In a 3-2 majority verdict, the court called the practice “un-Islamic”.
India is one of a handful of countries where a Muslim man can divorce his wife in minutes by saying the word talaq (divorce) three times.
The landmark court decision came in response to petitions challenging the so-called “triple talaq” custom.
The cases were filed by five Muslim women who had been divorced in this way and two rights groups.
Women’s rights campaigners have hailed the court’s decision as a historic win.
What is instant divorce?
There have been cases in which Muslim men in India have divorced their wives by issuing the so-called triple talaq by letter, telephone and, increasingly, by text message, WhatsApp and Skype. A number of these cases made their way to the courts as women contested the custom.
- How Muslim women won the battle
- The women who challenged triple talaq
- The fight against instant divorce
Triple talaq divorce has no mention in Sharia Islamic law or the Koran, even though the practice has existed for decades.
Most Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned triple talaq, but the custom has continued in India, which does not have a uniform set of laws on marriage and divorce that apply to every citizen.
What did the court say?
Three of the five Supreme Court judges called the controversial practice “un-Islamic, arbitrary and unconstitutional”.
The judges also said it was “manifestly arbitrary” to allow a man to “break down (a) marriage whimsically and capriciously”.
Chief Justice JS Khehar, in a differing opinion, said that personal law could not be touched by a constitutional court of law. The opposing judgements also recommended that parliament legislate on the issue. However this is not binding and is up to parliament to take up.
The Indian government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has supported ending the practice. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought up the issue several times including in his Independence Day address on 15 August.
How are people reacting?
The judgement is being widely hailed as a major win for Muslim women and women’s rights. The prime minister praised the “historic” ruling.
Shayara Bano, one of the main petitioners, said she appealed to people to accept the ruling and not politicise the issue. “I have felt the pain when family breaks. I hope no one has to go through this situation in future,” she told reporters.
Hasina Khan, founder of the Beebak Collective which fought against triple talaq, called the verdict “historic”. “We are extremely happy. Muslim women have struggled for years,” she told the BBC.
Zakia Soman, an activist from Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, another of the groups which contested the practice, said Indian women of many religions had supported them. “It’s a historic day for us, but it doesn’t end here,” she said.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which had maintained that the court had no jurisdiction over the matter, has yet to make an official statement on the ruling, but has convened a meeting to decide what its response should be, a report in Indian newspaper The Hindu said.
However, it quoted an executive member as saying that the judgement would have “wide ramifications” as it affected the religious rights of minority groups.
On social media the hashtags #TripleTalaq and #SupremeCourt began trending on Twitter India even as the verdict was being announced. The hashtag #Tripletalaq is also trending globally on Twitter.