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The Shah Bano case, Rajiv Gandhi's capitulation, SC's verdicts

By Chennabasaveshwar
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New Delhi, August 22: In a historic judgment, Supreme Court on Monday struck down triple talak and said the practice is unconstitutional. While this comes as a huge relief to millions of women across the country, what seems to be interesting is how one case in 1985, became a milestone verdict for Muslim women rights. The 1985 case was seen as one of the most controversial maintenance suits in India.

The Shah Bano case, Rajiv Gandhi's capitulation, SC's verdicts

A mother of five from Indore, Shah Bano knocked the doors of the court asking for alimony from her husband who had divorced her in 1978. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of granting Shah Bano maintenance from her ex-husband under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, with an upper limit of Rs. 500 per month.

The then chief justice of India, YV Chandrachud while reading out the judgment had said; " This is the moral edict of the law and morality cannot be clubbed with religion.''

In the Shah Bano case, the bench headed by Chief Justice Chandrachud took a secular stand. It invoked a provision in The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 which is a secular legislation to order maintenance compensation to the divorced Muslim woman.

However, this judgement was reversed due to pressure from Islamic orthodoxy and pushed the Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi to pass the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, which diluted the secular judgement marked by the Supreme Court and gave a Muslim woman the right to maintenance for the period of 90 days or iddat after the divorce.

He was said to be under pressure from his ministers - and gave in to the Muslim Personal Law Board's (MPLB) campaign against the judgment. The Muslim Women Act in 1986, pitted women's individual rights against the rights of a minority group.

Consequently, Arif Mohammad Khan who was a minister of state in Rajiv Gandhi government quit as he opposed the stand taken by the government on Shah Bano case in 1986. He defended Supreme Court judgment on Shah Bano case in Parliament. Arif opposed triple talaq and said that it should be punishable with three years in jail. Today, he is actively involved in policymaking and Islam reformation.

While the fight for women's right continues, the 1985 case remains a ground-breaking one in personal law.

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