Muslim women in India, fighting a battle against patriarchy, are trying to criminalise the Islamic law of triple talaq, a verbal form of divorce. Spearheaded by a Muslim women's rights advocacy group, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), the Supreme Court is presently examining the validity of this clause. However, BMMA's efforts hit a roadblock today as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said that the SC cannot interfere in religious laws.
The cause came to light in January when a Bangkok-based Indian woman initiated an online petition against the triple talaq law after her husband divorced her by uttering the words over phone, giving her no chance to reconcile or explain.
Right practice not followed
The triple talaq is a declaration of divorce, validated when said in quick succession three times. In India, numerous cases of women being stranded by their husbands, who verbally declared divorce, has been reported. Previously, there had been cases of such declaration of talaq through phone calls, letters, or worse, in text messages. Mumbai-based BMMA claims that almost 92% of Muslim women want this law to be abolished or revamped.
As per the Islamic law, the right way to follow triple talaq includes the husband saying 'talaq' once every month for three months, giving enough time in between for possible reconciliation.
But in India, according to the Change.org petition, the appropriate method to use triple talaq is not followed strictly. “While the AIMPLB admits that as per the Quran and Hadith, the correct process for talaq is for the word to be said once per month over a period of three months, the powerful group has been resistant to change and claims that once uttered, the process is deemed complete.”
In May, Union Woman and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi refrained from giving an opinion on the issue and had reportedly said, “till a political consensus is reached on the issue”. She added that also the law ministry should arrive at a consensus on it.
With no backing from political parties, who steer clear from commenting on the issue fearing a dent on their vote bank, women and activists have approached the courts directly.
“Courts cannot interfere”
In June, the SC ordered an inquiry into whether the Islamic law was violating women's rights. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur said that they would look into the Islamic laws of marriage, polygamy and inheritance, to see how far “courts can interfere in Muslim personal laws if courts find they are in violation of the fundamental rights”.
The AIMPLB then filed petitions asking for the judicial system to keep away from interfering with the personal laws.
In their latest statement, the AIMPLB said that the personal laws “can't be rewritten in the name of social reform and that the courts can't interfere in them”. The Board pointed out that Article 44 (to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India ) is also not applicable in this case, as it is a non-binding directive principle.
In India, separate laws exist for every religion. Hindu, Jain and Buddhist affairs are governed under the Hindu Law, while Muslims, Christians and Jews have their own personal laws. The SC's efforts, to bring the Islamic laws up to speed with the personal choices of Muslim men and women, were blocked by religious groups who felt that it was a personal attack on their culture.