Rs 20/month alimony: How 1985 Shah Bano case paved way for UCC debate

The Rajiv Gandhi govt brought Muslim Women (Protection of Right on Divorce) Act to nullify the impact of the Shah Bano ruling.
Last Updated : 29 June 2023, 16:58 IST

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With PM Modi pushing for the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) recently at a rally in Madhya Pradesh, the spotlight is back on the 1985 Shah Bano Case. The Mohd Ahmed Khan vs Shah Bano Begum case is controversial mainly because of the meagre alimony of Rs 20 per month provided to the divorced petitioner (Shah Bano) as per the court order, reported Times of India.

A Muslim woman, Bano, got married to an influential Indore-based advocate Mohd Ahmed Khan in 1932. In 1975, Bano was driven out of the house by Khan after 43 years of marriage. During this period, he also took a second wife, which, as per Islamic law, is permissible. Left with no choice, Bano moved an Indore court in 1978 seeking Rs 500 as monthly maintenance.

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In 1979, she was offered a paltry sum of Rs 20 per month by the magistrate. Bano appealed to the Madhya Pradesh High Court to increase the alimony amount, which was enhanced to Rs 179.20 per month. Mohd Ahmed Khan later challenged this verdict before the Supreme Court.

In 1985, the then-CJI Y V Chandrachud-led five-judge SC bench upheld the Madhya Pradesh HC's ruling and also directed Khan to pay an additional Rs 10,000 to Bano. The same bench went ahead and slammed the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) for siding with Bano's husband in the case.

The bench said, "It is also a matter of great regret that Article 44 of our Constitution has remained a dead letter. There is no evidence of any official for framing a common civil code for the country. A belief system to have gained ground that it is for the Muslim community to a lead in the matter of reforms of their personal law. A common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to laws which have conflicting ideologies."

CJI Chandrachud had then said, “We understand the difficulties involved in bringing persons of different faiths and persuasions on a common platform. But, a beginning has to be made if the Constitution is to have any meaning. It is beyond the endurance of sensitive minds to allow injustice to be suffered when it is so palpable.”

Later in 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi government brought Muslim Women (Protection of Right on Divorce) Act instead of bringing the UCC. This was mainly done to nullify the impact of the Shah Bano ruling.

The 1995 Sarla Mudgal judgment had the apex court being more direct on insisting upon the implementation of UCC by the legislature. “Where more than 80 per cent of citizens have already been brought under the codified personal law, there is no justification whatsoever to keep in abeyance any more, the introduction of the 'uniform civil code' for all the citizens in the territory of India," it said.

In the John Vallimattom case of 2003, the SC once again stressed on achieving the target set by the Article 44.

This year on March 29, the SC had binned a PIL seeking to pass UCC. The apex court said, "Aproaching this court for enactment of UCC is akin to moving a wrong forum. It falls within the exclusive domain of the Parliament."

Published 29 June 2023, 16:11 IST

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