Shah Bano was sixty-three years old when her husband divorced her in 1978. He refused to pay maintenance to her beyond a period of three months (iddat), claiming his obligation extended no further than three menstrual cycles of his wife’s. While the court decided in favor of granting maintenance to Shah Bano in 1985, Parliament subsequently overturned the judgment through the Muslim Women’s Act, 1986, to create alternate provisions. The case triggered a tremendous wave of protests simultaneously, against unfair provisions of Muslim law and against the state’s interference in matters of religion. This essay documents the prehistory of this iconic case to demonstrate that neither the controversy nor the judgment was novel, as scholarship has repeatedly claimed. Family law had historically been a contentious arena that enabled conversations between the state and religion, courts and Parliament, and diverse social movements and coreligionists, engaging all institutions central to Indian democracy.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.