09/20/2018, 00.00
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Muslim women celebrate government decision to outlaw instant divorce

Muslim women’s associations want a single marriage law. A draft law is currently stuck in the upper house of Parliament because of disagreements among the parties. Instant divorce will be punished with a three-year jail sentence.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India’s Muslim women "welcome the decree signed yesterday by the Union government that outlaws instant divorce (triple talaq) and punishes it with three years in prison,” said Zakia Soman, co-founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), an association of Muslim women who has been fighting for years to scrap the practice and implement a uniform marriage law.

"We welcome the decision,” said Shaista Ambar, president of the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board (AIMWPLB), another association involved in the same struggle. “We have collected about 40,000 signatures and presented them to the president." For her, "the ordinance meets to the dictates of the Koran."

India is one of the countries in the world in which Islamic law regulates marriage among Muslims. Women have long complained that the practice of instant divorce is a source of serious discrimination, leaving them at the mercy of their husbands who can divorce them by simply pronouncing the word Talaq (repudiation) three times, thus ending the marriage.

For Shaista, "triple talaq is a widespread custom, especially in South Asia, and often occurs when husbands are in a stage of intense anger or in a drunken condition. They leave their wives with simple text messages, phone calls or emails. Although we disagree, most Indian imams have issued fatwas that declare that this type of talaq is valid. "

The worst thing "is that if a husband wants to take back his repudiated wife, the only way is through the practice of Halala, that is, women have to marry another man, have sex with him and only after that can they be accepted by the first husband."

On top of this there is the corruption of some imams, "who are willing to sign the divorce papers for a dollar".

In 2016 the BMMMA challenged the existing Muslim marriage law and petitioned the Indian Supreme Court. In a ruling in August 2017, the Justices found the practice unconstitutional, but left the matter in the hands of Parliament. Last December, the Lower House (Lok Sabha) outlawed the practice, imposing imprisonment in transgressors.

Since then, the association has complained that the law, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill of 2017, has been stuck in the upper house (Rajya Sabha) "for lack of consensus among the parties". Meanwhile, there were 430 instant divorces between September 2017 and September 2018, of which 220 ended up before the Supreme Court.

In an attempt to remedy the situation, the government took the matters in its own hands, calling the triple talaq a “constitutional emergency." Its ordinance sets some rules: the act will be treated as an offence only if the wife or a blood relative files a complaint, the case can be suspended only if the two sides reach a compromise before a judge, and courts can release the accused on bail only after hearing the wife. In addition, she is entitled to the custody of the children and to alimony for herself and support for the children.

Zakia Soman is happy about this, but she also wants Parliament to go further and “pass an Islamic family law, just as it has already done for Hindus and Christians".

"The Muslim community is very poor,” she explains, “limited in its education and women are the most affected by the patriarchal society that uses practices like the triple talaq.

“We demand legal protection as citizens equal to all others in a democratic country. We are grateful to the central government for listening to the voice of Muslim women. For too long, we have been discriminated against, felt insecure and fearful."

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