Author: Vaishnavi Ojha, a student at Vivekanand Education Society’s College of Law

The case of Mohd. Ahmad Khan vs. Shah Bano Begum, commonly referred to as the “Shah Bano Case,” is a landmark legal battle in India that highlighted the contentious issue of “Triple Talaq.” This case became a pivotal moment in the struggle for the rights and freedom of Muslim women, showcasing Shah Bano’s courageous fight against a deeply entrenched patriarchal system. Despite facing significant societal opposition, Shah Bano challenged the norms and fought for her right to maintenance, ultimately leading to significant legal and social reforms.


In 1932, Shah Bano married Mohd. Ahmad Khan, a well-known lawyer in Indore. The couple had five children, consisting of three sons and two daughters. Fourteen years into their marriage, Khan married a younger woman. In 1975, when Shah Bano was 62 years old, Khan disowned her and expelled her, along with her children, from their matrimonial home.

In April 1978, Shah Bano filed a petition under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) before the Judicial Magistrate of Indore. This section provides that a wife without any income, who is neglected by her husband, is entitled to maintenance. This entitlement includes divorced wives who have not remarried. Shah Bano sought maintenance because her husband had stopped paying the Rs. 200 per month he had initially agreed to provide.

In November 1978, Khan divorced Shah Bano by pronouncing Triple Talaq, which he claimed was irrevocable. He argued that conflicts between Shah Bano’s children and his second wife were the primary reasons for the divorce. After the divorce, Khan maintained that Shah Bano was no longer his legal wife and therefore, he was not obligated to provide her with maintenance or alimony.

The local magistrate court directed Khan to pay Shah Bano Rs. 25 per month as maintenance. Dissatisfied with this amount, Shah Bano appealed to the High Court of Madhya Pradesh in July 1978, seeking an increase in the maintenance to Rs. 179 per month. The High Court ruled in her favour, increasing the maintenance amount.

Shah Bano then approached the Supreme Court, filing a petition against the High Court’s verdict. Khan’s primary defence was that, according to Islamic law, he could not maintain any relationship with his divorced wife, making it “Haram” (forbidden) to provide maintenance post-divorce. He argued that he was not legally responsible for her maintenance as he had already paid her Rs. 200 per month for two years and had deposited Rs. 3000 in court as dower (Mehr) during the Iddat period.

The Supreme Court’s verdict, delivered by Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, upheld the High Court’s decision. The Court held that Section 125 of the CrPC applies to all citizens, irrespective of religion, and that a Muslim husband’s responsibility to maintain his divorced wife does not end with the Iddat period if she cannot support herself. This ruling emphasized that justice and equality should prevail over religious practices that discriminate against women.

The case raised several critical legal questions, including the applicability of Section 125 CrPC to Muslims, the adequacy of Mehr, and the need for a Uniform Civil Code. Despite facing backlash from conservative Muslim groups, the Supreme Court’s judgment underscored that religious practices could not undermine a divorced woman’s right to maintenance.


Iddat is a waiting period that Muslim women must observe following divorce or the death of their husband. During this time, the woman is prohibited from remarrying. The primary purpose of iddat is to determine the paternity of any potential pregnancy. Only after the completion of the iddat period can a woman legally marry again. Iddat also allows the couple to reconsider their decision to divorce, as the divorce can be revoked during this period. In the case of revocable Talaq, resuming marital relations with the wife observing iddat nullifies the divorce. If the marriage ends due to the husband’s death, iddat serves as a mourning period for the widow. According to traditional Muslim personal law, the husband’s responsibility to provide maintenance to his divorced wife is limited to the iddat period.


The case raised several critical legal questions:

  1. Section 125 of the CrPC applies to Muslims or not.
  2. Whether the amount of Mehr (dower) given at the time of divorce absolves the husband of further maintenance obligations.
  3. Whether the concept of a Uniform Civil Code should apply across all religions.


The Supreme Court’s verdict, delivered by Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, was a landmark ruling. On February 3, 1981, the Court upheld the High Court’s decision, rejecting Khan’s plea and confirming that Section 125 of the CrPC applied to all citizens, regardless of religion. The Court held that a Muslim husband’s responsibility to maintain his divorced wife does not end with the Iddat period if she is unable to support herself. The Court cited previous rulings, including Bai Tahira v. Ali Hussain Fidaalli Chothia and Fuzlunbi v. K. Khader Vali, where it had been determined that a divorced Muslim wife is entitled to maintenance under Section 125.

The Court noted that the prevailing interpretation of Muslim law, which limited a husband’s maintenance obligation to the Iddat period, was unjust, particularly when the divorced wife could not sustain herself. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded that a husband’s liability for maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC continues if the divorced wife is unable to support herself, regardless of the Iddat period.


The Shah Bano judgment sparked significant controversy, particularly among conservative Muslim groups, who argued that the decision was contrary to Islamic law and the Quran. In response to the widespread criticism, the Indian Parliament, led by the Congress government under Rajiv Gandhi, enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. This Act aimed to nullify the Supreme Court’s judgment and limit a husband’s maintenance obligation to the Iddat period, as prescribed by Islamic law.

The 1986 Act stipulated that a divorced Muslim woman is entitled to a “reasonable and fair provision and maintenance” only during the Iddat period. Additionally, it required the husband to provide maintenance for any children born before or after the divorce for up to two years from the birth date. The Act also ensured that the woman could claim her Mehr and retrieve any properties or gifts given to her by her husband, family, or friends. If the former husband failed to meet these obligations, the woman could seek redress from a magistrate.


The Shah Bano case highlighted the tension between personal religious laws and the principles of justice and equality enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision underscored that religious practices could not undermine a divorced woman’s right to maintenance, especially when she was unable to support herself. The case emphasized the need for a Uniform Civil Code that applies equally to all citizens, regardless of their religion, to ensure that personal laws do not infringe upon fundamental rights.

The backlash and subsequent legislative response to the Shah Bano judgment revealed the deep-seated resistance to reforming personal laws that discriminate against women. Despite the enactment of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Shah Bano case continued to influence subsequent rulings, ensuring that divorced Muslim women could still claim maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC.


Article 44, enshrined in Chapter IV of the Constitution of India, 1950, mandates that “The State shall endeavor to secure the citizens a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) throughout the territory of India.” These principles are intended to guide the state in creating policies for the overall betterment of society. The UCC aims to unify personal laws across religions in India, covering matters such as marriage, inheritance, maintenance, guardianship, succession, and adoption.

Key members of the drafting committee, including Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, supported the establishment of a UCC. However, opposition from religious leaders led to its inclusion as a directive principle rather than enforceable law.

Several acts, such as the Indian Contract Act, 1872, and the Special Marriage Act, 1954, already function uniformly across India. Enacting a Common Civil Code would:

  • Promote national integration.
  • Eliminate overlapping legal provisions and harmonize laws.
  • Foster a sense of unity and national spirit.
  • Empower the country to confront communal and divisive forces.
  • Enhance gender justice and equality by eliminating discriminatory practices in personal laws.

Series of Landmark Case Laws

  1. Md. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985) – The Supreme Court upheld the uniform application of Section 125 Cr.P.C. to all religions, granting maintenance to wives, children, and parents. This led to the Muslim Women’s (Right to Protection on Divorce) Act (MWA) of 1986, which limited Section 125’s applicability to Muslim women.
  2. Ms. Jorden Deingdeh v. S.S. Chopra (1985) – The Supreme Court called for a UCC for marriage laws.
  3. Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India (1995) – The Court ruled that converting to Islam to remarry without dissolving the first marriage is punishable for bigamy under Section 494 of the IPC.
  4. John Vallamattom v. Union of India (2003) – Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925, was struck down for being discriminatory towards Christians.
  5. Daniel Latifi v. Union of India (2011) – The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the MWA, harmonizing it with Section 125.
  6. Lily Thomas v. Union of India (2013) – The Court emphasized the need for a UCC for succession laws.

Current Scenario

Goa Civil Code: The Portuguese Civil Code of 1867, now the Goa Civil Code, acts as a precedent for UCC by uniformly governing matters of marriage, succession, and divorce for all religions in Goa. Marriage is treated as a contract requiring the consent of both parties, and pre-nuptial agreements are valid.

Implementation of UCC in Uttarakhand: A five-member expert committee, led by retired Supreme Court Judge Ranjana Desai, is tasked with recommending the implementation of UCC in Uttarakhand. If successful, Uttarakhand would be the first Indian state to execute Article 44.

Challenges and Way Forward

Implementing a UCC in India’s diverse population is challenging. Concerns include:

  • Potential encroachment on religious freedoms.
  • Risk of religious riots if fairness is compromised.
  • Government interference in personal matters.
  • Resistance from communities unprepared for change.

Despite these hurdles, the UCC remains a directive for the government. The judiciary has consistently supported its implementation, but religious and political opposition, along with India’s vast diversity, have delayed its practical application. Thus, Article 44 remains more a textual directive than a practical reality.


The Shah Bano case was a significant milestone in the Indian legal system, as it reaffirmed the principle that justice and equality must prevail over religious practices that discriminate against women. Although the subsequent legislation attempted to dilute the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the case set a precedent for future legal battles concerning the rights of divorced Muslim women. The judgment maintained public confidence in the judiciary’s ability to uphold justice, even in the face of political and social pressures.

The case also highlighted the broader issue of gender inequality within personal laws and the need for comprehensive legal reforms to protect the rights of women. The Shah Bano case remains a testament to the courage of one woman who, despite overwhelming odds, challenged an unjust system and paved the way for future generations of women to seek justice and equality.

References –

Shah Bano Case [Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano] – Analysis And Impact (

Case Analysis-Mohd Ahmad Khan v/s Shah Bano Begum (

Case Brief: Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs Shah Bano Begum And Ors on 23 April, 1985 (

Shah Bano Case and Related Issues by Anant Gupta :: SSRN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *