The centre is opposed to the Muslim practice of triple talaq, it has informed the Supreme Court, describing it as “misplaced in a secular country.”
The constitution allows Muslims, the biggest religious minority group in the country, to regulate matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance through their own civil code.
The Supreme Court has been examining how much it can interfere in Muslim laws governing family-related issues as it hears a plea to end the practice which permits Muslim men to divorce their wives by saying talaq three times.
The top court had asked the government to weigh in on the debate as to whether intervening in the law would violate the Muslim community’s fundamental rights. The centre today said “gender equality and the dignity of women are not negotiable” and told judges that “even theocratic states have undergone reforms in this area of law” which reinforces that these practices cannot be considered an integral part of practice of Islam.
Women’s rights activists have long called for reform of the Muslim personal law which they say discriminates against women. What they want instead is a well-defined law that criminalises polygamy, unilateral divorce and child marriage.
Campaigners say the “triple talaq” practice – which allows Muslim men an instant divorce with Muslim women being divorced via Facebook, Skype and text message – is unconstitutional because it violates the right to equality.
Earlier, the top decision-making body for Muslims in India, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said the court cannot interfere in the religious freedom of minorities and “rewrite personal laws in the name of social reform”.
The petition being considered by the Supreme Court also seeks an end to polygamy and ‘halala’, which mandates that if a woman wants to go back to her husband after a divorce, she must first consummate her marriage with another man.
“Triple talaq is not valid as per the Koran, which stresses mediation and reconciliation before the decision to divorce,” said Zakia Soman, co-founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), which campaigns for Muslim women’s rights and is a co-petitioner in the case.
In a 1985 landmark judgment, the Supreme Court granted divorcee, Shah Bano, alimony for life. But following protests from Muslim leaders and others that the court was being intrusive, the judgment was overturned.