The reporting in Indian Express about the recently released data on community-wise divorce rates in the country is not objective from any count. The heading of the article written by Zeeshan Shaikh, “Muslim women of age 20-34 remain most vulnerable to divorce: Census”, is itself telling. The timing of the release of data by the Ministry of Home Affairs strangely coincides with the case of triple divorce already under hearing in the Supreme Court. The policymakers of the community are eagerly waiting for literacy and other educational data of religious demography appertained to census 2011 but they are now burdened with marriage data to deal with. The article places as backgrounder the debate on Uniform Civil Code and issues related to Shah Bano case, which seem beyond the scope of the article. While mentioning age-specific vulnerability among Muslims, the writer has not mentioned the state of affairs in an analytical way.
The divorce rate of Muslim women was 5.3 per thousand women in 2001 census, which has become 5.63 in 2011 census, showing a slight increase in a decade’s time. So in a decadal scene, nothing unusual has happened with the community in the backdrop of faster divorce growth rates among other sections.
In an article published in New Indian Express in April 2015, while quoting census 2011, it has been mentioned, “The proportion of divorced and separated has marginally increased in the case of both the sexes.” A BBC report of 2011 highlights the rising menace of divorce in India thus, “There’s been a 100% increase in divorce rates in the past five years alone.” Last year, Hindustan Times reported, “This is an unusual trend in a country where the divorce rate was just 1 in 1,000 ten years ago, and is still a relatively low 13 per 1,000 – as compared to the US average of 500 per 1,000. While India has no central or even state-wise registry of divorce data, family court officials say the number of divorce applications has doubled and even tripled in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Lucknow over the past five years.”
It is evident from the above reports that the general divorce rate is constantly on the rise whereas some recent articles in newspapers give the impression that this rate is decreasing whereas ‘Muslim’ rate is going up. Huffington Post remarks, “Census 2011 further reveals that 5.5 in 1,000 Hindu couples tend to get separated, including cases of wives being abandoned by husbands, though the rate of divorce among Hindus is 1.8 per 1,000.” Thus, both legal divorce and separation among Hindus will amount to be 7.3 per thousand women. If this is the fact then it brings the ‘Hindu’ divorce/separation rate quite higher to that of the ‘Muslim’ divorce rate wherein ‘separation’ is not a significant factor due to easy divorce. It should be noted that the divorce rate among majority Indian women was 4.7 per thousand women in 2001. Thus, among the Muslims the rise of marriage annulment is from 5.3 to 5.63 during the decade whereas it has been from 4.7 to 5.5 among the Hindus, showing a faster trend in case of the latter.
It may be noted here that the noted ‘Hindu’ rate of divorce is basically due to lesser divorce rate among lower echelon of society, otherwise in Hindu upper castes and Hindu middle and upper classes it should have been more than 13 per thousand women as some studies reveal.
Zeeshan Sheikh wrote, “Nearly 44% of divorced Muslim women belong to the age group 20 to 34” hence he seems worried that Muslim women are vulnerable in that age group. Let us quote another study of divorce cases filed in family courts, which underlines, “Couples in the 25-35 age group accounted for 70 per cent of the cases, and 85 per cent of them were filed in the first three years of marriage.” Hence, it is generally the younger couples which are most vulnerable for separation rather than Muslim alones. Considering the census in this case, it can be noted that in another age groups, as depicted by Shaikh, Muslim women are less vulnerable than others. One more thing should be remembered here that the marriage age of Muslim women is much lower than other sections. Hence, the young Muslim couples are as vulnerable to marriage annulment at early age as their counterparts in a somewhat higher age brackets.
One major reason for decreasing rate among Hindus as recorded in the census is the increasing trend of separation without divorce. The famous case is that of Jasodaben who considers herself married whereas she is not living with her husband since her marriage. There are millions of divorce cases pending in courts and family courts and when settled will tremendously add in the general divorce rate in the country. Many women in India are murdered while in marriage instead of being divorced to avoid alimony and the stigma of divorce. In 2012 over 1.4 dowry deaths per 100,000 females were reported in India, against 3.4 homicides per 100,000 women worldwide, according to a UN report. That makes Indian brides account for a full 41 per cent of the global toll of murdered women. It is a well known fact this phenomenon is almost negligible among Muslims.
The use of statistics based on the new term ‘refined divorce rate’, purported headlines in media and timing of the said release of census data on marriage seems guided and amounts to be a media trial before the Supreme Court could take any decision on the pending cases related to the so-called triple Talaq.
[Contributor is a social activist, analyst and author of several books including the recent one “Islam in 21st Century: The Dynamics of Change and Future-making”.]