India is one step closer to a total ban on the Islamic custom of so-called “instant divorce” after the government issued an executive order Wednesday making the practice a criminal offense, Agence France-Presse reports.
Known as “triple talaq,” instant divorce allows Muslim men to immediately terminate a marriage just by repeating the word “talaq” — which means divorce in Arabic — three times to their wives. The words can be uttered either in person or online, and the woman has no recourse.
Some Muslim women say they have even been divorced via WhatsApp or in letters, according to AFP.
India’s Supreme Court ruled in August 2017 that triple talaq was unconstitutional, but legislation passed in December was stifled by political opposition. The impasse prompted the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to issue the executive order.
According to Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s law and justice minister, 201 cases of instant divorce have been reported across the country even since the court’s ruling.
“There was a constitutional urgency to bring this law. The curse of triple talaq has continued unabated,” said Prasad.
The ordinance comes into immediate effect for the next six months as the government waits for Parliament to adopt the order into law, the Associated Press reports. Offenders can be punished with up to 3 years in prison.
India is home 180 million Muslims, who according to India’s constitution are able to use their faith to govern matters such as marriage, divorce and property.
Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) have tried to create a uniform system for such issues, but Muslims say this is unconstitutional and worry it would jeopardize their religious identity.
The ruling comes ahead of a general election next year, when Modi will seek re-election. The BJP party has been accused of maligning the Muslim community, which are a minority population among India’s 1.3 billion people.