This morning, a five member Supreme Court bench delivered the verdict on the Muslim practice of Triple Talaq and decreed it unconstitutional. Triple Talaq is a practice followed by some Muslim communities in the country as a form of divorce wherein a man can end his marriage by merely pronouncing the word Talaq thrice. The controversy surrounding the issue arises from the fact that the divorced woman is not provided any legal safeguards against such a divorce or any injustice arising from it. The man pronouncing the divorce may deliver it through a letter, an email, a text message or even through a video recording. No valid reason needs to be provided either.
The SC bench deliberating the issue comprised Chief Justice JS Khehar, Justices Abdul Nazeer, Kurian Joseph, RF Nariman, and UU Lalit. Justices Nirma and Lalit had set aside the practice declaring it unconstitutional, Justice Joseph said it opposed the teachings of the Quran and the other two members of the bench, however, had backed the practice of Triple Talaq. By 3:2 majority, the bench struck down the practice and ordered the government to come up with a legislation that could deal with Islamic divorce. The verdict of the SC applies only to instant Triple Talaq, referred to as Talaq-e-Biddat.
Triple Talaq Case – The Journey
The Triple Talaq has remained a valid practice followed largely by the Muslim community of India for over 1000 years. In 2015, for the first time the case came under a legal scanner when the apex court asked the Chief Justice of India (CJI) to set up a bench to examine the discrimination faced by Muslim women in case of a divorce. The following year Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi was asked to assist in examining the legal validity of Triple Talaq, Nikah Halala and polygamy. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) was also involved.
In 2016, 35-year-old Sayara Bano became the first woman to challenge the Triple Talaq in a court of law. Her plea was tagged along with four others – Aafreen Rehmanm Atiya Sabri, Ishrat Jahan, and Gulshan Parveen. The SC decreed that the practice must be tested on the “touchstone of constitutional framework”. The central government opposed the practice in the SC. By November 2016, the Allahabad High Court said that the constitutional rights guaranteed to the citizens of India were sacrosanct and could not be overridden by personal laws, implying that the Triple Talaq is unconstitutional.
In February 2017, the Supreme Court of India constituted a 5 member bench to hear petitions. The practice became the subject of many political and religious debates eliciting strong responses both in favour and against it. The AIMPLB warned practicing Muslims against indulging in the practice without strong reasons (endorsed by the Sharia or Islamic law).
The SC bench started hearing the Triple Talaq case (excluding practices such as polygamy) on 11 May, 2017. Despite calling the Triple Talaq as one of the worst ways to dissolve a marriage, the bench proceeded to examine if it could stand the test of constitutional validity. Between 15 May and 18 May many arguments and counter arguments were posed. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said that the centre would bring in a new law to deal with Muslim marriages and divorce. The AIMPLB said that the age old practice involved faith and was not a subject of constitutional morality. On 18 May the SC reserved its verdict on all the petitions regarding Triple Talaq. Today, after much deliberation, the apex court has finally delivered its verdict.
Reactions To The SC Verdict
Despite the SC verdict, the Triple Talaq case is far from being resolved. The central legislature now has 6 months to draft and pass a new bill that deals with Muslim marriages and divorce. There are a number of unanswered questions, though. What happens to a person who gives a Triple Talaq in these six months? How will the legislature draft a law that will be acceptable to the Muslim community in general? What if it misses the deadline? The verdict only involved Instant Triple Talaq. What about other forms? The months to come shall bring clarity. Meanwhile, Muslim women across the country consider this a victory and a historic milestone. While a handful of Islamic organizations have welcomed the verdict the AIMPLB, which is an umbrella organization of various Muslim bodies, has withheld its reaction and said that its board will study the verdict and decide on future action.