The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986
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The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act was a controversially named landmark legislation passed by the parliament of India in 1986 to allegedly protect the rights of Muslim women who have been divorced by, or have obtained divorce from, their husbands and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The Act was passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government to nullify the decision in Shah Bano case. This case caused the Rajiv Gandhi government, with its absolute majority, to pass the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 which diluted the secular judgment of the Supreme Court and, in reality, denied even utterly destitute Muslim divorcées the right to alimony from their former husbands.
The law applies to the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir. It is administered by any magistrate of the first class exercising jurisdiction under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. As per the Act, a divorsed muslim woman is entitled to reasonable and fair provision and maintenance from her former husband and this should be paid within the period of iddat.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of this Act (the objective of the Act) needs a mention. According to the stated objects of the Act, when a Muslim divorced woman is unable to support herself after the iddat period that she must observe after the death of her spouse or after a divorce, during which she may not marry another man, the magistrate is empowered to make an order for the payment of maintenance by her relatives who would be entitled to inherit her property on her death according to Muslim Law. But when a divorced woman has no such relatives, and does not have enough means to pay the maintenance, the magistrate would order the State Waqf Board to pay the maintenance. The 'liability' of husband to pay the maintenance was thus restricted to the period of the iddat only.
High Courts have interpreted "just and fair provision" that a woman is entitled to during her iddat period very broadly to include amounts worth lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of rupees. More recently the Supreme Court in Danial Latifi v. Union of India read the Act with Art 14 and 15 of the constitution which prevent discrimination on the basis of sex and held that the intention of the framers could not have been to deprive Muslim women of their rights. Further the Supreme Court construed the statutory provision in such a manner that it does not fall foul of Articles 14 and 15. The provision in question is Section 3(1)(a) of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 which states that "a reasonable and fair provision and maintenance to be made and paid to her within the iddat period by her former husband". The Court held this provision means that reasonable and fair provision and maintenance is not limited for the iddat period (as evidenced by the use of word "within" and not "for"). It extends for the entire life of the divorced wife until she remarries. In Shabana Bano V Imran Khan, the apex Court held that, Muslim divorced women who are having no means to maitain herself, is entitled to get maintenance from their former husband even after the period of iddat and she can claim the same under S.125 CrPC.
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