A Supreme Court Constitution bench comprising five judges of different faiths started hearing petitions challenging the validity of triple talaq, a burning issue at the centre of a tussle between Muslim orthodoxy and those in favour of reforms in family civil law, and bringing issues such as the divorce under a uniform civil code to address gender discrimination.
Chief Justice JS Khehar, a Sikh, Justice Kurian Joseph, a Christian, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, a Parsi, Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, a Hindu, and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer, a Muslim, are hearing the case, according to Times of India.
The petition is titled 'Quest for Equality vs Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind'. There are no women on a panel of judges who could bring about massive changes in the lives of thousands of women victimised by out-of-court divorces, as part of Islamic law.
"We are going to decide the validity of triple talaq," said Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, who heads the Constitution bench. The Chief Justice also said that petitioners and respondents would address the court on whether triple talaq was an enforceable fundamental right.
IANS adds: The bench sought suggestions on the broad parameters of the directions the court may issue while deciding the validity of triple talaq. The court said both sides would get two days each to argue their case. Thereafter, both sides would get a day each to submit rejoinders.
Among those supporting triple talaq are the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.
Several Muslim women activists have petitioned in the past to ban triple talaq — a "medieval" practice that allows men to divorce their wives simply by stating the word 'talaq' thrice. In 2016, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) told Reuters that "Muslim women in India have suffered because of triple talaq where arbitrary divorces declared over postcards or telegrams have been sustained." There have been several reported cases of men abandoning their wives on flimsy grounds, and often over instant messaging services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and even over email and telephone.
"AIMPLB's argument that a Muslim man can delegate his power of pronouncing talaq to his wife is laughable – this can hardly be expected to happen in real life if the wife wants a divorce but husband doesn't," BMMA had said.
PTI adds: On March 27, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) told the Supreme Court that the pleas challenging such practices among Muslims were not maintainable as the issues fell outside the realm of judiciary.
The Board had also said that the validity of Mohammedan Law, founded essentially on the Holy Quran and sources based on it, cannot be tested on the particular provisions of the Constitution.
It had said there was a need for "judicial restraint" before going into constitutional interpretation of these unless such an exercise becomes unavoidable.
The apex court had earlier said it would decide issues pertaining to "legal" aspects of the practices of triple talaq, 'nikah halala' and polygamy among Muslims and would not deal with the question whether divorce under Muslim law needs to be supervised by courts as it falls under the legislative domain.
The Centre, on October 7 last year, had opposed in the Supreme Court the practice of triple talaq, 'nikah halala' and polygamy and favoured a relook on grounds like gender equality and secularism.
The Ministry of Law and Justice, in its affidavit, had referred to constitutional principles like gender equality, secularism, international covenants, religious practices and marital law prevalent in various Islamic countries to drive home the point that the practice of triple talaq and polygamy needed to be adjudicated upon afresh by the apex court.
The apex court had taken suo motu cognizance of the question whether Muslim women faced gender discrimination in the event of divorce or due to other marriages of their husband.