Mumbai: If divorce is really the main reason why women in India remain backward, then the Census 2011 data on the marital status of Indians should be alarming for the Modi government. For, more Hindu women in India are divorced than those belonging to the Muslim community - more than three times to be specific.
The data - circulating in public domain afresh amid the ongoing debate following the petitions filed in the Supreme Court seeking a ban on instant or concurrent triple talaq practiced by some misguided Muslims, becomes more important as it exposes the fact that Hindu women deserve more attention than Muslims if "rampant divorce" is really a hurdle for women empowerment and gender equality.
"Among divorced Indian women, 68 per cent are Hindus whereas just 23.3 per cent are Muslims", IndiaSpend.org said in a report quoting 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.
"Among divorced men, Hindus account for 76 per cent, and Muslims 12.7 per cent. Both Christian women and men cover 4.1 per cent of their gender-respective divorced groups", Census 2011 data showed.
Commenting on the data, Aleem Faizee, Convener of Citizens for Development and Peace (CDP) says rampant divorce is a social issue and should be dealt accordingly.
"But, unfortunately the present government is giving the issue a communal colour and raking it up for political mileage", he said.
"Personally, I am against the practice of concurrent triple talaq and consider it against the spirit of Islamic Shariah. But, I can't favour the political or judicial interference in religious matters, especially when the motive is to intimidate Muslims", he added.
"Improving literacy, and economic and social empowerment are the ways the government can bank on to tackle the issue. The present government talks of "Sab ka saath sab ka vikas" but is non-committal on this front", Faizee 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 per cent -- or 1.5 lakh -- divorced persons in the state are women.
The highest population of divorced men in the country -- 1.03 lakh persons -- resides in Gujarat, accounting for 54 per cent 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.
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 per cent of the separated population within their community, follow. Another significant disparity has been recorded among Buddhists, where separated women comprised 68 per cent of the demographic group within their community.
Over the decade ending 2011, there was a 39 per cent 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.
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.
Hindus comprise about 80 per cent of India's population, while Muslims account for 14.23 per cent. 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.