Instant triple talaq is an infamous form of divorce wherein a marriage can be arbitrarily severed upon a husband’s three immediate utterances of ‘talaq’ (the Arabic term for divorce). He can opt to deliver an instant triple talaq in any form: verbally, in writing, or even via an ultra convenient social media message. He does not have to consider the repercussions that this may have for his wife, and any children that they may share. His wife does not even have to be consulted about the incredibly critical decision. It has existed in India for much time, and has finally been criminalised through a Bill after passing through the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of the Indian Parliament) on Tuesday 30 July 2019. Whilst some have opposed the Bill, others have embraced it as a hugely enabling and momentous move toward further empowering India’s women.
Instant Triple Talaq had, by the time that India criminalised it, already been criminalised in 20 Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh. The motion in India has been delayed for two years because the Bill could not pass through the Parliamentary Upper House. Opponents of the bill – both parliamentary figures and civilians – have argued that it was, among other things, an unnecessary tactic intended to divert the nation’s attention from other, seemingly more important issues (see an article related to this argument here). Now, these antagonistic voices have faced the ultimate challenge with the passing of the updated Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Marriage) Bill, which recognises instant triple talaq as a criminal offence. 99 votes were cast in favour of the Bill, whilst 84 votes were cast in opposition. The Bill states that he who henceforth practices instant triple talaq can be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison.
The concept and issue of ‘Talaq’ warrants some careful breaking down. ‘Talaq’ (not the ‘instant’ variation) is, according to Islamic family law as understood by Islamic scholars, a fairly lengthy process, spreading over three months; it is neither an instant nor unilateral practice, and cannot be over and done with in a single sitting. As noted in the Qur’an – the Islamic Holy Book – a husband declares ‘talaq’ once, and then waits for approximately three months (or the competition of his wife’s next three consecutive menstrual cycles), during which time he can reconcile with his wife and re-commence their marriage, should he wish to. According to the Qur’an, a wife can herself initiate, or at least negotiate within, a divorce procedure. If she deems that her marriage is beyond the point of being saved, she can choose to sever it by returning the mehr (dower) to her husband, which he would have given to her at the outset of their union.
The immediate and abrupt practice of triple talaq is, then, certainly not a form of divorce located in the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), nor is it advocated anywhere in the Qur’an. So should it really belong within an Islamic family law framework, anywhere in the world? Arguably, no. The criminalisation of this form of divorce in India through the new Bill has far reaching implications for the nation’s Muslim women, as it promises to restore to them the rights that should have always been there within a marriage. The Bill took a while to finally make it through the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, and the transition of instant triple talaq from an ‘unconstitutional’ practice to a criminal one was not a smooth one.
There have been fervent protests throughout the years in India (pictured above) from opponents as well as advocates of the Bill, with some of the opponents being women (see a few images of anti-Triple Talaq Bill protests here). Now, the next step is for the Bill to gain the President’s assent. Narendra Modi’s (current Prime Minister of India) leadership is one that needs to be widely celebrated and brought to the forefront for all that it has done, and no doubt will continue to do, for its wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters – for its women.