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Karnataka High Court’s upholding Decree on Maintenance

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Bangalore: The Karnataka High Court’s upholding a Family Court’s verdict directing the Muslim husband to provide monthly maintenance to his ex-wife, and the interpretation of Qur’an verse out of context may trigger new controversy.

Dismissing the petition of 52-year-old Ezazur Rehman pleading the court to quash a Family Court order, e-Justice Krishna Shripad Dixit observed that a new wife, a child, is no ground to deny maintenance to an ex-wife in Muslim law.

Judge Dixit observed that, unlike sacrament Hindu marriage, Muslim marriage is a contract with many shades of meaning and does not repel certain rights and obligations arising from its dissolution.

Justice Dixit also highlighted that ‘Mehr’ is fixed inadequately, and the bride-side lacks equal bargaining power, among other things, because of economic and gender-related factors.

“A Muslim man hurriedly contracting another marriage after pronouncing talaq upon his first wife cannot be heard to say he has to maintain the new spouse and child and thus cannot discharge the maintenance decree.” The judge observed.

The brief facts of the case are that the petitioner had challenged the 2011 decree of a civil court directing him to pay ₹3,000 monthly maintenance to his ex-wife, Saira Banu, whom he had divorced by way of talaq within nine months of marriage way back in 1991. He was put in civil prison in 2012 for non-payment of maintenance, and he moved to the High Court in 2014 after the civil court rejected his contentions of financial incapacity to pay maintenance.

On the petitioner’s claim that the maintenance amount cannot exceed the quantum of mehr and has to be restricted to iddat period of three months post-talaq, the court said it was difficult to sustain such contentions in law in the changing society in view of the interpretation of laws on maintenance of divorced Muslim women by the apex court. Iddat refers to the period a woman must observe after the death of her husband or after divorce, while mehr is the obligation paid by the groom to the bride at the time of Islamic marriage.

To justify his ruling, the judge even quoted verses from Surah Al Bakra that a pious Muslim owes a moral and religious duty to provide subsistence to his destitute ex-wife. This interpretation of the Qur’an verse is not in accordance with its context.  It reminds of the Shah Bano case as the judge’s wrong interpretation of the Quran had created a major controversy in the 80s, forcing the then government to enact a new law to nullify the Shah Bano verdict.