//Indian court protects Muslim couple under fire from clergy

Indian court protects Muslim couple under fire from clergy

(DPA)    21 April 2006

NEW DELHI – India’s Supreme Court on Friday instructed a provincial government to provide police protection to a Muslim couple who were forced to separate after local clerics issued a religious ruling that they could no longer live together, news reports said.

Shoaib Mohammed, a resident of Bhadrak town in eastern Orissa state, had reportedly divorced his wife Najma Biwi by uttering ”talaq” (meaning I divorce you) three times in an inebriated state.

Uttering “talaq” three times allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife with immediate effect.

Though Mohammed retracted his statement and said the couple wanted to live together, they were forced to live apart for the last nine months by clerics who issued a “fatwa” or religious ruling that the couple were divorced.

“No one can force them to live separately. This is a secular country. All communities, Hindus or Muslims, should behave in a civilized manner,” a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court was quoted by the PTI news agency as saying.

Muslims, who comprise 13.4 per cent of India’s billion-plus population, are governed by Islamic personal laws on issues such as property inheritance, marriage and divorce.

Muslim women activists in the South Asian country have been demanding a ban on the instant divorce, or triple talaq, which has given rise to some unusual cases.

Some days ago, a man in the same state divorced his wife using the triple talaq as she had voted in favour of her brother in a village election against his advice.

Last month in the eastern state of West Bengal, local Muslim leaders said a couple must separate, even though the husband had mistakenly uttered “talaq” in his sleep.