Divorced Muslim women entitled to secular remedy: SC

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a divorced Muslim woman is entitled to seek maintenance from her husband under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), asserting that any discrimination against Muslim women in matters of alimony under the secular laws of the country would be regressive and against gender justice, equality.

A bench, comprising justices BV Nagarathna and AG Masih, decisively rejected the argument that the provisions of Section 125 of the CrPC do not apply in view of there being a personal law for Muslims, and that the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, will prevail over the secular law.

“There cannot be disparity in receiving maintenance on the basis of the law under which a woman is married or divorced. The same cannot be a basis for discriminating a divorced woman entitled to maintenance as per the conditions stipulated under Section 125 of the CrPC or any personal or other law such as the 1986 Act. I, therefore, hold that Section 125 of the CrPC cannot be excluded from its application to a divorced Muslim woman irrespective of the law under which she is divorced,” said justice Nagarathna in her judgment. Both the judges on the bench wrote separate but concurring judgments.

To be sure, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 , the new law that replaces the CrPC and has become operational since July 1, has retained the older provision on alimony under Section 144.

In a robust defense of Muslim women’s rights, the judgment held: “Maintenance is a facet of gender parity and enabler of equality, not charity. A destitute Muslim woman has the right to seek maintenance under Section 125 of the CrPC despite the enactment of the 1986 Act.”