A Win for India’s Women’s Rights Movement

Today India’s Supreme Court ruled the religious practice of “triple talaq,” which allows men to divorce their wives by simply repeating the word “divorce” three times, unconstitutional.

“Triple talaq” can only be performed by a man to instantly divorce his wife. Women who have been divorced in this manner are often left without economic support, access to their children, or even a place to live.  In the case of Shayara Bano, who filed a petition as part of the Supreme Court Case, she was denied access to her children after her husband of 15 years divorced her via letter. For many women, they are divorced by phone, email, text message, Skype, Facebook, or even the popular messaging app WhatsApp.

Amreen Begum, a 25 year old mother of 2 children was dumped on the side of the road by her husband. Instead of waiting for him to perform the “triple talaq,” Begum took matters into her own hands. While at the local police station filing a report against her husband for domestic violence, she shouted “talaq talaq talaq” and her husband’s name. She is believed to be the first woman to have attempted the practice highlighting the blatant gender inequity in this common divorce custom.

Seven women who were divorced by their husbands under this practice petitioned the Supreme Court, with the help of several women’s rights organizations, to investigate its constitutionality and the obvious gender bias of “triple talaq.” The case was heard by 5 judges of different faiths including Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam and the 3-2 decision was handed down early this morning.

Women’s rights advocates hail this decision as a major victory for Muslim women in India. Shayara Bano’s lawyer stated that the decision set an important precedent because it ruled that Bano’s “fundamental rights had been violated.” Women’s rights organizations such as Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA – Indian Muslim Women’s Movement”) championed the victory and one of their founding members, Zakia Soman, called the practice of “nothing but patriarchy masquerading as religion.” BMMA has compiled data on “triple talaq” and testimonials from talaq survivors for the last ten years and launched a major campaign last year to end “triple talaq” on the basis of gender justice and women’s economic and social empowerment.

“Triple Talaq” has already been outlawed in many other Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Egypt. Due to the diverse religious make-up of India’s population, India’s government allows communities to follow religious laws in family matters such as marriage and divorce. With the religious practice of “triple talaq” now banned, Muslim women will be able to take advantage of non-secular divorce laws that require men to support their wives and children after a divorce.

Organizations such as BMMA are part of the growing women’s rights movement in India. Although the women’s rights movement in India received heavy international attention after the brutal gang rape of a young woman in New Delhi in 2012, Indian women have a history of fighting for their rights throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. India’s feminist movement contains factions based on religion, ethnicity, geography, and social status. These groups not only call for progress on behalf of gender justice, but also weigh in on socio-economic, environmental, and public policy issues. Just last year, India’s only all-female newspaper Khabar Lahariya went digital allowing it to spread its feminist journalism across India and deeper into rural communities. The paper’s all female reporting staff seeks to examine local power structures based on gender, religion and caste.


Media Resources: The Indian Express 3/8/17; Feminist Newswire 1/2/13; BBC 8/22/17; BBC 8/22/17; The Guardian 8/22/17; The Independent 8/22/17; Feminist Newswire 8/15/16; The Guardian 5/11/17

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