In the News: Triple Ṭalāq Criminalized in India

About three months ago, the Indian government formally criminalized “triple ṭalāq” divorce—an instant and irrevocable divorce under some versions of Islamic law where a husband can unilaterally divorce his wife by saying the word ṭalāq (divorce) three times.

The Supreme Court of India had ruled last August that the practice of “triple ṭalāq” was unconstitutional. Although triple ṭalāq is banned in almost two dozen Muslim-majority countries, triple ṭalāq was allowed in India because India allows different religious communities to be governed by their own personal status laws.

After the Court’s ruling, SHARIAsource South Asia Editor Zubair Abbasi highlighted on the SHARIAsource Portal some ways that the Indian Parliament could reform the law that would be consistent with Islamic precepts and would protect the rights of Muslim women, using examples of divorce laws in Muslim-majority countries. This includes dividing matrimonial property in a way that takes into account the wife’s contributions in performing household chores and taking care of the children (as in Iran and Malaysia), or extending the right to a no-fault divorce to the wife (as in Pakistan,* Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Libya, and the UAE).

Yet, Abbasi accurately predicted the difficulty of Parliament passing legal reforms within the time frame suggested by the Supreme Court (six months):

This is because this issue is related to the unresolved political controversy regarding the role of Muslim Personal Law in the Indian legal system, and the question of who has the authority to speak for, interpret, and reform Muslim Personal Law.

While the lower house of Parliament approved new legislation criminalizing triple ṭalāq at the end of last year, the bill failed to pass in the upper house.

In September 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet exercised its power to issue temporary ordinances in cases where bills are stuck in Parliament: this new ordinance makes triple ṭalāq a criminal offense punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Parliament must now decide whether to make this temporary ordinance permanent.

When asked why he did not vote for the original bill, the spokesman for one of the two main political parties in India responded that it ignored the problem of what financial support or share of property the women would receive after their husbands were jailed, and accused the executive branch of treating the issue “more as a political football than a matter of justice to Muslim women.”

*An earlier piece by Abbasi, also published on the SHARIAsource Portal, compared Islamic divorce law reform in India and Pakistan. It described how judges in both countries tried to ensure gender equality: While Indian judges restricted the husband’s right to divorce unilaterally, Pakistani judges expanded the right of the wife to be able to get a no-fault divorce.