The ruling was made after five women petitioned the court, arguing that the practice, which allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife in minutes merely by repeating the word “talaq” (divorce) three times, was a violation of their fundamental rights.
These are their stories:
Afreen Rehman, Jaipur, Rajasthan
“I will have to live with stigma all my life, because in India, the woman is always considered responsible for divorce”
When Afreen Rehman, married her lawyer husband in a lavish ceremony in the northern city of Jaipur in 2014, she had an MBA and a lucrative job. She then resigned from her job at his insistence.
“I wanted the marriage to work so I agreed,” says Ms Rehman.”But it didn’t. There were frequent demands for dowry and bouts of violence, I slipped into depression.”
Within the year, she alleges, she was asked to leave her husband’s house. She went to live with her widowed mother. A few months later, she was seriously injured in a car crash that also killed her mother.
While she was recovering, her husband sent a note to her sister’s house with the words “talaq, talaq, talaq” scribbled on it. “I was shocked. It’s a horrible feeling to be left alone without being consulted,” she says. “I just didn’t know what to do.”
Ms Rehman’s cousin, an activist, encouraged her to approach the courts to annul the talaq and also helped her file dowry harassment and domestic violence charges. Her husband and mother-in-law deny these charges. They were arrested and released on bail four days later.
“I will have to live with stigma all my life, because in India, the woman is always considered responsible for divorce,” says Ms Rehman. “I don’t want to return to my husband – that’s not why I’m fighting this case. It’s for justice and to ensure other women do not get treated like this.”
Shayara Bano, Kashipur, Uttarakhand
“Instant triple talaq changes the life of a woman forever and destroys her children’s future,” declares Shayara Bano. Ms Bano was recovering from illness at her parent’s home in the northern city of Kashipur in October 2015 when she received a letter from her husband. He had written “I give you talaq” three times on it.
That was the end of her 15-year marriage. Her children were at her marital home when the letter came. She alleges that she has not been able to see them since. “I’m a victim but I didn’t want that to continue with future generations, that’s why I went to the Supreme Court,” she says.
A local court sent notices to her husband to appear before it and explain why he was refusing Ms Bano access to her children, and put his viewpoint but he has not appeared. She alleged that her husband abused her and wouldn’t allow her to leave the house. “My children were the only reason I tolerated it,” she says. Her husband remarried in 2016.
Ms Bano says she has lost faith in the institution of marriage but is trying to move on. She has also enrolled in an MBA programme so she can find a job and does not want to remarry or see her daughter forced into marriage.
“What is the guarantee that another man would not treat me this way?” she asks. She says her daughter should marry only “when she is financially independent”.
What is triple talaq?
Muslims are India’s largest minority community, with a population of 155 million, and their marriages and divorces are governed by Muslim personal law, ostensibly based on Sharia law.
Even though it has been practised for decades, unilateral instant triple talaq is clearly an aberration – it finds no mention in the Sharia or the Koran.
Islamic scholars say the Koran clearly spells out how to issue a divorce – it has to be spread over three months, which allows a couple time for reflection and reconciliation.
Most Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned instant triple talaq, but it has continued in India until now.
And modern technology has made it even easier for unscrupulous men to dump their wives phone, email or text. There have also been instances where men have used Skype, WhatsApp or Facebook for the purpose.