampling women's rights'

Leading Islamic scholars say Muslim divorce law as set out in the Qur'an does not justify the use of triple talaq.

Divorce in India is still relatively uncommon. According to 2015 statistics, 13 out of 1,000 marriages in India end in divorce, compared to about 500 in 1,000 in the United States.

"It's kind of really barbaric how we could let it continue for that long, and for Christ's sakes, we are on our 70th year of independence, and you can't be trampling women's rights in this day and age," Shah said. 

With files from Reuters and the Associated Press.