Case Analysis:  MOHD. AHMED KHAN vs SHAH BANO BEGUM 1985 AIR  945 1985 SCC (2) 556

Author: Pihu Basotra, a student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies


The case of MOHD. AHMED KHAN vs SHAH BANO BEGUM is popularly referred to as ‘Shah Bano Case’. It is a landmark lawsuit which has dealt with the problem of ‘Triple Talak Verdict’. It dealt with the right of maintenance of a Muslim woman.

DATE OF JUDGEMENT: 23rd April 1985

BENCH: YV Chandrachud, D.A Desai, O. Chinnappa Reddy, E.S. Venkataramiah, Ranganath Mishra.

PETITIONER: Mohd. Ahmed Khan

RESPONDENTS: Shah Bano Begum & Ors.

RELEVANT PROVISION: Section 125 of Code of Criminal Procedure,1973


  1. Mohd. Ahmed Khan, the appellant, was a prosperous Muslim lawyer residing in Indore. In 1932, he married Shah Bano, the respondent, and together they had 5 children – 3 sons and 2 daughters.
  2. After 14 years of marriage in 1946, Mohd. Ahmed Khan married another woman who was younger than him.
  3. In 1975, Shah Bano was disowned by her husband and expelled from her matrimonial home along with her children.
  4. In 1978, she filed a petition under Section 125 of CrPC for maintenance of Rs. 500 in the court of the learned Judicial Magistrate (First Class), Indore. In the same year, Mohd. Ahmed Khan pronounced triple talaq, an irrevocable divorce.
  5. Following the triple talaq, he argued that due to the divorce, Shah Bano was no longer his legal wife, absolving him of any responsibility to provide maintenance.
  6. The Magistrate’s judgment in August 1979 awarded a meager sum of Rs. 25 against Khan’s alleged income of Rs. 60,000 per year. This amount was later increased to Rs. 179.20 by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh upon Shah Bano’s revisional application. Despite the minimal sum, Khan, an advocate, appealed to the Supreme Court.
  7. Khan’s primary argument was that, according to Islamic law, he could not maintain any form of connection with his divorced wife as it was considered ‘Haram.’ Consequently, he claimed to have no legal obligation to provide maintenance to his ex-wife.


1. Whether Section 125 of the CrPC is concerned with Muslims or not?
2. Whether the “woman” description includes a separated Muslim woman IN CPC?
3. Whether Uniform Civil Code applies to all persuasions or not?
4. Whether the amount of Mehr given by the husband on divorce is respectable to get the husband relieve and is liable to maintain his woman or not?



  1.  Shah Bano’s marital relationship with Mohd. Ahmed Khan has terminated due to the divorce granted to her 
  2. .According to Sharia law, the obligation for providing maintenance extends only for the iddat period, lasting three months following the separation.
  3.  He has already fulfilled his maintenance commitment, offering Rs. 200 per month for a span of two years. Additionally, he has deposited Rs. 3000 in the court as dower during the iddat period The application of Muslim personal laws governs the marriage and divorce, superseding the CrPC, thereby relieving him of the obligation to sustain her.
  4. The respondent’s claim is deemed non-maintainable under Section 127(3)(b).

  1. According to Section 125 of the CrPC, a financially capable man is obligated to provide maintenance to his divorced wife and children until her remarriage, should she be unable to support herself.
  2. Shah Bano’s ex-husband remains liable to provide her maintenance under this statutory provision due to her inability to sustain herself.


Following the respondent’s appeal, the case proceeded to be heard by a five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice CHANDRACHUD, RANGNATH MISHRA, D.A. DESAI, O. CHINNAPPA REDDY, and E.S. VENKATARAMIAH. On April 23, 1985, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, dismissed the appeal, upholding the judgment of the High Court.

In the opening sentence of his judgment, Chief Justice YV Chandrachud explicitly framed the case as a matter of gender inequality, stating, “This legal challenge, stemming from a petition filed by a divorced Muslim woman seeking maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC, presents a clear-cut matter that holds significance not just for Muslim women or women in general but for anyone committed to fostering a society where men and women are treated equally. It calls into question the belief that considerable progress has been made in achieving such equality.”
The legal landscape on both sides was clear-cut. Sharia law stipulated that a Muslim man, with the freedom to divorce at will, was only obligated to maintain his divorced wife for three months during the iddat period. However, Section 125 mandated maintenance for a divorced wife as long as she remained unmarried. The crux of the matter before the apex Court was whether secular legislation would prevail over Muslim personal law or vice versa.

Addressing doubts raised by his fellow judges, who appeared to align with the appellant’s position, Chandrachud referred to previous judgments such as Bai Tahira Ali Hussain Fidaalli Chothia and Fuzlunbi v. K. Khader Vali in the Supreme Court, which permitted Muslim women to claim maintenance under Section 125. Despite dissenting opinions claiming a contradiction with Section 127(3)(b) of the CrPC, Chandrachud chose to reaffirm these precedents. He argued that religion should not influence the application of Section 125, emphasizing that the provision’s objective would be undermined if remedies were denied based on personal laws. Chandrachud expressed:

“In this case, the right of the wife to claim maintenance under Section 125 cannot be defeated by the husband’s right to divorce at will. The remedy provided by Section 125 is a secular one, not bound by religious considerations, and it serves the larger purpose of ensuring justice and equality in society.”

Chandrachud opted to reaffirm the preceding judgments, asserting that religion holds no relevance to Section 125. He underscored that the provision’s objective would be compromised if redress were denied based on personal laws. Chandrachud expressed:

“The neglected wife’s, child’s, or parent’s religion becomes inconsequential when assessing their entitlement under Section 125. This provision, serving a prophylactic purpose, transcends religious boundaries. It does not supplant the parties’ personal law or the state of the personal law governing them. Its applicability remains unaffected unless, within the constitutional framework, it is confined to specific religious groups or classes. The obligation imposed by Section 125 to maintain indigent close relatives is rooted in an individual’s societal duty to prevent vagrancy and destitution.”

Chandrachud demonstrated Section 125’s supremacy over personal laws by citing limited polygamy allowed by Muslim law, emphasizing that the provision prevails in cases of conflict.

In addressing the question of conflict between personal law and CrPC, Chandrachud referenced sources indicating that a divorced wife’s entitlement to maintenance is limited to the iddat period. However, he rejected this as the entirety of Muslim law, asserting that such provisions cannot extend to cases where a divorced wife cannot sustain herself. Chandrachud justified this by highlighting that Mahr, or dower, signifies respect and is intended to support the woman for her lifetime, whether married, divorced, or not remarried. While the husband has discretion over the Mahr amount, extending such provisions to cases where a divorced wife cannot self-sustain would be unjust. Section 125 addresses potential destitution and vagrancy, intervening when necessary, without contradicting personal laws.

Chandrachud, in the latter part of his judgment, referenced the Holy Quran, citing verses that, according to him, obligate Muslim husbands to provide for their divorced wives. He argued against the appellant’s position by suggesting it contradicted the Quran’s teachings.

Refuting the appellant’s argument based on Section 127(3)(b), Chandrachud asserted that the ‘amount payable’ to the divorced wife could not be considered Mahr. Mahr, even if deferred, is a consideration for marriage and cannot serve as a consideration for marriage dissolution. He dismissed the appellant’s reliance on a Rajya Sabha proceeding, noting two fundamental changes already made to the law.

Chandrachud regretted the fervor with which efforts were made to deny a helpless woman’s claim to maintenance. He criticized the “facile arguments” of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, suggesting the enactment of a uniform civil code and urging Muslim law to evolve with the times.


The issue of post-divorce maintenance for a Muslim wife gained prominence through the Shah Bano case, causing widespread repercussions across the nation. The expressions of the Learned Judges of the Hon’ble Court and the final judgment were perceived by a conservative faction within the Indian Muslim Community as an assault on personal laws. This outcry eventually led to the introduction of the Muslim Women’s Act. The Shah Bano decision faced significant criticism, with influential groups contending that it contradicted Islamic laws. However, the Supreme Court delivered an impartial and just judgment, preserving the public’s confidence and trust in the government.


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