By Abusaleh Shariff and Syed Khalid
May 29, 2017
Since May 11, the Supreme Court of India has been discussing the constitutional validity of the “triple Talaq system” on a priority and on a daily basis, yet without the benefit of empirical data. The SC could have directed the government to launch an empirical study to find out the prevalence of triple Talaq and investigate if the condition of the victims is different from that of millions of their sisters affected by the dissolution of marriage through divorce — Talaq or qula. The reference to triple Talaq is to a situation when the husband utters the word “Talaq” thrice in one go or one sitting. Normally, Talaq amongst Muslims is executed over a period of three months and involves uttering the word “Talaq” in each month at least once.
Given the paucity of data on this practice, and the fact that Muslim culture and religious practices are not well known and understood by the public at large, it was essential to undertake primary data research and analysis.
This article intends to facilitate for the SC, and the people at large, the benefit of empirical data and analysis relating to marriage, Talaq and triple Talaq amongst the Muslims of India. The New Delhi-based Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy (CRDDP) launched an all-India survey through a dedicated website (crddpsurvey.in) during March-May 2017. Since mid-2016, the CRDDP has been enrolling youth through a process of voluntary registration under its Desh Sevak Programme. So far, a directory of 1,05,050 individuals has been prepared and the volunteers have provided basic identification along with their mobile numbers. These volunteers are spread across most of the major states and districts of India.
From amongst this directory, data on triple Talaq was collected from 20,671 individuals (16,860 men and 3,811 women). The questionnaire was made available in English, Hindi, Urdu and Roman Urdu languages. Over 40 per cent of all respondents are from the northern parts of India such as Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Delhi. The remaining 60 per cent are from the south and the west — Telangana, Maharashtra, and Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
It is useful at this stage to know more about the respondents in terms of their education and income levels. It is expected that the online survey will be taken by relatively educated individuals of the community. About one-third of women respondents are educated up to matriculate levels and the male respondents are relatively better educated. Twenty-seven per cent women and 33 per cent men have a post-graduate degree. However, overwhelming 59 per cent women reported a lack of income due to not being employed. Thirty-six per cent men reported Rs 10,000 or less as their monthly income.
With respect to the marital-status profile of the respondents, just about 30 per cent women and 34 per cent men in this sample are unmarried. Of the remaining sample, 88 per cent women and 98.5 per cent men reported being in a marital union. The proportion of women who are divorced or divorced and re-married is 8.3 per cent compared to about 1 per cent amongst the men. Women who are divorced and also re-married are 6.4 per cent.
This survey has accumulated data from 331 divorces or Talaqs (qula) from both women and men. Of these, just about a quarter of divorces have occurred through the intervention of religious institutions such as the Qazi and Darul Qaza. Only one respondent or 0.3 per cent reported oral, instant “triple Talaq in one go”. A large proportion — 36.2 per cent — occurred in front of elders and family members when the man pronounced Talaq once a month over three months, followed by 21.1 per cent through courts and notice, and lastly, 17 per cent occurred in the presence of NGOs, at police stations, or Panchayats.
There is ample evidence to suggest that securing Talaq amongst Muslims must follow a process selected from multiple options and “triple Talaq in one go” is not one of them. Further, of the 331 instances, the husband has initiated Talaq in 134 cases and the woman herself has sought qula in 126 instances. In the case of 54 other Talaqs, the parents of the women initiated and accomplished woman’s Khula or Talaq. Note that out of 331 Talaqs, only one instance has been reported as a clear case of “triple Talaq in one go”.
On an average, the divorced individuals surveyed have 0.7 children. However, 23 per cent of all reported Talaqees did not have a surviving child, 47 per cent reported one child and 22 per cent have three-plus children. When it comes to maintenance, a high proportion — 83 per cent of 134 male Talaqees — have reported providing maintenance during the iddat period. Yet, 83 per cent of women Talaqees reported husbands not paying maintenance for their children. The issue of children’s maintenance can be gauged from their place of residence after the parents have executed Talaq.
Out of 331 Talaqees, 43 per cent of the children have stayed with the mother, followed by 8 per cent with maternal grandparents. The rest live with various other relatives, excluding the father himself. Only 5.4 per cent of children resided with their father after Talaq. This data suggests that women and children are indeed at economic and social risk after Talaq.
Remarriage after Talaq forms the essential information emerging from this survey and analysis — 78 per cent of women re-marry after Talaq. This appears to be the most important aspect for the security of women after Talaq. Note that this can also be attributed as one of the greatest gifts of Islam to women: The opportunity to re-marry is either non-existent or only done slyly amongst large sections of Hindu society.
The survey also gathered information on the reasons for divorce. The parents and relatives of the husband are the instigators in 13.3 per cent of the cases. However, the second most prevalent reason — in 8.4 per cent of the cases — is that the woman’s parents were unable to fulfil the dowry demands. Seven per cent of the Talaqs are triggered due to women not bearing a child after marriage and another 3 per cent due to the fact that the women bore only a girl child.
Further, 8 per cent of Talaqs were effected due to the husband having an extra-marital affair and 4.4 per cent of Talaqees reported effecting a Talaq due to sexual incompatibility. Only 0.4 per cent of Talaqs occurred at the spur of the moment — a case of triple Talaq.
In conclusion, this survey shows that the incidence of “triple Talaq in one go” is rare and insignificant. Projecting the minuscule victims of triple Talaq as the major issue to be confronted to empower the Muslim community is questionable. Instead, the social policy maker should be concerned about 43 million widowed women belonging to all sections of society and provide incentives for remarriage and/or provide programmatic financial support to them.
There are close to a million divorced women in India who require social as well as government-initiated support. Further, the issues relating to separated women are much more serious than triple Talaq. According to the Census of India (2001), there are 2.3 million separated and abandoned women which is 260 per cent more than the number of divorced women in India. There are about two million Hindu women who are abandoned and separated — the figure is 2.8 Lakh for Muslims, 0.9 Lakh among Christians and 0.8 Lakh from other religions.
The government’s social reform initiative has to have a bearing among all vulnerable sections of women, irrespective of their religion. Therefore, the unusual attention to an insignificant practice such as “triple Talaq in one go” can be termed as (politically) motivated and, at best, a waste of valuable national resources, including those of the Supreme Court.
Shariff is chief scholar, US India Policy Institute, Washington DC and Khalid is research associate, Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, New Delhi