India's Shiite Muslim women can initiate divorce under newly approved rule

Leaders of India's Shiite Muslim community have approved changes to the community's marriage laws to give women more grounds for divorce, a news report said Monday.

The All India Shia Personal Law Board said women can seek divorce on grounds of mental or physical torture, adultery, or being barred from studying or taking up a job, the Hindustan Times reported.

The law board, which is the top body for India's Shiites, rules on personal matters such as marriage, divorce and child custody.

India's constitution lets the country's main religious minorities Christians and Muslims use their own religious laws for personal matters.

Shiites are a minority within India's Muslims, who account for nearly 130 million of the country's roughly 1 billion people.

Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of Muslims in India, are governed by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which allows women the right to initiate divorce only on grounds of cruelty or impotence.

The All India Shia Personal Law Board's decision "ensures that the (Shiite) community is progressive and ensures equal rights for women," the Hindustan Times quoted Zaheer Abbas Rizvi, general secretary of Shiite law board, as saying.

The new Shiite nikahnama, as Muslim marriage contracts are known, has the approval of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Iraqi cleric who is considered the religious head of the world's Shiites, the Hindustan Times said.

Officials from the board could not immediately be reached for comment.

The new contract also gives Shiite women the right to maintenance after a divorce until they become financially independent, reports AP.

The agreement is traditionally signed at the wedding ceremony by the bride, groom and their witnesses, and now must also carry details of the professions of the betrothed and their salaries, as well details of dependents and any previous marriages.

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