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For every divorced Muslim man in India, there are four divorced Muslim women, says Analysis of Census 2011 data

There are gender discriminatory personal laws across India's religious communities, not merely among Muslims

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Muslim women, Wikimedia
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India, October 20, 2016: In India, for every divorced Muslim man, there are four divorced Muslim women, an analysis of Census 2011 data shows.

Across religious communities, except Sikhs, there are more divorced women than men. But the gender skew is particularly sharp among Muslims (79:21), followed by “other religions” (72:28), and Buddhists (70:30).

Among divorced Indian women, 68 percent are Hindu, and 23.3 percent, Muslims, according to Census 2011 data on the marital status of Indians. The data were recently cited by Muslim groups protesting the Law Commission’s formulation of a Uniform Civil Code, especially a ban on triple talaq.

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Among divorced men, Hindus account for 76 percent, and Muslims, 12.7 per cent. Both Christian women and men cover 4.1 percent of their gender-respective divorced groups.

Women’s rights activists believe that the gender imbalance in the numbers implies that more men than women are remarrying. “If there are 100 divorced couples, it should show a 50:50 sex-ratio. The skewed ratio plainly shows that after divorce, not only is it easier for men to remarry but also that they show a greater need or want to remarry,” Flavia Agnes, legal scholar and women’s rights activist, told IndiaSpend in a telephonic interview.

The skewed ratio among Muslims could be attributed to two problems, according to Hasina Khan, founder of the Bebaak Collective, a Muslim women’s organisation based in Mumbai. “The first is the absolute powers given to men under the Muslim personal laws by allowing triple talaq and so on. For women, getting married provides security of shelter and food with few rights for negotiation,” she said.

The other reason is the state’s failure to empower Muslim women, she added. “There is little political will to address the needs of this sub-group. The socio-economic condition of Muslim women in India continues to deteriorate with inadequate access to good education, job opportunities and so on,” Khan said.

With a total population of 8.5 lakh divorced persons, the Census recorded more failed marriages in rural India, where a higher proportion of the nation’s population still resides. In urban India, there were 5.03 lakh divorced persons.

Maharashtra, with 2.09 lakh persons, recorded the highest number of divorced citizens. The second-most populous state also holds the largest disproportion of men-to-women divorcees. About 73.5 percent — or 1.5 lakh — divorced persons in the state are women.

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The highest population of divorced men in the country — 1.03 lakh persons — resides in Gujarat, accounting for 54 percent of the state’s divorced population.

Goa, with 1,330 divorcees, holds the lowest record of failed marriages.

More women than men in India are separated — out of a marriage without a formal divorce — the Census data showed. Activists believe that this indicates the widespread practice of polygamy across India.

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“Men often desert their wives in a separation, withholding from them the freedom to remarry. The data incongruence clearly shows that more men are into polygamy, obtaining second and third wives, while society gives no rights for women,” Agnes said.

Within religious communities, the highest imbalance of separated women-to-men ratio has been recorded among Muslims, with women accounting for 75 per cent of the separated population. Christian women, who comprised 69 percent of the separated population within their community, follow. Another significant disparity has been recorded among Buddhists, where separated women comprised 68 percent of the demographic group within their community.

Over the decade ending 2011, there was a 39 percent rise in the number of single Indian women — including widows, divorcees and unmarried women, and those deserted by husbands — IndiaSpend reported in November 2015. However, the number of bachelors (58 per cent) still exceeds unmarried women, according to the Census data, indicating higher pressure on women to get married.

On October 7, the Law Commission published a list of 16 questions seeking public opinion on the need for a Uniform Civil Code for India. Apart from probing citizens’ perception of gender equality in prevalent personal laws across religions, a question asked if the practice of triple talaq should be abolished, continued or amended. Another question sought views on strengthening Hindu women’s rights to inherit property.

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The Muslim Personal Law Board has criticised the legal panel’s exercise, claiming the Law Commission is not acting independent of the central government that opposed the triple talaq law in Supreme Court the same day. Responding to a batch of public interest litigations filed by NGOs and women’s rights groups on the issue, the Centre said the practice cannot be regarded as an essential part of religion.

“There are gender discriminatory personal laws across India’s religious communities — not merely among Muslims. Though it claims to aid vulnerable sections, the Law Commission’s plans for the Uniform Civil Code do not deal with these in the right spirit. The uniformity it speaks of would only dilute India’s plural cultures while bringing in the same patriarchal bias,” Khan said.

Hindus comprise about 80 percent of India’s population, while Muslims account for 14.23 percent. Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains comprise 2.3 per cent, 1.72 per cent, 0.7 per cent and 0.37 per cent, respectively, of the population.(IANS)

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  • Ruchika Kumari

    All men and women are equal,still in books only,no practical application.

Next Story

Triple Talaq: Are the concerns and efforts real?

It cannot be deied that BJP is outlawing triple talaq to gain political mileage both from sections of Muslim women and from those Hindus who will see it as Modi's distress over the sufferings of Muslim women and as a message to Muslims that the days when they were given excessive leeway by less assertive governments are now gone.

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Triple Talaq continues to plague lives of Muslim women, VOA News
Triple Talaq continues to plague lives of Muslim women, VOA News
  • Triple Talaq has been seen as way of BJP gaining popularity among Muslims, and not as a real concern for the distressed women of the community.
  • BJP leaders are often accused of Anti-Muslim statements, which further proves the point.
  • However, if the law is passed, it will be a step towards empowerment of the Muslim women.

Only the naive will believe that deep concern for the welfare of Muslim “sisters” and for the maintenance of the “dignity of women” and “gender equality” persuaded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to introduce the bill in parliament to ban the practice of triple talaq.

For a party whose founder in its previous incarnation, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, thought that only a civil war can solve the Hindu-Muslim problem, as Tripura’s Governor, Tathagata Roy of the BJP, reminded us recently, and a BJP candidate in the Gujarat elections sought a reduction in the numbers of “topi and dadhiwalas” (sartorial allusion to Muslims), it strains credulity to believe that it has been guided solely by laudable motives to put an end to an admittedly reprehensible custom.

The belief will persist, therefore, that it is a desire to “garner votes” which is behind the decision, notwithstanding Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad’s disavowal of such an intention.

Few will deny, of course, that the practice itself is highly condemnable, not least because it is illegal even in Islamic countries. For a secular country, therefore, to allow it to prevail will point to a flawed outlook whose roots lie deep in the political calculations.

It cannot be gainsaid that the BJP is outlawing triple talaq to gain political mileage both from sections of Muslim women and from those Hindus who will see the proposed law, first, as an example of “brother” Modi’s distress over the sufferings of Muslim women and, secondly, as a message to Muslims in general that the days are gone when they were given excessive leeway by less assertive governments.

The “secular” rulers of the past, on the other hand, also thought that they will gain votes by pandering to the predilections of the obscurantists among the minorities.

The worst example of this regressive attitude was the Shah Bano episode, when the Rajiv Gandhi government negated a Supreme Court verdict in favour of alimony for a divorced Muslim woman on the advice of Muslim fundamentalists.

Shayara Bano case was one of the biggest milestone cases in history of India which intensified the previously buried matter. Wikipedia Common
Shayara Bano case was one of the biggest milestone cases in history of India which intensified the previously buried matter. Wikipedia Common

The BJP’s rise from the sidelines of politics to the mainstream, can be traced through that event in the mid-1980s. The Congress will have to tread carefully in deciding on its stance on the bill which has followed the Supreme Court’s recent declaration of triple talaq as unconstitutional in a case involving the litigant, Shayara Bano.

The difficulty for the Congress is that it has given secularism a bad name by making the concept virtually synonymous with minority appeasement. While the BJP will not mind being closely associated with Hinduism, the Congress has been trying to shed the impression that it has become “mussalmanon ki party” or a party of Muslims, as the Congress leader, Ashok Gehlot, has said, ever since the 2014 defeat made him aware of this unwelcome image, as the A.K. Antony report pointed out.

The triple talaq bill gives it an opportunity to refurbish its reputation by articulating a rational position on drafting the law, aiming at protecting Muslim women from cruel and whimsical divorces and at the same time ensuring that the legislation does not lead to a police witch-hunt targeting men. Since the bill has to still pass through the Rajya Sabha, Parliament’s upper house, there is ample scope for fine-tuning it for smoothing out the rough edges, the most egregious of which is to introduce an element of criminality in a civil legal procedure.

If the Congress and other “secular” parties play a leading role in ensuring that the new law will unequivocally serve the ends of justice where no one — neither the women, nor the men, nor the children of divorced parents — will suffer, then these parties will be able to retrieve much of their lost reputation about cynical kowtowing to bigots in the Muslim community and reassure the country in general that politics can rise above partisan and opportunistic considerations.

From this standpoint, the bill provides a golden opportunity to the secular outfits even if the BJP runs away with much of the credit for introducing it.

Outside of politics, what is noteworthy is the failure of the Muslims to deal with the problem on their own. But ever since partition robbed the community of bold, educated leaders and self-confidence by inducing the minority complex of being forever under siege under the numerically superior Hindus — unlike other minorities like Sikhs and Parsis who have retained their poise and self-belief — the Muslims have come under the retrogressive influence of the mullahs with the result that they have remained stuck in the past.

Not all Muslim have the freedom to do whatever they want. They are still in the clutches of Triple Talaq.
Not all Muslim have the freedom to do whatever they want. They are still in the clutches of Triple Talaq.

Triple talaq is one manifestation of such backwardness along with polygamy and the veiling of women as they reinforce the age-old patriarchal norms. Only a small section of upper middle class women — film stars and sports personnel being prominent among them — has been able to extricate themselves from the grasp of medievalism and enter the modern world. But the majority of the poor and lower middle class women have been denied the opportunity of advancement by orthodox Muslim society. The new law offers them a ray of hope. IANS Live