Maintenance not charity but fundamental right of married women: Apex Court

‘Joint accounts, ATM access rights of homemakers’

New Delhi: The time has come for Indian men to recognise the indispensable role played by homemakers and the sacrifices they make for the family, the Supreme Court said today.

The observation came as a bench of Justice BV Nagarathna and Justice Augustine George Masih ruled that a divorced Muslim woman can seek alimony from her husband under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The bench held that the law for seeking maintenance applies to all married women, irrespective of their religion.

Underlining the key role of homemakers in the family, the court said it is necessary for husbands to provide financial support to their wives. Justice Nagarathna observed in her judgment that an Indian married man must become conscious of the fact that he would have to financially empower and provide for his wife, who does not have an independent source of income, by making available financial resources particularly towards her personal needs, “in other words, giving access to his financial resources”.

“Such financial empowerment would place such a vulnerable wife in a more secure position in the family. Those Indian married men who are conscious of this aspect and who make available their financial resources for their spouse towards their personal expenses, apart from household expenditure, possibly by having a joint bank account or via an ATM card, must be acknowledged,” she said in the order.

She added that the direction to provide maintenance seeks to alleviate the “financial stress and vulnerability of the impecunious woman who is dependent on her husband economically”. “It is indeed a constitutional imperative to redress the vulnerability of a married woman which includes a divorced woman who does not have an independent source of income under Section 125 of the CrPC. It is commonplace that married women sacrifice employment opportunities to nurture the family, pursue child rearing, and undertake care work for the elderly.”

The Supreme Court’s order stating that a Muslim woman is entitled to maintenance from her husband after divorce under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure underlined that maintenance is not charity but a fundamental right of married women.

“This right transcends religious boundaries, reinforcing the principle of gender equality and financial security for all married women,” it said.

Section 125 broadly says a person with sufficient means cannot deny maintenance to their wife, children or parents.

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The judgment has come on a petition by Mohd Abdul Samad, who was directed by a family court to pay a monthly allowance of Rs 20,000 to his divorced wife. Mr Samad had challenged the direction in Telangana High Court, which modified the amount to Rs 10,000. He then moved the Supreme Court. His counsel argued that divorced Muslim women can seek recourse to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 Act and stressed that it provides much more than what Section 125 CrPC does. He also argued that a special law — referring to the Act — shall prevail over a general law.

Amicus Curiae Gaurav Agarwal countered that the personal law does not take away a woman’s entitlement to relief under the gender-neutral CrPC. (NDTV)


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