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Recently, a law in India which makes it illegal for Muslim men to divorce their wives through the practice of ‘talaq-i-biddat’ (which involves pronouncing the word ‘talaq’ three times) was passed by parliament. The law is the outcome of a high-profile court case filed in 2016 by Shayara Bano, a Muslim woman whose husband divorced her via ‘talaq-i-biddat’, leaving her potentially financially and socially insecure. The new law is said to be controversial as it ‘criminalises the practice of talaq-i-biddat, rather merely confirming that a divorce pronounced in this way is invalid’: any husband who follows through with the practice can be punished with a fine and three-year jail term.

The Bebaak Collective, a women’s campaign alliance, along with other activist groups, have suggested that rather than empowering women, the law makes them vulnerable in other ways: ‘if former husbands are jailed it could prevent them from paying post-divorce maintenance and divest wives and children of financial security’.

Additionally, critics of this law have voiced their concerns that instead of protecting women, imposing such criminal penalties reveals an anti-Muslim agenda: according to them, government’s main intention with the law’s passing has actually been ‘to make Muslim men vulnerable to arrest’. Further questioning the government’s motives, activists opposing the law have declared it is ‘not pro-women but anti-minority’.

However, other activist groups, such as the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), which is a national, grassroots organisation of Muslim women, have welcomed the new law with praise. BMMA argues that criminal measures alone can cease ‘talaq-i-biddat’, maintaining that ‘for a law to be a real deterrent, […] it needs to carry penalties’.

Students applying for Law, along with applicants for Politics, can consider the difficulties which governments may encounter when implementing new laws and policies. They can reflect on the potentially complex clashes between governmental law and populations’ religions, as well as the possible social repercussions of new laws.

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