India's top court rules Muslim divorce law 'unconstitutional'
India's Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled a controversial Muslim quick divorce law unconstitutional, a landmark victory for Muslim women who had long argued that it violated their right to equality.
The law allows Muslim men to divorce their wives simply by uttering the word "talaq" three times. Muslim women say they have been left destitute by husbands divorcing them through "triple talaq", including by Skype and WhatsApp.
Under the ruling, the government will need to frame a new divorce law, which would abolish the practice by making it illegal.
"Finally, I feel free today," Shayara Bano, who was divorced through triple talaq and was among the women who brought the case, told Reuters after the ruling.
"I have the order that will liberate many Muslim women."
The ruling was delivered by a panel of five male judges from different faiths - Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.
Three of the five ruled that the practice was unconstitutional, overruling the senior-most judge in India, the chief justice.
He announced a suspension of the practice, and told the government to come up with a new law within six months.
Triple talaq is banned in several Muslim countries, including neighbouring Pakistan and conservative Saudi Arabia.
Opposition to the law helped forge an unlikely coalition of Muslim women and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist party, which wanted the law quashed, and pitted it against Muslim groups that say the state has no right to interfere in religious matters.
Some fear that the Hindu majority is trying to limit Islamic influence in society. Muslims make up about 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion people.
Opponents of the law have toiled to abolish it for decades and were given a boost last year when Modi threw his support behind Bano, calling the law derogatory and discriminatory against women.
Tuesday's ruling could spur Modi's party to push again for its long-held desire for a uniform civil code, which would end the application of religious laws to civil issues.
"The Supreme Court has a right to interfere in the personal space and they have done so," said Maneka Gandhi, minister for women and child development.
India allows religious institutions to govern matters of personal law - marriage, divorce and property inheritance - through civil codes designed to protect the independence of religious communities.