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Indian top court says no to ‘instant divorce’

Farha Faiz, a Supreme Court lawyer, speaks to media after the top court declared 'triple talaq,' a Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce their wives, unconstitutional in its verdict, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. The court also requested the government legislate an end to the practice. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Farha Faiz, a Supreme Court lawyer, speaks to media after the top court declared ‘triple talaq,’ a Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce their wives, unconstitutional in its verdict, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. The court also requested the government legislate an end to the practice. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Imagine getting divorced because your spouse said the word “divorce” (or texted it) three times.

That had been legal in India, one of a few remaining countries that allowed triple talaq, a practice some consider part of Islamic law that allows Muslim men to divorce their wives by saying “talaq,” the Arabic word for divorce, three times.

But in a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the Supreme Court of India blocked the practice of instant divorce for six months, until Parliament debates this issue, the Washington Post reported.

Petitions to challenge the custom were filed by five Muslim women who had been divorced through triple talaq and two women’s rights groups. Tuesday’s decision was widely considered a victory for Muslim women, who had no say in divorces done in that matter.

The court’s decision has been widely anticipated in India, both as a women’s rights issue and how the country’s top court handles religious law. India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world.

The three judges who favored blocking the practice called it “un-Islamic, arbitrary and unconstitutional,” saying it was “manifestly arbitrary” to allow a man to “break down (a) marriage whimsically and capriciously,” according to the BBC.

One judge said the practice was an essential part of Islam and did not enjoy any protections.

Chief Justice JS Kheha disagreed, saying personal law was different from constitutional law and that the issue should be decided by Parliament.

The Indian government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been a vocal supporter of ending the controversial practice.

“Today’s judgment on one level is very historic,” Hasina Khan, from the Bebaak Collective, a women’s rights group campaigning against the practice, told The Post. “It is not a victory that has been achieved after one or two years — Muslim women have been coming to courts and filing petitions and laying the groundwork for this for years.”

Muslim men in India have used the practice to divorce their wives in a variety of ways, from writing a letter, to doing it by phone and lately by text, Skype and WhatsApp, the BBC reported. Women, in turn, especially those in poorer communities, are often left to fend for themselves with children to raise on their own. The concept of “triple talaq” also makes women fearful that their husbands will leave them for trivial reasons, such as not cooking dinner to their husband’s liking.

“When this happens to women, they are looked at with an evil eye. I know how it feels, because it has happened to me,” Zeenat Ali Siddiqui, a woman who was divorced by her husband through triple talaq in 2015, told news cameras outside the court, The Post reported.

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