Mohd Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum & Ors.

Read the case analysis of a landmark judgement which stirred the debate of Triple Talaq and started the movement for rights and freedom of Muslim Women. The case further talks about the need of having a Uniform Civil Code.
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice Y.V. Chandrachud, Justice D.A. Desai, Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy, Justice E.S. Venkatramaiah and Justice Rangnath


This is a landmark case with respect to securing the rights of a Muslim woman on maintenance. The Supreme Court’s decision not only ensures woman’s rights but also suggested the changing social aspect of the nation to adopt the concept of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), which has been enshrined under Article 44 (Directive Principle of the State Policy) of the Indian Constitution. The main issue of the case was whether a Muslim woman is entitled to maintenance under Section 125 of Cr.P.C. as Personal Laws are applicable in civil cases and affairs of marriage.


The facts of the case are as follows: In the year 1932, Md. Ahmed Khan (Appellant) a well-known advocate in Indore, Madhya Pradesh married Shah Bano (Respondent) and they had five children. He marries a younger woman after fourteen years and in 1975, he drove her first wife i.e. Shah Bano out of the house along with their five children. She was 62 years old at that time. In the year 1978, he gave divorce to her by the way of ‘triple talaq’ and pronouncing ‘talaq’ three times. According to the Muslim law he deposited 3,000 Rs. as ‘dower or mehr’ during the period of iddat. Shah Bano filed a petition before Judicial Magistrate at Indore under section 125 of Cr.P.C. claiming that she is entitled to maintenance for her children and herself. The magistrate directed the husband to pay a sum of Rs. 25 every month as maintenance. She then filed an appeal in 1979 to the High Court of Madhya Pradesh where the amount of maintenance was extended and the husband was directed to pay Rs. 179.20 per month. Her former husband challenged the decision of the High Court by filing an appeal before the Supreme Court in the year 1981. A five-judge bench was constituted to look upon the matter.

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The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether Section 125 of Cr.P.C. would be applicable to Muslims?
  2. Whether the husband would be discharged from the liability to pay maintenance by depositing the amount of ‘Mehr’ on divorce?

Summary of court decision and judgment

The Court rejected the appeal made by the husband to cancel the order passed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh and claimed that he is not liable to pay maintenance as he is discharged from this liability by giving ‘Mehr’ to his former wife during the period of ‘Iddat’. It was held that sec 125 of the code is truly secular in character. It was enacted to provide a quick and summary remedy to the class of persons who are unable to maintain themselves. Irrespective of the person being of any religion sec 125 is applicable because it is a part of the Criminal Procedure Court and not Civil Laws.

Neglect by a person of sufficient means to not give maintenance to any dependents leads to invoking of 125. The rights conferred by sec 125 can be exercised irrespective of the Personal Law of the Parties. In this case, the Husband’s obligation to provide maintenance doesn’t get limited to the boundation of time period of Iddat but as long as the wife is unable to maintain herself or remarried even though Iddat period is over.


This case was not unique and similar judgments have been delivered by the Supreme Court but what made this case a landmark decision was because it questioned the sanctity of personal laws, brought on debate need for adoption the Uniform Civil Code and settled the issue that CrPC will prevail over any other personal law. The decision made by the Court was appropriate, it doesn’t make any changes in the existing law, however, the decision clarifies on the question that codified law, which has constitutional sanctity will prevail and applicable to every citizen irrespective of what consists in their personal law.

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This decision expressed dissatisfaction over the legislature’s failure to establish a UCC for all the citizens. The judgment was way ahead its time hence created uproar amongst the Muslim community who claimed that the Supreme Court did not give regard to the Muslim personal law. The pressure and uproar amongst the people caused the legislation to pass the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights in Divorce) Act, 1986 to nullify the SC’s Shah Bano decision.

Though the judgment nullified by the enactment of the MWA, the Court in future judgments claimed that a divorced Muslim woman is free to either seek maintenance under sec 125 of CrPC. The Supreme Court has found a way to impart reasonable and just judgment even after religious sensitivity.