SC verdict on maintenance to Muslim women brings back memories of 1985 Shah Bano case

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New Delhi, Jul 10 (PTI) The Supreme Court, which on Wednesday held that a Muslim woman can seek maintenance from her husband under Section 125 of the CrPC, brought back memories of the landmark Shah Bano Begum case of 1985.

The contentious issue of Muslim women getting maintenance under secular provision of section 125 of CrPC had taken centre stage of political discourse in 1985 when a Constitution bench in Mohd Ahmed Khan versus Shah Bano Begum case in a unanimous decision had ruled that Muslim women were also entitled to maintenance.

The verdict had resulted in a controversy with regard to the true obligations of a Muslim husband to pay maintenance to his divorced wife, particularly beyond the 'iddat' period (three months).

The then Rajiv Gandhi-led central government, as an attempt to "clarify" the position, brought the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986 which sought to specify the entitlements of such a woman at the time of divorce.

The constitutional validity of the 1986 Act was upheld by the apex court in the 2001 case of Danial Latifi.

The landmark judgment in the Shah Bano case interpreted the personal law and also dwelt on the need for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) to address the issue of gender equality.

It laid the foundation for equal rights for Muslim women in matters of marriage and divorce.

Bano had initially approached the court for maintenance from her divorced husband who had granted her 'talaq' (divorce).

The legal battle, which started at a district court, ended with the famous judgment by a five-judge Constitution bench of the apex court in 1985.

In its verdict delivered on Wednesday, a bench of justices B V Nagarathna and Augustine George Masih noted that the Shah Bano judgment had extensively dealt with the issue of maintenance apropos the obligation of a Muslim husband to his divorced wife who is unable to maintain herself, either after having been given divorced or having had sought one.

"The bench (in Shah Bano case) unanimously went on to hold that the obligation of such a husband would not be affected by the existence of any personal law in the said regard and the independent remedy for seeking maintenance under Section 125 of CrPC 1973 is always available," the bench noted.

It said the Shah Bano verdict also went on to observe that, even assuming, there is any conflict between the secular and personal law provisions in regard to maintenance being sought by a divorced wife, section 125 of CrPC will have an overriding effect.

The bench said the 1985 verdict explained that the wife has been conferred with the right to refuse to live with her husband who has contracted another marriage, let alone three or four other marriages. PTI MNL ABA MNL KSS KSS KSS