The Supreme Court of India has made instant divorce – or triple talaq – illegal and unconstitutional.
In a 3:2 majority judgement the court said “the practice is not integral to religious practice and violates constitutional morality”.
It has asked the federal government to bring in legislation within six months to make changes in law.
The verdict has come as a relief to almost 90 million Muslim women who may have been affected by the practice.
Among the majority Sunni Muslims in India, triple talaq bestows a husband the power to unilaterally, without witness and instantly divorce his wife at once.
Increasingly now social media platforms like text messages, WhatsApp and Skype are being used to carry out this practice.
For years Shayara Bano dreaded the word talaq (divorce) until it finally came to her via post.
The word “talaq” written three times on a note signed by her husband was enough to end her 15 year marriage.
The 35-year-old endured an allegedly abusive marriage, half a dozen forced abortions and separation from her two children.
Unsuccessful at the family court, she took her fight to the Supreme Court for equality enshrined in the Constitution of India to every citizen.
Sky News met Shayara and her family in Kashipur, a small town in North India, hundreds of miles away from Delhi where her case is being heard.
Her family has been threatened for challenging religious practices and supposedly bringing a bad name to Islam.
Her father Iqbal said: “This practice (triple talaq) is not in the Koran, it’s an unjust unholy practice and destroys the life of a woman and her family.”
Shayara is lucky to have the support of her family. She said: “Muslim women’s lives are living hell due to this and they get no justice. Families are destroyed and children’s futures are in jeopardy. People must realise this is illegal and accept the court’s decision.”
Hundreds of miles away in the old part of Jaipur, Rajasthan, women gather at the office of Bharitya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), an NGO that is spearheading a campaign against triple talaq.
Nishat Hussain, a community leader, told Sky News: “We have fought against everyone for years and our last hope is the highest court. A woman’s life is doomed within a few seconds with this practice.”
Beside her is Jahan Ara, one of the first female Qazis – an Islamic Judge.
She too suffered an unfair divorce and knocked on all doors for justice. After years of learning the tenets of Islam, Jahan, 45, helps women secure their rights – but she is unrecognised by her male counterparts.
She told Sky News: “Today a Muslim woman is not allowed to live a life according to Islam, this is because of misogyny.
“We have to break this and must break it now and give women their rights back, and that’s why we have to study the Koran to learn our rightful place.”
Nazmin Banu, 27, divorced a few months ago and said: “Women are walking dead due to this practice. Doesn’t she have a right to live? She looks to her husband but he snatches her rights by this illegal divorce. Where will we go?”
Twice divorced 20-year-old Nagma said: “It’s a curse we live by day in and day out.”
Among the organisations opposing the women are Muslim organisations led by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
They insist it is one of the three methods of divorce mentioned in the Koran and the case is political.
Kamal Faruqui, a founding member of the Muslim Personal Board, said: “Unfortunately it has been blown out of proportion – not for the benefit or welfare of the Muslim women but to gain political mileage, because when you do this then overwhelmingly other communities feel that the present day government is doing a human job by protecting Muslim women.”
He said divorce rates among Muslims are the lowest in the country, just 0.25 % of almost 90 million Muslim women, and these are only a handful of cases – but he concedes it is a sinful and immoral practice.
He told Sky News: “Removing this from our statute books is not within our rights.
“We are advocating social awareness against this practice not from the fear of the Supreme Court or politicians but in our own way.
“Qazis are preaching against it. We bring out brochures and have social reform committees telling men not to divorce your wife on whims and fancies.”
The case has divided the community. Some want their personal religious practices kept outside the purview of courts while the victims look for redemption.