The Shah Bano Case Explained

16 Jan 2023  Read 13495 Views

The holy scripture of Muslim personal law has given both men and women equal rights and status. But then why its execution is debatable. Education, polygamy, maintenance, and wearing of hijab have been crucial topics of discussion and intense debate. The case of Mohd. Ahmad Khan vs Shah Bano Begum & Ors. (1985), also known as the Shah Bano case, is witnessed as one of the milestones in the history of Muslim women’s fight for rights in India. It laid the ground for thousands of women to make legitimate claims that were not permitted before.

This article discusses Shah Bano Begum’s case in detail, comprising facts, issues, analysis, and judgment. So, let’s get started.

Before moving ahead, let's first discuss why is this case important.

Why is Shah Bano Case important?

The Shah Bano case is a landmark case that had significant implications for Muslim women's rights. It raised important issues related to maintenance and the rights of women:

  1. The case revolved around the issue of maintenance for Shah Bano. She sought maintenance from her husband under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The case brought attention to the lack of clear provisions for maintenance in Muslim personal law.

  2. This case also highlighted the clash between personal laws and the idea of a uniform civil code, which aims to provide a common set of laws governing personal matters regardless of religious affiliation. 

  3. The case sparked a nationwide debate on women's rights and gender equality & acted as a catalyst for discussions on the need to address these disparities & protect the rights of Muslim women.

  4. The Shah Bano case had significant political and social repercussions, such as it generated a public uproar, with some sections of society viewing it as an interference in religious matters, while others saw it as a crucial step towards securing women's rights. 

Facts of Shah Bano's case

In 1932, Mohd Ahmed Khan (appellant) was a lawyer by profession, married to Shah Bano Begum (respondent), and had three sons and two daughters from this marriage. In 1975, Shah Bano Begum, aged 62 years, was abandoned by her husband and thrown out of her marital home with her children. In 1978, she brought an appeal before the Judicial Magistrate of first class, Indore claiming maintenance of Rs. 500 per month under Section 125 of CrPC. Then, her husband gave her irrevocable triple talaq and used it as a defence for not paying maintenance as they were no longer husband and wife and had already been paying maintenance of Rs. 200 per month for about two years. Also, he had deposited a total of Rs. 3000 in the court through dower during the period of iddat. In 1979, the Magistrate directed the husband to pay a maintenance of Rs 25 per month. In 1980, Shah Bano filed a revisional application in the MP High Court to change the amount of maintenance which the High Court increased to Rs. 179 per month. The husband then challenged this application in the Supreme Court as a special leave petition.

Issues of the case

  1. Under Sec. 125 CrPC, does the definition of wife include a divorced Muslim woman?

  2. Whether Section 125 CrPC override personal law?

  3. Whether a Muslim husband is obligated under Sec. 125 CrPC to provide maintenance for a divorced wife if there is a conflict between section 125 and Muslim Personal Law? 

  4. Under Section 127(3)(b) CrPC, what is the sum payable on divorce and whether the meaning of Mehar or dower is not summed payable on divorce?

Overall, the main question was that the husband’s case was entirely based on the claim that maintenance under Section 125 CrPC must be excluded on the ground that Muslim law exempts the husband of any responsibility for his divorced wife beyond payment of any mahr due to her (dower paid in lieu of marriage by the husband) and an amount to cover maintenance during the iddat period and Section 127(3)(b) CrPC conferring statutory recognition on this principle.

What is Iddat?

Iddat is the waiting period, which a woman observes after her husband’s death or divorce before she marries another man. Iddat period's length is circumstantial (usually 3 months). The main objective behind iddat is that this period provides sufficient time for the wife to mourn the death of her husband and also protects her from criticism which she might be subjected for remarrying too quickly after her husband died. Iddat also helps determine whether a woman is pregnant since four and a half months is half the duration of a normal pregnancy, if there is any. So, let’s go through time period for which the iddat pariod was observed:

  1. A divorced woman observes iddat for 3 months, whereas a woman whose husband has died observes iddat for four lunar months & ten days after the death of her husband, irrespective of consummation during the marriage.

  2. After the woman is pregnant, the period continues until childbirth.

  3. If a woman is pregnant at the time of her husband’s death, she observes iddat for a whole year comprising nine months of pregnancy plus three months of iddat period.

In Shah Bano’s case, the appellant's (Mohd Khan) contention was supported by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board which contended that courts cannot interfere in those matters that are deliberated under Muslim Personal Law, stating that it would infringe “The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937” and the courts must pass any judgment on such issues based on Shariat only. 

Shah Bano case judgment

In 1985, a judgment was passed by the Supreme Court on the issue of whether CrPC, which applies to all citizens of India irrespective of their religion, could apply here. And that CrPC would prevail over personal laws.

CJI Y.V. Chandrachud upheld the High Court’s judgment that gave orders for maintenance to Shah Bano under CrPC. Just that the Supreme Court enhanced the sum of maintenance. He said, "Section 125 was enacted to provide a quick remedy to a class of persons who cannot maintain themselves. What difference would it then make as to what is the religion professed by the neglected wife, child or parent? Neglect by a person of sufficient means to maintain these and the inability of these persons to maintain themselves are the objective criteria which determine the applicability of section 125. Such provisions, which are crucial of a prophylactic nature, cut across the barriers of religion. The liability imposed by S. 125 to maintain close relatives who are indigent is founded upon the person's obligation to society to prevent vagrancy and destitution. The moral edict of the law and morality cannot be clubbed with religion.”

What was the impact of the Shah Bano case?

The case led to the enactment of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act in 1986. Although criticized for its limitations, this law aimed to address a few of the issues raised by the case, such as the maintenance of divorced Muslim women.

  • If the case had not taken place, there might have been delays or reluctance in enacting any legal reforms to protect the rights of divorced Muslim women. 
  • The limitation was that the enactment of this Act, as a response to the Shah Bano case, limited the maintenance rights of divorced Muslim women.
  • That is, the period for which a Muslim woman was entitled to receive maintenance (also known as the "iddat" period) was limited to the duration of the iddat period after divorce.


Shah Bano’s case was considered a milestone as it was a big step ahead of the general practice of deciding cases based on the interpretation of personal law, and this case also highlighted the need to implement the Uniform Civil Code under Article 44 of the Indian Constitution.

FAQs on Shah Bano Case

1. What was the Shah Bano case about?

A. The Shah Bano case revolved around the issue of maintenance rights for a divorced Muslim woman named Shah Bano. She sought maintenance from her husband under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

2. Did the Shah Bano case lead to changes in maintenance laws for divorced Muslim women?

A. The enactment of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act in 1986, as a response to the Shah Bano case, limited the maintenance rights of divorced Muslim women. The case caused the Congress government, with its absolute majority, to pass this Act, which diluted the judgment of the Supreme Court and restricted the right of Muslim divorcées to alimony from their former husbands for only 90 days after the divorce (the period of iddah in Islamic law)

3. What was the outcome of the Shah Bano case?

A. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Shah Bano, granting her the right to maintenance from her husband.

4. How did the Shah Bano case impact the legal system in India?

A. The Shah Bano case sparked a nationwide debate on women's rights and gender equality, emphasizing the need for reforms in personal laws. The case led to the enactment of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act in 1986.

5. Did the Shah Bano case address the issue of a uniform civil code (UCC)?

A. The Shah Bano case raised questions about the need for a uniform civil code. However, it did not directly result in the implementation of a uniform civil code in India.

Can you tell which case interpreted the provisions of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act in a way that allowed a Muslim divorced woman to claim maintenance beyond the iddat period?

That is, overturned the Act's limitation after Shah Bano's case. Comment below!😄

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 269 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Manager at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course). She is a patent analyst & had also done advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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