“One minute I was a married woman with two children. The next minute I became a divorced woman. I was not asked. I was not even present when he wrote the word ‘divorce,’ ” said the 35-year-old Shayara, who uses only one name, sitting in her hometown of Kashipur, in the foothills of the Himalayas. “What kind of a one-sided, unfair divorce is this?”
India allows communities to follow family laws that are governed by their religion. But the practice of what is known as triple talaq, or “the triple divorce,” among the country’s 170 million Muslims is one of the most controversial, because it allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife by merely uttering the word three times — sometimes even by Skype or email or text message.
After struggling to get justice at the local police station and in court for months, Shayara and her case reached India’s Supreme Court last year. She asked it to abolish the practice, pointing out that it has been reformed in many Muslim countries and is not integral to Islam.
In the past year, her personal pain and the lawsuit have energized the national debate about women’s status in Islam and the contentious quest for a modern civil law in a country with many religions. She also has been pitted against powerful religious clerics who say she is helping undermine religious freedom.