India criminalized the Muslim practice of triple talaq, or instant divorce, on Wednesday in an executive order.
Despite a Supreme Court ruling last year calling the practice unconstitutional, a divorce obtained by a husband reciting “talaq” three times to his wife — in person, in writing or electronically — is still in use in some Muslim communities in India. Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s justice minister, said the executive branch of the government was forced to intervene because the ban has not been followed.
The new executive order, approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet, calls for a jail term of up to three years for a husband using the practice for divorce, Al Jazeera reported. A similar piece of legislation introduced last year failed to clear the country’s parliament.
Though many interpret it as a victory for India’s women’s rights movement, some have objected to the order, which criminalizes what formerly was a religious rule.
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“This is a bad decision. They could not pass it in parliament, now they have brought an executive order. The Supreme Court has already said it is invalid. So if something is invalid already, how can it be a crime?” asked women’s rights lawyer Flavia Agnes. “The effect on women of instant triple talaq and desertion of wives is the same. So many men, Hindus and Muslims, desert their wives. That should also be criminalized. Why are you not doing anything about that? This step is only to target Muslim men.”
Some condemned the politicization of the issue and criticized political parties that did not support the ban, either that of the Supreme Court of the Modi administration.
Targeting opposition parties, Amit Shah of the ruling BJP party said, “This ordinance is also a matter of guilt and introspection for them as they forced Muslims women to suffer from this bad practice for decades due to their vote bank politics.”
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Others regard the action as a step forward.
“We welcome this,” Zakia Soman of the Mumbai-based Indian Muslim Women’s Movement told Al Jazeera. “The Muslim woman is happy today because she wants legal protection. Despite the Supreme Court order, instant triple talaq has been taking place, so we needed this to be criminalized.”
Critics have noted that the practice of instant divorce is prevalent only in the Hannafi sector of Islam, that few Muslims use it and that the Koran, Islam’s holy book, spells out divorce procedures and never mentions the instant divorce. Taraq is banned in several predominately Muslim countries, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Pakistan.
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India has the world’s third-largest Muslim population, and the government largely allows the country’s various religions to regulate marriage, divorce and inheritance through religious law.