Supreme Court ruling on triple talaq tomorrow

Is “instant triple talaq” constitutionally valid? The question will be answered by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, when it pronounces its decision on a batch of petitions by Muslim women who have challenged the practice as “unlawful and unconstitutional”.

The much-awaited verdict by the inter-faith bench comprising Chief Justice of India J S Khehar and Justices Kurian Joseph, R F Nariman, U U Lalit and Abdul Nazeer is set to be pronounced at 10:30 am. The bench had reserved its verdict on May 18, after hearing the petitions for six days.

There are six petitions in the case. The main petition has been filed by Shayara Bano, a resident of Uttarakhand, whose husband divorced her by pronounced triple talaq, after 15 years of marriage. Bano contended that “the Muslim husband’s right to ask for divorce by uttering talaq three times in a row is completely unilateral, unguided, absolute and has no rationale. It cannot be identified with Muslim culture and is not part of Muslim law. So it is not part of religion and hence not part of the right to practise or propogate religion and deserves no protection.”

Former Union Minister Arif Mohd Khan, who intervened in the case with the permission of the bench, termed the practice as equivalent to burying Muslim women alive. Khan had resigned from the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1986 to protest against its stand in the Shah Bano case.

Senior counsel Kapil Sibal, who appeared for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, however, took the stand that triple talaq was a matter of faith and the court should not interfere.

Former Union minister Salman Khurshid, who the court had allowed to assist it as an amicus curiae, told the bench that the system of instant triple talaq “cannot be justified or given legal validity”. He said the practice “was sinful but legal”, prompting Justice Kurien to wonder whether “something abhorred by religion can be made law by man”.

During the hearing, it was also pointed out to the court that many Islamic nations across the world, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt, do not recognise the husband’s right to unilaterally divorce through triple talaq and that Sri Lanka was one of the non-Islamic countries to ban it.

The court wondered how Muslim men would divorce if it held all forms of talaq as unconstitutional. The then Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi, assured the court that the Centre would come up with a law to deal with any such situation. The Centre has taken the stand that triple talaq is “extra-judicious” and “discriminatory”.