India could jail Muslim men over 'instant divorce'

NEW DELHI • The Indian government yesterday introduced a Bill in Parliament aimed at prosecuting Muslim men who divorce their wives through the ''triple talaq'', or instant divorce, which women complain violates their right to equality.

In August, the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the law which allows Muslim men to divorce their wives simply by uttering the word ''talaq'' three times.

Muslim women had petitioned the court, arguing that the practice of husbands divorcing them through the triple talaq, including via Skype and WhatsApp, not only violated their rights, but left many women destitute.

''Only a law can explicitly ban triple talaq; we have to enforce legal procedures to provide allowance and protect the custody of children,'' said Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

The Bill, if approved, would make the practice a non-bailable offence with a possible threeyear jail term.

Muslims are the biggest religious minority in Hindu-majority India, and relations between the communities have been occasionally strained since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a 2014 election.

India is one of the few countries where the practice of instant divorce has survived, and some Muslim groups have said that while it was wrong, the law should be reviewed by the community itself.

Members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said the government had no right to outlaw the triple talaq, as it was directly interfering with the Muslim personal law.

India's civil codes are designed to protect the independence of religious communities. Unlike most Hindu civil laws, which have been codified and reformed, Muslim personal laws have largely been left untouched.

Ms Zakia Soman, founder of a Muslim women's group, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, said that once the triple talaq becomes a legal offence, victims could approach the police and the legal system to initiate action against offenders.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'India could jail Muslim men over 'instant divorce''. Print Edition | Subscribe