The Supreme Court will begin, from May 11, daily hearings on the legality of oral triple talaq. There’s no concrete data, however, on the number of Muslim women who have been divorced this way. Publicly available data suggest that despite their vulnerability to arbitrary divorce, the recorded divorce rate for Muslims is not the highest among all communities in India.
Census 2011 recorded 13.2 lakh divorcees in India, a number that activists feel is severely underreported. There are 9.09 lakh female divorcees, who make up 68% of the total divorced population.
The divorce rate — number of divorcees per 1,000 marriages — in India is 2.3. For men, the divorce rate is 1.58; for women, 3.10. The gap suggests that men who divorce tend to remarry faster than women.
Among women, the divorce rate is the highest for the Buddhist community (6.73 per 1,000 marriages), followed by Christians (5.67) and Muslims (5.63). ‘Other communities’ (4.91), Jains (3.04), Hindus (2.60) and Sikhs (2.56) follow.
However, what sets Muslim women apart from other women is the stark disparity with the divorce rates for men of the community. While Buddhist men have a divorce rate of 3.0 per 1,000 marriages and Christian men 2.92 per 1,000, for Muslim men it is 1.59 — almost three times lower than the rate for Muslim women.
This suggests Muslim men do not stay single for long, and tend to remarry far more quickly than Muslim women.
Interestingly, despite the high rate of divorce, the rate of couples living separately from each other is one of the lowest in the country for Muslims. The Census defines a ‘separated’ person as one who is married but doesn’t live with their spouse for reasons other than illness, work or school, and who has not obtained a divorce.
The rate of women who are separated in India stands at 8.09 for every 1,000 married women. For Muslims, it is 7.64. The highest is for Buddhists (14.46), followed by Christians (14.18), ‘Others’ (13.36), and Hindus (8).
Indians of different religious denominations and faiths are governed by their own sets of personal laws in respect of marriage, divorce, succession, etc. Divorce cases are settled under the Divorce Act, 1869 (4 of 1869); the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936 (3 of 1936); the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939 (8 of 1939); the Special Marriage Act, 1954 (43 of 1954); and the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.
For Muslims, divorces also take place under Sharia rules. While the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence prescribe different ways of dissolution of marriage, the most contentious has been the unilateral oral talaq, against which various groups, including a section of Muslim activists, have been protesting.
A survey, conducted by the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, of 4,710 Muslim women from the economically weak strata of the community, found 525 women — 11.14% — were divorced. Of these women, as many as 408 — 78% — had been given unilateral divorce by their husbands.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, on the other hand, points out that the divorce rate is lower for Muslims than for other communities. The Board, which analysed numbers from family courts and Darul Qazas from 8 districts in Kerala, Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh found that the number of cases for Muslims was 1,307 as against 16,505 for Hindus.
The absence of concrete numbers of victims of unilateral triple talaq notwithstanding, community watchers say it is time to ensure broad justice for all sections of Muslims. “While empirical evidence does play a role in formulating policies, there is a definite need for course correction when you realise that a large chunk of your own people are suffering because of the rigidity of a few,” Dr Abdul Shaban, deputy director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and member of the Telangana government’s commission of inquiry into the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims, said.