India’s Supreme Court is considering petitions that challenge Muslim laws governing marriage on the grounds that they discriminate against women, a charged issue that risks angering the country’s orthodox Muslims.
A panel headed by the chief justice that is hearing the petitions directed the government this week to release an official 2015 report that looks at the impact of some of India’s religion-specific laws on women’s rights and recommends legal reform.
Among the petitioners calling for change is Shayara Bano, a Muslim woman whose husband, after 13 years of marriage, divorced her by triple talaq, a practice that allows Muslim men in India to leave their wives unilaterally and often instantaneously by saying “talaq,” meaning divorce, three times. Other similar petitions were put together by the court and are being heard at the same time.The next hearing in the case is expected in May.
The Indian constitution protects gender equality, but on issues of marriage, divorce and inheritance, different religious communities are governed by their own so-called personal laws. Whether a person is subject to those laws is usually determined by their religion at birth.
Muslim clerics and scholars have rebuffed demands for unifying personal laws into a common civil code for all Indian citizens—advocated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party—rejecting what they call attempts to interfere with their religious practices in Hindu-majority India. There are more than 170 million Muslims in the country out of a 1.2 billion population.
Muslim women’s rights groups argue that the practice of triple talaq misinterprets the Quran and is protected by orthodox Muslim men to perpetuate patriarchy. In her petition, Ms. Bano asks the court to declare it illegal as it “practically treats women like chattel,” infringes their “basic right to live with dignity” and violates their fundamental rights to equality and life guaranteed under the constitution.
Source: The Wall Street Journal