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Shah Bano Begum Case: Unveiling the Controversial Battle for Women's Rights and Religious Traditions

The Shah Bano Begum case, also known as the "Muslim Women's Maintenance Case," is a landmark judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of India in 1985. The case revolved around the issue of maintenance rights of Muslim women under the Muslim personal law.

Shah Bano Begum was a 73-year-old Muslim woman who sought maintenance from her husband, Mohammed Ahmed Khan, after their separation. According to Muslim personal law, the husband was only obligated to provide maintenance during the iddat period (three months after divorce), after which the wife had no legal claim.

The Shah Bano Begum case presented the following key issues:
  1. Maintenance rights under Muslim personal law: The main issue was whether Muslim women were entitled to claim maintenance beyond the iddat period under the Muslim personal law or if they could seek maintenance under secular laws like Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
  2. Conflict between personal laws and fundamental rights: The case raised the question of the relationship between personal laws and the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, particularly with regard to the right to equality and non-discrimination.
Legal Arguments:
Shah Bano's counsel argued that Section 125 of the CrPC was a secular law enacted to protect the rights of all women, regardless of their religion. They contended that denying Shah Bano maintenance after the iddat period solely based on her religion was a violation of her fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution.

On the other hand, Mohammed Ahmed Khan's counsel argued that Muslim personal law, based on the Quran and Islamic principles, governed maintenance obligations for Muslim women. They contended that the application of Section 125 to Muslim women would be a violation of their religious rights.

The Supreme Court, after considering the arguments, delivered a landmark judgment in favor of Shah Bano Begum. The Court held that Muslim women were entitled to claim maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC, irrespective of the personal laws governing their religion.

The Court observed that Section 125 was a secular provision aimed at preventing destitution and was not meant to interfere with personal laws. It stated that personal laws were subject to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and must conform to the principles of justice, equality, and gender justice.

The Court noted that the Quran itself provided for the maintenance of divorced women, and the provisions of Section 125 were in harmony with Islamic principles. It emphasized that denying maintenance to Shah Bano Begum after the iddat period was a violation of her fundamental rights and a failure to uphold constitutional values.

  • Supreme Court of India. Shah Bano Begum vs. Mohammed Ahmed Khan, [1985 (1) SCALE 767 = 1985 (3) SCR 844 = 1985 (2) SCC 556 = AIR 1985 SC 945]. Retrieved from

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