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Indian Case Summary

Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs Shah Bano Begum And Ors on 23 April, 1985 – Case Summary

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In the case of Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs Shah Bano Begum And Ors on 23 April, 1985, the Supreme Court of India was confronted with a significant issue concerning the rights of Muslim women post-divorce. The case revolved around the interpretation of Muslim Personal Law and its intersection with the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Act II of 1974), specifically Section 125(1), which pertains to the provision of maintenance.

Facts of the Case

The appellant, Mohd. Ahmed Khan, an advocate by profession, was married to the respondent, Shah Bano Begum, in 1932. The couple had three sons and two daughters. In 1975, the appellant expelled the respondent from their matrimonial home. In April 1978, the respondent filed a petition under section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the Court of the Judicial Magistrate (First class) Indore, seeking maintenance at the rate of Rs. 500 per month. The appellant divorced the respondent by an irrevocable “talaq” in November 1978 and argued that he was under no obligation to provide maintenance for her as she had ceased to be his wife. He also claimed that he had already paid maintenance for her at the rate of Rs. 200 per month for about two years and had deposited a sum of Rs. 3,000 in the court by way of “dower or Mahr” during the period of “iddat”.

Issues Raised

The primary issue raised was whether the Muslim Personal Law, which allows a husband to divorce his wife without any obligation to provide maintenance beyond the period of “iddat”, was in conflict with Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which mandates a man to provide for his wife’s maintenance if she cannot maintain herself. The case also examined the nature of Mahr or dower and whether it could be considered as maintenance.

Court’s Observations

The Supreme Court, presided over by Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, held that a divorced Muslim woman is entitled to apply for maintenance under section 125 of the Code. The court observed that the term “wife” in section 125 includes a divorced woman, irrespective of her religion. The court also noted that the Muslim Personal Law does not contemplate or countenance the situation envisaged by section 125 of the Code, which deals with cases where a person of sufficient means neglects or refuses to maintain his wife who is unable to maintain herself.

The court further held that if the divorced wife is unable to maintain herself, she is entitled to take recourse to section 125 of the Code. Thus, there is no conflict between the provisions of section 125 and those of the Muslim Personal Law on the question of the Muslim husband’s obligation to provide maintenance for a divorced wife who is unable to maintain herself. The court also clarified that Mahr is not an amount payable by the husband to the wife on divorce and therefore, does not fall within the meaning of section 127 (3) (b) of the Code.

The court dismissed the appeals and upheld the decisions of the Supreme Court in Bai Tahira v. Ali Hussain Fidalli Chothia and Fazlunbi v. K. Khader Vali, which held that a divorced Muslim wife is entitled to apply for maintenance under section 125 of the Code.

In conclusion, the case of Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs Shah Bano Begum And Ors is a landmark judgment that underscores the need for a uniform civil code in India and emphasizes the importance of ensuring the rights and welfare of divorced Muslim women.