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End of Rajiv Gandhi’s appeasement era? Supreme Court rules that Muslim women can seek maintenance from their husbands under secular law

In 1985, the Supreme Court upheld the right to alimony of a Muslim woman in the infamous Shah Bano case. However, the Rajiv Gandhi government overturned the judgment with a new law in1986.

On Tuesday (10th July), the Supreme Court of India ruled that a Muslim woman can seek maintenance from her husband in the event of a divorce.

The apex court’s order negates the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986, a law [pdf] which was passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government to appease the Muslim community.

In 1985, the Supreme Court upheld the right to alimony of a Muslim woman in the infamous Mohd. Ahmad Khan v. Shah Bano Begum case. However, the Rajiv Gandhi government overturned the judgment in 1986 with the above-mentioned legislation.

Secular law will prevail over Rajiv Gandhi-era law

In the present case, a petitioner identified as Mohd Abdul Samad moved the Supreme Court after he was directed to pay interim maintenance to his divorced wife under Section 125 (Order for maintenance of wives, children and parents) of the Code of Criminal Code (CrPC).

A 2-judge Bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Augustine George Masih noted that the secular law under Section 125 CrPC would prevail over the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986 in the case of petitioners.

During the hearing, Justine Augustine George Masih noted, “This Act does not bar…it is the choice of the person who had applied or moved an application under 125…There is no statutory provision provided under the Act of 1986 which says that 125 is not maintainable”. 

Justice Nagarathna pointed out that there was nothing in the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986 which “barred one remedy in favor of the other.”

The Court dismissed the petition of Mohd Abdul Samad and stated, “We are dismissing the criminal appeal with the conclusion that Section 125 CrPC would be applicable to all women and not just married women.”

The judgment in the case was reserved by the apex court on 19th February 2024.

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