Some newspapers have presented a misleading and alarmist picture of the rate of divorce among the Muslims.
By Abdur Rasheed Agwan*
The divorce rate of Muslim women was 5.3 per thousand women in 2001 Census, which has risen to 5.63 in 2011 Census. It is only a slight increase in a decade’s time. What can be concluded is that nothing unusual has happened within the community as far as divorce is concerned.
An article in the New Indian Express in April 2015, while quoting Census 2011, had observed: “The proportion of divorced and separated has marginally increased in case of both the sexes.” A BBC report in 2011 had highlighted 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, The Hindustan Times had 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 relatively low at 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.
These reports make it evident that the general divorce rate is constantly on the rise whereas some recent articles in newspapers give the impression that this rate is on decline whereas rate among Muslims 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 the ‘Hindu’ divorce and separation rate exceeds 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 ‘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 who wrote the piece in the Indian Express observed: “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.” This clearly establishes that it is the younger couples which are most vulnerable for separation rather than Muslim alones. Considering the Census figures in this case, it can be noted that in another age group, 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 an early age as their counterparts in a somewhat higher age brackets. It may be noted that separations (which are numerically more) depress the divorce rates among the Hindus. Moreover, millions of divorce cases are always pending in family courts and when settled will enhance the general divorce rate in the country. Even worse, several women in India are murdered while being married thereby obviating the need for divorce and alimony. 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% of the global toll of murdered women. It is a well known fact this phenomenon is almost negligible among Muslims. [*The author is a social activist and analyst based in Delhi. He is author of several books.]