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India's Muslims must back reforms for women's rights

The triple talaq ruling, the result of a decades-long campaign by women's rights groups, was a historic verdict. With the stroke of a pen, the judges made illegal a practice that has ruined lives of countless Indian Muslim women, writes Frank F Islam for South Asia Monitor

Sep 28, 2017
By Frank F. Islam
 
On August 22, 2017, the Supreme Court of India ruled that triple talaq - the practice which allows a man to divorce his wife instantly by saying the word ‘talaq’ thrice - is unconstitutional. Predictably, the ruling was denounced by some Muslim leaders and organisations. Some interpreted it as an attack on their religion and way of life. Others saw a conspiracy in the importance given to the issue.
 
This perspective is distorted and not only wrong but also wrong-headed, misplaced and misguided. I applaud this judgement because I strongly believe that Muslim instant divorce is illegal and incorrect. It is deplorable, disgraceful and shameful; it is demeaning, demonising, disheartening and demoralising to Indian Muslim women.
 
Most importantly, as one judge pointed out, triple talaq is against the basic tenets of the Quran. Recognising this, many Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have abolished the practice.
 
It is unconscionable to think that a man should be allowed to banish a woman to whom he is married - who is the mother of his children, in many cases - by uttering a
word three times, with no consequences.Triple talaq is also inherently discriminatory in that only a man has that "right"- a Muslim woman cannot end the marriage in a similar way.
 
Some Muslim organisations have rationalised triple talaq by arguing that divorce rates within their community are low compared to other religious groups. It affects less than a third of a per cent of Muslim women. This is neither a sound legal nor moral argument. Even if one
concedes that instant divorce affects only a minuscule population, injustice should never have legal sanction, regardless of how many people are affected.
 
The triple talaq ruling, the result of a decades-long campaign by women's rights groups, was a historic verdict. With the stroke of a pen, the judges made illegal a practice that has ruined lives of countless Indian Muslim women.
 
Without a comprehensive study, it is not known how many Muslim women have been divorced this way. A 2013 survey of Muslim women in 10 Indian states by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, an advocacy group for the rights of Indian Muslims, found that triple talaq was the most common mode of divorce among those surveyed.
 
Of 4,710 women sampled in the survey, 525 were divorcees; 404 were victims of triple talaq. Over 80 per cent of them did not receive any compensation at the time of divorce. Two of the five judges who delivered the judgement differed on the constitutionality of practice. The bench was
in unanimous agreement, however, in asking the government to enact within six months legislation to govern Muslim marriages and divorces.
 
India's justice system has numerous drawbacks. It often takes decades for courts to deliver justice. The Supreme Court should be applauded for delivering a correct judgement in a timely manner.
 
The ball is now in the government's court. People's representatives must come up with policies to change the lives of Muslim women for the better.
 
Equitable legislation on Muslim marriages and divorces should be just the starting point. The central and state governments must craft policies that empower women of all castes, creeds and
religions. Such policies should focus on educating women and developing their skills. Such empowerment will allow them to pursue and create their own destiny. It will lead to financial independence and promote security and stability of women and build their self-esteem and confidence.
 
India's Muslim community should embrace the Supreme Court verdict. They should together say: End triple talaq. End triple talaq. End triple talaq. They should leverage the verdict as an opportunity to advocate for and enable much needed reforms to women's rights.
 
(The author is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. He can be contacted at ffislam@verizon.net)

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