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Indian court rules against instant divorce for Muslim men

India's Supreme Court has struck down a Muslim practice that allows men to instantly divorce their wives as unconstitutional.

The bench, comprising five senior judges of different faiths, deliberated for three months before issuing its order in response to petitions from seven Muslim women who had been divorced through the practice known as triple talaq.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on NDTV that since the court deemed the practice unconstitutional there is no need for further legislative action by the government.

The decision was widely praised by women's rights activists as a step towards granting Muslim women greater equality and justice.

"It's a very happy day for us. It's a historic day," said Zakia Soman, co-founder of the Indian Muslim Women's Movement, which was part of the legal battle to end triple talaq.

"We, the Muslim women, are entitled to justice from the courts as well as the legislature," she said.

More than 20 Muslim countries, including neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, have already banned the practice, but in India, triple talaq has continued with the protection of laws that allow Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities to follow religious law in matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption.

While most Hindu personal laws have been overhauled and codified over the years, Muslim laws have been left to religious authorities and left largely untouched.

Most of the 170 million Muslims in India are Sunnis governed by Muslim Personal Law for family matters and disputes.

Those laws include allowing men to divorce their wives by simply saying the Arabic word "talaq", or divorce, three times - and not necessarily consecutively, but at any time, and by any medium, including telephone, text message or social media post.

India's Muslim Law Board had told the court that while it considered the practice wrong, it opposed court intervention and asked that the matter be left to the community to tackle.

But several progressive Muslim activists criticised the law board.

"This is the demand of ordinary Muslim women for over 70 years and it's time for this country to hear their voices," activist Feroze Mithiborwala told NDTV.

The government supports an end to the practice. Prime minister Narendra Modi has said in many public addresses that the practice oppresses Muslim women and needs to be ended.

On Tuesday, he hailed the "historic" judgment, adding: "It grants equality to Muslim women and is a powerful measure for women empowerment."

AP

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