A law that makes it difficult to get a divorce may not have kept unhappy married couples together.
Census data released this week suggests these couples were splitting up anyway, without a divorce.
For every divorcee recorded by the census, there was an average of two more who told enumerators that they too had separated from their spouses. For Hindus, there were three more separated people for every divorcee.
The data comes against the backdrop of the NDA government’s move to drop a much-debated bill that would give legal sanctity to live-in relationships and make it easier for Hindus to get a divorce.
But former law minister Sadananda Gowda dumped the bill in February last year, saying there were people who felt the amendments “would be detrimental to the present system of family”.
The law for Hindus — and others registered under a special marriage law — makes it difficult to get a divorce unless both partners give their consent. If one partner objects, the other has to prove allegations such as adultery, cruelty and insanity to get the court’s seal of approval.
n analysis of the census data indicates that Hindus have the lowest proportion of divorced members — 0.1% of its population -- among all religious communities. The corresponding number for Muslims, Sikhs and Jains is 0.16%, Buddhists 0.23% and Christians 0.2%.
But the picture changes once the separated population is added.
At 0.35%, Jains reported the lowest proportion of people who emerged from a marriage on the rocks, followed closely by Muslims at 0.38%. Hindus and Sikhs come next at 0.4% of the population.
Apart from a social stigma associated with divorce, the restrictive provisions of the divorce law and the long delays are linked to a high proportion of separated individuals.
Between 1901 and 1931, the census added the number of divorced persons as widowers. It started recording divorced persons separately from 1941 and started clubbing separated and divorced people from 1961.
The 2011 census was the first where it reported on separated and divorced population separately.
The data also revealed that the men — divorced and separated – move on.
Across all religion groups except Sikhs, the proportion of separated and divorced women is much higher than men.
“The lower number of divorced or separated men is almost certainly due to their higher rates of remarriage compared to women,” said Prof Premchand Dommaraju at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University in his study “Divorce and Separation in India.