A controversial law that allowed Muslim men to instantly divorce their wives by simply repeating the word “divorce” three times was struck down by India’s supreme court this week. The decision, which drew the ire of Muslim groups that viewed the ruling as an attempt to pander to Hindu nationalists, was praised as a “powerful measure for women’s empowerment” by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. But women’s rights activists and legal experts were also reportedly hesitant to hail the decision as a win after justices justified the decision “not in terms of [women’s] rights” but by arguing that women “are in need of protection.”
Under Indian law, matters relating to marriage, divorce, alimony, and inheritance are governed by the mandates of the various religions practiced in the country — a distinction that had previously allowed Muslim men to be able to legally divorce simply by repeating “talaq,” the Arabic word for “divorce,” three times. Getting a divorce was significantly harder and more complicated for Muslim women, who would have to obtain permission from their husband or Islamic religious authorities in order to pursue a separation. While it’s unclear how common the practice of “triple talaq” actually is in India, one study found that 404 out of 525 divorced Muslim women had been divorced by triple talaq.
One of the plaintiffs in the recent triple talaq case, Ishrat Jahan, was married to her husband at age 15 and gave birth to four children before he divorced her over the phone.
“He called from Dubai, where he was working in an embroidery factory,” Jahan recalled in comments made to The Times of India. “All he said was ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’ and then he disconnected. It felt as though I was falling headlong into a chasm. Then I felt the anger build up. How could he dismiss a relationship solemnised by a nikah so casually over the phone? I decided I would have none of it.”
Her husband, she added, then proceeded to immediately remarry and “snatched” custody of her children.
“Society will forever want to bury a woman’s voice, kill her aspirations,” said Jahan. “This is true for a large section of Muslim women. There are a few progressive men who treat their wives with respect. These women are extremely lucky. But the rest of us cannot curse our luck. We have to fight for our rights.”