AASHNA MALPANI WRITES – Muslim women in India took the lead in changing the tone of the narrative from being a victim to an activist. The women united against the disputed practice of “triple talaq”—an Islamic law that allows men to split from their wives by saying the Arabic word for divorce, “talaq,” three times.
The Indian Supreme Court finally took the fate of this controversial law into its own hands, deeming it unconstitutional on August 22nd of this year. A five-chair panel examined the situation, and the ruling passed three to two.
With more and more Indians wanting a Uniform Civil Code, as opposed to separate rules governed by religious text, the issue grew beyond the Muslim community, to a larger debate within the country. Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had been a strong advocate for the ban and took to his public Twitter account to share his support.
Judgment of the Hon'ble SC on Triple Talaq is historic. It grants equality to Muslim women and is a powerful measure for women empowerment.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 22, 2017
Even though India has the world’s second-largest Muslim population, the country is late compared to other predominantly Muslim countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia, which banned this custom years ago. As expected, this ruling was met with significant outrage and conservative Muslims hinged onto the legal right of religious freedom.
Several male leaders who practice under the Hanafi Islamic School of Law, fearing the secular nature of the country, were persistent on keeping the practice. According to these men, questioning the triple talaq is a war on their religious identity and will further damage their claimed minority position in a predominantly Hindu country.
Muslim women, on the other hand, stood in strong opposition to the triple talaq, asserting that it works against their empowerment and safety, rendering them susceptible to the whims and whines of their spouse. The entire practice takes only a fraction of a minute to disrupt and shatter a woman’s life.
The powerhouse behind this law can arguably be linked to the unspoken norms of the social and economic pillars of India. Marriage and divorce are still widely seen as the representations of good versus evil, where couples are encouraged to stay unhappily married as opposed to happily divorced. With societal pressures weighing heavily on shoulders and extreme pushback from families, it gets hard to untie the knot.
To make situations even more complex, it’s often the man of the house who brings home the paycheck. Before marriage, the woman is often supported by her father and after marriage, her husband. Several factors, such as a lack of education, demoralization, etc. (all of which fall under the umbrella of sexism) work as counterintuitive forces against Indian women’s independence.
The triple talaq first attracted media attention two years ago, when a Muslim organization, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), called for a permanent end to this practice. A BMMA study revealed that more than 90% of 4,710 women were in favor of the ban.