Islamic Laws for Women: The Supreme Court Ruling in the Shah Bano Case
Islamic laws for women have always been interpreted broadly by the courts in India. In 1986, a ruling by Supreme Court caused tremendous debate in India’s political circles. In Shah Bano’s case [1985 AIR 945, 1985 SCC (2) 556], alimony was granted to an elderly woman who was divorced by her Muslim husband.
Islamic Laws for Muslim Women: Did the SC Ruling Shah Bano’s Case Violate Muslim Personal Laws?
Shah Bano, an elderly Muslim woman, was thrown out of her home by her husband, who was a lawyer, following a quarrel regarding inheritance of Shah Bano’s children and the children of her husband’s other wife. Her husband returned her marriage portion as established by Islamic law and she applied for relief under section 125 as she had no means to support her children. It took seven years for this case to reach the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Chandrachud wrote a lengthy judgment in her favor. He granted maintenance of Rs180 per month. He also cited a British commentary stating that Islamic law’s fatal point pertains to ‘degradation of women.’ Thus, Chief Justice Chandrachud broadened the scope of Islamic laws for Muslim women. The legal implications of this judgment paved the way for tremendous political and social upheaval in the country.
Islamic Laws for Women: Why Did Shah Bano Back out from her Claim?
Islamic laws for women have rarely been challenged the way it was in the Shah Bano case. The ruling enraged conservative Muslims who stated that it violated their personal laws. Across the country, people criticized and debated about Islamic laws based on the judgment, causing considerable ripples in the Muslim community. Muslims in India felt that the judgment had criticized its personal laws too harshly. The issue reached such a boiling point that Shah Bano herself was forced to state that she understands that her salvation in the next world depends on her not pursuing her persistent demand for maintenance.
Islamic Laws for Women: Why the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act was enacted?
To placate the Muslim community as elections were just about to take place, the Congress Party under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi enacted a new law. Politics and religion became a powerful medium to overturn this significant decision by the Supreme Court, enabling considerable conflict with the Indian judiciary that saw this move as a clear violation of its ruling.
Thus, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act was passed by the Indian Parliament with a clear majority and it overturned the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shah Bano case.