Nearly 33 years after the Shah Bano case and its aftermath shook up Indian polity, the case once again took centre stage in the Lok Sabha during the debate on the Muslim Women (Protection on Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, also known as the Triple Talaq Bill.
The Congress appeared to have gotten over its earlier defensiveness over passing the Muslim women (Protection on Divorce) Act, 1986, with its MP Sushmita Dev declaring it “the one law that has brought justice to Muslim women”. The declaration was hotly contested by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi.
“After the Shah Bano case, the government led by late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi passed the bill that ensured time bound disbursal of the entire alimony in the iddat period, and not just subsistence alimony, but a fair and reasonable one. It also provided for legal recourse to the aggrieved spouse to prosecute if not provided the same by her husband or his relatives,” Ms. Dev said. She pointed out that the NDA government’s Triple Talaq Bill spoke of “subsistence” rather than reasonable and fair alimony.
“In 2001 in the Danial Latifi case, the Supreme Court not just upheld the constitutionality of the Rajiv Gandhi government’s Bill, but also codified the Act. It clarified that the entire alimony be paid in the iddat period,” she said.
This was contested by Ms Lekhi, who said the Bill following the Shah Bano case had “snatched” the rights of Muslim women under Art 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code which provided for maintenance in case of destitution, and was not specific to a religion and gave relief to all.
The politics of the 1980s was invoked as Ms. Lekhi said that after the Shah Bano case and “with a minister like Arif Mohammad Khan by his side”, late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had missed a “historic opportunity.
Much of the 1980s politics and thereafter has revolved around charges of minority appeasement against the Congress and majoritarian sentiment supported by the BJP in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement with the Congress always a little diffident on the Shah Bano case. With Ms Dev’s speech it seems the Congress is taking a relook at events of 1986.