SC declines to consider plea against validity of Shariat Act, 1937

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Court said that the issues raised in the writ petition fell in the "legislative domain" as personal laws are different for different religions and the courts can't say what is inheritable under Hindu law should also be inheritable under Muslim law

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to entertain a plea filed challenging validity of Colonial era Shariat Act, 1937 in matters of marriage, divorce and successions among Muslims, for being violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia said that the issues raised in the writ petition fell in the "legislative domain".

After hearing advocate Mathews J Nedumpara, the court orally said, "Personal laws are different for religions. How can courts say what is inheritable under the Hindu law should also be inheritable under the Muslim law?"

The counsel for Sabina, wife of late builder and film financer Yusuf M Lakadawala, contended that she entered into a matrimonial alliance on apparent assurance that she would get 50 percent of his estates.

"Then, you should have placed the arrangement before us. If he (the husband) had wanted to confer certain rights, he would have done it, but your husband never did it during his lifetime," the bench said.

The petition filed the plea under Article 32 of the Constitution sought a direction for the enforcement of Sabina's fundamental rights to ensure just and equitable right of inheritance to the estates of her late husband, who died while in jail on September 9, 2021.

She claimed that her rights were denied by virtue of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.

The petitioner sought a declaration that a widow, so too, daughters and mother of a Muslim who died intestate are entitled to an equitable share of the estates, properties, and assets of their deceased husband/father/son, as is the case with rest of the communities, Hindus, Christians, Parsis. 

She contended that the Shariat law, in so far as it discriminates between sons on one hand and daughters and widows on the other, such as in the instant case where the share of the son, is 35 percent and that of her is 12.5 percent, is unconstitutional and void, and that she is entitled to an equitable share as is provided in the personal laws of other communities.

The plea also stated that it is a legitimate expectation of the citizens of India and that it is high time to seriously think about bringing in Uniform Civil Code in the backdrop of the development of passing of Women's Reservation Bill on September 18, 2023, as a landmark moment for gender equality, especially in terms of women's political leadership and the same steps are required to be taken by the Parliament to streamline all the respective personal laws and once again the highest judiciary has the potential to trigger or initiate development by directing the law makers to contemplate in bringing about parity among men and women in almost all aspects of life keeping in view of the interest of future evolving society.

The petitioner, who also filed a partition suit, claimed that her in-laws had taken a plea that going by the Shariat law, she is entitled to only 12.5 percent of the estates of her late husband, while her stepson will have 35 percent and the two step-daughters will have 35 percent of her husband's estates worth hundreds of crores. 

She claimed that she had entered into a marriage with her late husband in 2007 despite being much younger in age on the premise that as his wife and partner, would own and possess the entire estate and properties equally and that in the event of his death 50 percent of the share.

She claimed that her husband could not effectuate the transfer by way of competent documents during his lifetime since he was in jail after being arrested by the Enforcement Directorate. The undue influence exerted by his in-laws was also a handicap, she alleged.

Questioning the validity of Section 2 of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, her plea filed through advocate Usha Nandini V contended that "our colonial masters, in their anxiety to retain and perpetuate their rule, resorted to the philosophy of divide and rule, pitting communities against each other". In furtherance of that policy, in the name of reverence to the personal laws of the different communities, it foiled the attempts on the part of social reformers and leaders of the national freedom struggle to bring into existence equal laws for all concerned, her plea stated.

Her plea further stated that she could not be denied reliefs simply because the Law Commission or the Government was in seisin of the matter.

Case Title: Sabina Yusuf Lakadawala Vs Union of India