On June 5, the Supreme Court of India in a significant ruling, held that the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 would not hinder a divorced Muslim woman’s right to maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

Prior to delving into the importance of this judgment, it is imperative that the gamut of events, triggered with the Shah Bano verdict, be explained. In 1985, the Supreme Court in Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum, upheld the maintenance claim of Shah Bano, a divorced Muslim woman of 60 years, under S.125 of the CrPC; the Section provides for relieft to a wife (among others), “unable to maintain herself”. However, this judgment created a huge outcry from the Islamic orthodoxy in India. The Rajiv Gandhi-led Government in power, passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, to appease the outraged sentiments. The Act, quite ironically, curtailed the rights of Muslim women rather than protecting them. It limited the Muslim husband’s responsibility to maintain his divorced wife to the period of iddat. Over the past decade, the Act has challenged over various grounds of Constitutional validity. The apex Court’s decision in Daniel Latifi v. Union of India was instrumental in clearing the fog of confusion. The Court in that instance, gave a liberal interpretation of the Act,(specifically S. 3(1)) in so far as the “fair and reasonable” provisions to the divorced Muslim woman shall include maintenance for her future extending beyond the iddat period.

Earlier this month, the two judge-bench comprising Justic Arijit Pasayat and D.K. Jain in the case of Iqbal Bano v. State of Uttar Pradesh overruled the Allahabd High Court’s order on the same matter; the H.C had held that the divorced wife is not entitled to maintenance under the CrPC in lieu of the existing Act of 1986. There were questions raised as to whether the divorce effected was proper; to which the Court answered in the negative. While the Act only deals with divorced women the CrPC, in the opinion of the Hon’ble Court, is of broader ambit.  A relevant passage from the judgment is quoted below:

Under the 1986 Act the husband has two separate and distinct obligations, viz. to a make a reasonable and fair provision for his divorced wife [for her residence, food, clothes and other articles], and to provide maintenance for her. Though it may look ironical that the enactment intended to reverse the decision in the Shah Bano case it actually codifies the very rationale contained therein.

 A judgment is certainly a step in the correct direction to secure the rights of divorced Muslim women unable to maintain themselves, and relieve them of their plight perpetrated by legal instruments such as the Act of 1986.

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