WITH THE Census 2011 providing a disaggregated account of separated and divorced individuals for the first time, two Mumbai-based scholars have analysed trends to make sense of what is happening to Indian families — and at what rate.
What they saw on the map was this: While divorce and separation together formed 0.07 per cent of the married population in India in the 2001 Census, the number had risen to 0.8 per cent in 2011. In 2011, 13.6 lakh individuals reported themselves as divorced, which is 0.24 per cent of the married population and 0.11 per cent of the total population.
Consider the key findings of Dr Sreeparna Chattopadhyay and Dr Suraj Jacob from the 2011 Census:
* The urban divorce rate (0.89%) is higher than the rural rate (0.82%), but by a wafer-thin margin.
* States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh have higher rates of divorce in rural areas, than in urban areas.
* Delhi, Bengal, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Rajasthan, UP, Assam, MP, J&K and Uttarakhand have higher urban rates of divorce than in rural areas.
“We are especially surprised that the difference in rural and urban Indian rates as an average is very narrow. We did not expect to see India as a low divorce rate country, as there are many early age marriages, first relationships get converted into marriages at a higher rate than abroad and there is very little cohabitation. But it is the rural-urban absence of difference in rates that is surprising,” says Chattopadhyay.
Chattopadhyay and Jacob co-authored a paper on the subject that was first published in the Economic and Political Weekly. Their study revealed that where significant rural-urban gaps exist, divorce and separation rates were higher in rural than in urban areas — for example, states such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.
This aspect, says psychiatrist and counsellor Dr Alok Sarin, needs to be better understood. “The lack of rural-urban difference, and the difference across states, has, I think, been correctly flagged by the authors. In the endeavour to chronicle social change, and the diverse influences that affect it, this data is very important,” says Dr Sarin.
But lawyers and activists like Kriti Singh, who is also a part-time member of the 18th Law Commission, suggest it is possibly easier for “richer women who have access to income and family wealth” to opt for divorce. ”The story of abandonment and domestic violence touches all women, across caste and community and region, but there is some change with class. Women don’t want to challenge bad marriages as they lose access to their family and family home,” says Singh.
Another aspect of the data is the inter-state disparity. “In states where there is progress in women’s rights, places show higher rates of divorce and separation — like the familiar North-South divide… But generalisation is also not possible, as several places that have a low sex ratio and are not seen as progressive on women’s rights also show high divorce rates. It is difficult to make sweeping statements, other than to say that the Northeastern states, while showing tremendous disparity among each other, are different from other states, given the matrilineal systems, tribal customs and women having more control over assets and incomes,” says Chattopadhyay.