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SC to relook into Muslim divorce law

The Supreme Court on Tuesday has decided to constitute a bench to examine Islamic personal law to consider gender discrimination suffered by Muslim women owing to “arbitrary divorce and second marriage of their husbands, resulting in a denial of dignity and security to her.

This comes 30 years after the Supreme Court urged the government to frame a uniform civil code to “help in the cause of national integration” in the Shah Bano case.

Issuing notices to Attorney General and National Legal Services Authority of India, Justices Anil R Dave and Adarsh Kumar Goel sought their reply by November 23 on a question whether “gender discrimination” suffered by Muslim women should not be considered a violation of the Fundamental Rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution and international covenants.

Taking note of several judgements of the apex court on gender discrimination since the 1990s, the bench said “Laws dealing with marriage and succession are not part of religion. Law has to change with time”.

Writing the judgment, Justice Goel said the decision to “consider” the rights of Muslim women came up during discussions with lawyers on gender discrimination at the hearing of a batch of civil appeals on the issue of a daughter’s right to equal shares in ancestral property under the Hindu succession law.

“An important issue of gender discrimination which, though not directly involved in this appeal, has been raised by some of the learned counsel for the parties which concerns rights to Muslim women.

Considering the strong pitch made by the SC recently for a common civil code, this judgment is significant as this is the first time that the court itself has shed its self-imposed restraint by suomotu ordering the registration of a PIL.

The SC has also sought the examination of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, that was passed when the Rajiv Gandhi-led UPA government was in power.