Women staying in marriage is highest amongst Muslims compared to Hindus and Christians
The RSS-affiliated Rashtrawadi Muslim Mahila Sangh approached the Supreme Court of India through an application in June for codification of ‘Muslim personal law’, especially to end practices such as polygamy and triple talaq, or instantaneous divorce. The court in October sought the opinion and recommendation of the Government of India on these issues. The government responded that the absence of reforms in the (Muslim) community during the past 65 years has left Muslim women “extremely vulnerable, both socially as well as financially”. Almost immediately on October 24, 2016 Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the practice of the so-called ‘triple talaq system’. Addressing a rally in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, he stated that “no injustice should be meted out to our mothers and sisters in the name of religion or community.”
At first glance, this seems like a happy moment for the Muslims of India that even the BJP and its cultural mascot, the RSS, intends to improve the conditions of Muslim women; an indication, surely, that one day this will do good for Muslim men as well.
What the data shows
Yet, our happiness was shattered when we did a little research using data from the Census of India – 2011. This analysis raises the following questions: Is the Muslim women’s condition in India as pathetic as the Modi government, the RSS and other surrogates claim it to be? Are Muslim women socially and financially “extremely vulnerable” – as mentioned in the government’s affidavit to the Supreme Court? And how is their situation compared to their sisters from the Hindu, Christian and other religious communities? Since no credible data was put forth as evidence – neither in the government affidavit nor in the prime minister’s speech – it is useful to see what the census data tells us.
We have analysed data from the ‘Marital Status by Religious Community and Sex – 2011’ C3 table of the census in order to try and establish what the empirical position is.
Our principal finding is that the situation of Indian Muslim women seems far better than women from other religious groups.
For example, the percentage of women staying in marriage is highest amongst Muslims (87.8%) compared to Hindus (86.2%), Christians (83.7%) and other religious minorities (85.8%).
The percentage of widowed women is least amongst Muslims (11.1%) compared to Hindus (12.9%), Christians (14.6%) and other religious Minorities (13.3%). It is likely that the culture of widow remarriages provides a higher level of family protection to Muslim women compared to women from other religious communities.
The percentage of separated and abandoned women is also least amongst the Muslims (0.67%) compared to Hindus (0.69%), Christians (1.19%) and other religious Minorities (0.68%).
The same census data suggests that the divorced women percentage is higher amongst the Muslims at 0.49% and Christians at 0.47% compared to other religious minorities (0.33%) and the Hindus, at 0.22%. The practice of getting a divorce amongst the Hindus is traditionally non-existent. Out of 340 million ever-married women 9.1 lakhs are divorced and amongst them 2.1 lakhs are Muslims.
The process of talaq (divorce) is clearly laid down in the Holy Quran, which is against triple talaq. The triple talaq was an exception rather than a rule under special circumstance. Divorce is not a whim. Both men and women are required to follow a process that involves at least three months (or three menstrual cycles) after separation and reconciliation efforts fail. The logic is twofold; if the woman can bear a child, the system wants to ensure that she is not pregnant and if she were, child support has to be figured in. The other reason is to allow each other to find a place to live and not get thrown on the street.