How the media misread and misreported Allahabad HC’s judgement over Triple Talaq

Before the country was engulfed in the never ending debate on demonetisation, there was another issue, equally “divisive”, that had led people to debate and form opinions in support or against it – and that was the issue of practice of Triple Talaq, abolition of which was seen as a step towards Uniform Civil Code (UCC).

On one side was the AIMPLB (All India Muslim Personal Law Board) that declared that attempts to abolish the practice was an assault on religious freedom an internal war – and they could get direct and indirect support from various parties – while on the other side were some Muslim women’s rights bodies and the government. There were even some self-declared “liberal” people who declared that they were opposed to UCC because it was BJP government on the other side!

The issue was back in news briefly yesterday, and it looked like a big breaking news, when some media houses reported this:

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As per these reports, the Allahabad High Court had just declared the Triple Talaq unconstitutional! It was virtually a repeat of Shah Bano verdict then? Did the court just abolish the practice of triple talaq from India?

Though unfortunately, or fortunately depending on a person’s stand and views, it was another instance of media houses not getting into details and misreading the proceedings of a court.

It turns out that the Allahabad High Court judge had, during course of a judgment, just expressed his opinion on the matter by condemning Triple Talaq and called it a cruel and demeaning practice, but didn’t pronounce it unconstitutional. In fact the judge couldn’t have done that as the Supreme Court is seized of matter i.e. the matter is being considered by the apex court and it will decide on the constitutional legality of the practice.

The exact comments of Justice Suneet Kumar, as reported by the website Bar & Bench, is as follows:

“The instant divorce (Triple Talaq) though has been deprecated and not followed by all sects of Muslim community in the country, however, is a cruel and the most demeaning form of divorce practiced by the Muslim community at large. Women cannot remain at the mercy of the patriarchal setup…

…Personal laws, of any community, cannot claim supremacy over the rights granted to the individuals by the Constitution.”

If one goes through the five-page judgment that dealt with a particular case of divorce, the phrase “triple talaq is unconstitutional” is mentioned nowhere, even though many media houses reported the same within double quotes, which means quoting someone verbatim.

So it appears that some media houses creatively interpreted the last sentence of the above quoted paragraph to mean that Triple Talaq was unconstitutional. In fact, taking that line of interpretation, they could have as well argued that Personal Laws itself were unconstitutional, because Justice Kumar was referring to personal laws in general. Thank god, they didn’t go down that route or there would have been even more confusion and chaos.

Realising that they had jumped the gun, some media outfits like NDTV updated their report and headline (though the URL still shows the old headline) to reflect what was actually said by the court, while some[1][2] still continue to carry the flawed conclusion.

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