NEW DELHI • India's Cabinet has approved an executive order to make instant divorce among Muslims - a procedure called "triple talaq" - a punishable offence, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks to woo Muslim women voters ahead of a general election due next year.
In August last year, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a practice that allowed Muslim men to divorce their wives simply by uttering the word "talaq", or "divorce" in Arabic, three times.
Mr Modi's government wanted to make triple talaq a non-bailable offence carrying a jail term of up to three years, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, adding that the practice persists.
"The instance of triple talaq has continued unabated," Mr Prasad told a news briefing, noting that the government had recorded 201 such divorces after the Supreme Court struck down the law.
"In a secular country like India... gender justice was given the complete go-by," he said.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has long pushed for a uniform civil code for marriage, divorce and property.
But India's 180-million-strong Muslim community has historically opposed such a move, saying it violates the Constitution and will erode their religious identity.
In an Independence Day speech last month, Mr Modi said he would "not stop till they get justice", referring to Muslim women.
Critics have long accused Mr Modi, who is supported by hardline Hindu nationalists and who is running for re-election next year, of demonising Muslims for political ends.
Mr R.S. Surjewala, a spokesman for the opposition Congress party, said the next step would be to ensure Muslim women get alimony.
"But the Modi government would not want that; they don't want upliftment of Muslim women," he told news channels.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE