Survey on Marriage, Divorce and Family Relationships

The Supreme Court of India is hearing a petition for the codification of ‘Muslim Personal law’, especially the practice of triple talaq -pronouncing a divorce in one sitting. Dr.Abusaleh Shariff, Chief Scholar, US India Policy Institute presents an analysis of the Census of India 2011 data and the recent survey on “Marriage, Divorce and Family Relationships” conducted by our partner organization, Center for Research and Debates in Development Policy, New Delhi.

While it appears that the government, selected political parties and media are sensationalizing the matter of triple talaq in ways that projects this as widespread, whereas the facts suggest otherwise. This article intends to facilitate the Supreme Court and the people at large the benefit of an empirical data and analysis relating to marriage, talaq and triple talaq amongst the Muslims of India.

 crddp survey2


Social Policy Lessons from the ‘Triple Talaq’ Fiasco

Abusaleh Shariff & Syed Khalid

May 18, 2017


The Issue: 

The Rashtrawadi Muslim Mahila Sangh on 2nd June 2016 filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking to end practices such as polygamy and triple talaq.  The Court on October 2016 sought opinion and recommendation from the Government of India (GOI) on these issues. The GOI through an Additional Secretary in the Union Ministry of Law filed its response - that absence of reforms in the (Muslim) community during the last 65 years have left Muslim women “extremely vulnerable, both socially as well as financially” (reference). Almost immediately on 24th Oct 2016 the Prime Minister of India, Sri Narendra Modi condemned the practice of the so-called 'triple talaq system'. Addressing the ‘Parivartan Maharally’ 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 the outset, this appears 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 that one day this will do good for Muslim men as well.

The Supreme Court of India since May 11, 2017 is discussing the constitutional validity of 'triple talaq system’ on a priority and daily basis; yet void of empirical data. The Supreme Court could have directed the government to launch an empirical study to find out the prevalence of 'triple talaq system; and investigate if the condition of victims of the triple talaq is different than the millions of sisters affected by the dissolution of marriage through ‘divorce’, ‘talaq or qula’.  Note the reference to ‘triple talaq’ in this note is to a situation when the husband utters the word talaq thrice in one go or one sitting.  Normally, talaq amongst the Muslims is executed over a period of three months and uttering the word talaq each month at least once.

Given the paucity of data in this area of social practice and that the 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 paper intends to provide empirical data available from: (1) The data extracted from the Census of India 2011 and (2) data collected from 20671 individuals (16860 men and 3811 women) through an all India survey using the Internet Technology and a dedicated website during the months of March-May 2017. 

Census Data and Analysis:

The data on marital status according to major religious communities of India available from the Census of India – 2011 are presented below.  

This analysis raises the following questions - is the Muslim women's condition in India as pathetic as national government, the BJP and other surrogates claims to be? 

Are the Muslim women socially and financially extremely vulnerable as mentioned in government’s affidavit to Supreme Court; and how is their situation compared with sisters from the Hindu, Christian and other religious communities.

Since no credible data was put forth, although available from the census of India, as evidence neither in the government affidavit nor our Prime Minister's was mindful in his speech; the authors decided to share the findings from Census data analysis. Data from the "Marital Status by Religious Community and Sex - 2011" C-3 table of the census was analyzed that are presented below; will shock the Indian citizenry for sure.

These analytics suggests that the situation of the Indian Muslim women look far better than 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 woman 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 higher level 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%).

Marital Status of Women

According to Religion in India 2011 Census of India

Religion Number of Ever Married Women Number of Married Women Number of Widowed Women Number of Separated Women

Number of Divorced


All 339,621,277 293,077,472 43,261,478 2,372,754 909,573
Hindu 276,077,583 237,877,097 35,677,567 1,904,390 618,529
Muslim 42,860,315 37,616,038 4,744,585 287,618 212,074
Christian 7,875,838 6,593,705 1,151,164 93,563 37,406
Other Religions 12,086,312 10,363,108 1,600,846 82,631 39,727
Percentage of Religious Community within the Marital Category
All 100 100 100 100 100
Hindu 81.29 81.17 82.47 80.26 68.00
Muslim 12.62 12.83 10.97 12.12 23.32
Christian 2.32 2.25 2.66 3.94 4.11
Other Religions 3.56 3.54 3.70 3.48 4.37
Percentage of Marital Status Category in Each of Religious Community
ALL 100 86.30 12.74 0.70 0.27
Hindu 100 86.16 12.92 0.69 0.22
Muslim 100 87.76 11.07 0.67 0.49
Christian 100 83.72 14.62 1.19 0.47
Other Religions 100 85.74 13.25 0.68 0.33

Source: Census of India, 2011 Table No. C3 Marital Status by Religious community and Sex

The same Census of India data suggests that divorced women percentage is higher amongst the Muslims 0.49% and Christians 0.47% compared to other religious minorities 0.33% and the Hindus 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. In the following a detailed qualitative analysis is presented to understand the structure of divorce and higher rate among the Muslims. It appears that the government, selected political parties and media are sensationalizing the matter of triple talaq in ways that looks as if this is widespread, whereas the facts suggest otherwise.


The CRDDP Survey Data and Analysis

Methodology:  The New Delhi based ‘Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy (CRDDP)’, launched an all India survey through a dedicated website during the months of March-May 2017.  The CRDDP since mid-2016 has been enrolling through a process of voluntary registration the Indian youth under its Desh Seevak Program. So far, a directory 105,050 individuals has been prepared and the volunteers have provided basic identification along with their cellphone numbers; and of these 31,268 have also provided their email IDs. These volunteers are spread all over India, across most of the major states and districts of India. From amongst this directory; data on ‘triple talaq’ issues were collected from 20671 individuals (16860 men and 3811 women) who voluntarily responded to take a 5-7-minute online survey during the months of March-May 2017.  

The questionnaire was made available in English, Hindi, Urdu and Roman Urdu languages. Set of questions were organized based on gender and marital status; and the respondents were asked to select the options from a set of ‘dropdown multiple choice questions’. A predominant 83 per cent of the respondents took this survey in English followed by 12 per cent in Roman Urdu. Over 40 per cent of all respondents are from the Northern parts of India such Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Delhi.  The remaining 60 per cent are from the four south Indian states namely Telangana, Maharashtra, and Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Educational and Levels of Income:  It is useful at this stage to know a bit more about the respondents in terms of their educational and income levels. It is expected that the online survey was taken by relatively educated individuals of the community. About one third of women respondents are educated upto matriculate; the men respondents were relatively better educated. Twenty-seven per cent women and 33 per cent men have post-graduate degree. However, an overwhelming 59 per cent women have reported lack of income for a living due to they being not in employment; yet 36 per cent men have reported Rs. 10,000 or less as their monthly income.

Marital Status Profile: Just about 30 per cent women and 34 per cent men in this sample were un-married. Of the remaining sample 88 per cent women and 98.5 per cent men have reported to be in marital union. The proportion of women who are divorced or divorced and re-married are 8.3 percent compared to about 1 percent amongst the men. Women who are divorced and also re-married are 6.4 per cent. It appears that women respondents have taken a relatively better understanding of the objective of the survey and therefore they can be considered as the over-sampled women respondents.

Process of Talaq:  This survey, has accumulated data from 331 divorces or talaqs (qula) from both women and men respondents.  Of these just about one quarter of divorces have occurred through the intervention of religious institutions such as the quazi and darul kaza.  Only one or 0.3% reported ‘Oral Instant Triple Talaq’ in One Go. A large 36.2 percent occurred in front of Elders and Family members when the Man pronounced talaq Once a Month over 3 months; followed by 21.1% through Courts & Notice and lastly 17 per cent occurred in  presence of NGO/Police Station/Panchayats. 

There is ample evidence to suggest that securing talaq amongst the Muslims must follow a process from out of multiple options; and ‘triple talaq in one go’ is not one of them.

Further, out of 331instances the husband has initiated talaq in 134 cases and woman herself has sought qula in case of 126 instances.  In case of 54 other talaqs the parents of the women initiated and accomplished woman’s qula or talaq.  Note, out of 331 talaqs only one instance has been reported as a clear case of Triple Talaq in one Go reported by a female respondent.

Security and Sustenance of Talaq Women and Children

On an average the divorced individuals have 0.7 child. However, 23 per cent of all reported talaqees did not have a surviving child, 47 per cent reported one child and 22 percent have 3+ children.

Maintenance: A high of 83 per cent of 134 men talaqees have reported providing maintenance during 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 residential place where they live after the parents have executed talaaq.  Out of 331 talaqes in case 43 percent the children have stayed with mother, followed by 8 per cent with maternal grand-parents, the rest live with various other relatives excluding the father himself.  Only 5.4 percent of children resided with father after talaq. This data suggests that women and children indeed are at economic and social risk after talaq.

Remarriage: The essential information emerging from this survey and analysis is that 78 per cent of women re-marry after talaq.  This appear to be the most important aspect of security of women after talaq.  Note that this also can be attributed as one of the greatest gift of Islam to women; the opportunity to re-marry is either non-existent or it is only done under sly amongst the larger Hindu sections of the Indian society.

Reasons for Talaq: The parents and relative of the husband are the instigators in case of 13.3 percent of talaq. However, the second highest reason of 8.4 per cent for talaq is that the woman’s parents were unable to fulfill the dowry demands. Yet 7 per cent of the talaqs are triggered due to women not bearing a child since marriage; and another 3 per cent due to that fact that the woman bore only a girl child.  Further, 8 per cent of talaqs were effected due to the husband taking up liking with other women and had an affair with her. 4.4 per cent of talaqees reported effecting a talaq due to sexual incompatibility. Only 0.4 per cent of talaq has occurred at the spur of the moment which can be termed as a case of Triple Talaq.

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; - three months (or three menstrual cycles) after separation and reconciliation effort fails. The wisdom 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. Further, arbitrators should be appointed, one from husband’s family and the other from wife’s for a transparent reconciliation; and that the parties even have the right to retract and sustain the marriage during the period of separation.

Further there are two types of divorces in Islam - one initiated by the wife is called ‘Khula’ and the other is Talaq initiated by the husband. Triple talaq is a variation of the talaq initiated by the husband. If the Husband gives talaq he must pay mahar (bride-price) to his Wife which is a mandatory payment paid or promised to pay by the groom to the bride at the time of marriage. Mahar is specified in every marriage contract signed during marriage. Therefore, if the Wife seeks khula then she must give up her right to mahar as this marriage nullification is initiated by herself.  The authors consulted four Qazis from ‘DarulQuaza (family court)’ having expertise in Islamic jurisprudence and authorized to effect Khula or Talaq in the city of Hyderabad. While Nikah can be performed by many qazi’s spread all over the city the Khula and Talaq can be settled only by these four Qazi’s. It is learned from a Qazi that during last seven years he came across only two ‘triple talaqs’ cases. Another Qazi who has been practicing last 15 years has settled 160 divorce cases of which 130 are Khula, 21 are regular Talaq and only 9 were classified as ‘triple talaq’.

This shows the cases of triple talaq are rare and the unfortunate cases where they have occurred, the community by and large has strongly stood by the side of the victim and tried to rehabilitate her. Further it must be noted that Supreme Court of India has already held triple talaq invalid in its Shamim Ara v State of UP (Uttar Pradesh) judgment of 2002; and divorced Muslim women have also been getting justice under laws such as the Muslim Women’s Act and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005; besides Indian Penal Code.

Conclusions:  This survey shows that the incidence of triple talaq in one go is rare and insignificant. Projecting miniscule victims of ‘triple talaq’ as the major issue to be confronted to empower the Muslim community is questionable. Instead, the social policy strategist should be concerned about 43 million widowed women belonging to all part of the society; provide them with incentives for remarriage and/or provide programmatic financial support for sustaining a living. 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 is much more serious than the ‘triple talaq’. As per the Census of India 2001, there are 2.3 million separated and abandoned women; which is 260 per cent more than the divorced woman in India. There are close to two million Hindu women who are abandoned and separated, this number is 2.8 lakhs for Muslims, 0.9 lakhs Christians and 0.8 lakhs belong to other religions.  Government social reform initiative has to have a bearing amongst all vulnerable sections of women irrespective of their religion. Therefore, unusual attention to an insignificant practice of ‘triple talaq in one go’ can be termed as motivated (politically) and at best the wasting of the valuable national resources including that of the Supreme Court of India.


Table No. 1

Educational Status of Respondents

Women Men
Below Graduation 34.4% 21.8 %
Graduation 38.5% 45.5%
Post Graduates and Above 27.1% 32.7%

Table 2

Income Levels of respondents

Income Category Women Men Total
No income 59% 12% 21%
Less than 10000 13% 16% 15%
10000-29999 Rs. 16% 31% 28%
30000-69999 Rs. 8% 24% 21%
Above 70000 4% 17% 15%

Table 3

Occupation of respondents

Occupation Women Men Total
Unemployed 15.9 11.1 12.0
Home maker 50.0 0.3 9.6
Daily wage laborer 2.5 4.1 3.8
Skilled worker (self employed) 4.9 14.1 12.4
Permanent Employment 5.5 18.8 16.4
Professional/Management category 10.8 31.0 27.2
Other 10.4 20.6 18.6

Table 4

South Telangana 36.2
South Maharashtra 15.3
South Karnataka 13.4
South Tamil Nadu 3.0
South Andhra Pradesh 2.6
North Uttar Pradesh 10.9
North Bihar 4.0
North Delhi 2.8
North West Bengal 2.7

Table No. 5

Survey Respondents by Marital Status Category

Marital Status Women (3811) Men (16860)
Count Percentage Count Percentage
Married 2358 61.8 % 10898 64.6%
Divorced 53 1.4% 64 0.4%
Divorced and Remarried 173 4.5% 41 0.2%
Widow 78 2.05 40 0.2%
Widow and Remarried 6 0.16 14 0.08%
Un Married 1143 29.9% 5803 34.4%

Table No. 6

Survey Respondents by Marital Status Category Excluding

Un Married

Marital Status

Ever Married

Women (2688)

Ever Married

Men (11057)

Count Percentage Count Percentage
Married 2358 87.7% 10898 98.5%
Divorced 53 1.9% 64 0.6%
Divorced and Remarried 173 6.4% 41 0.4%
Widow 78 2.9% 40 0.4%
Widow and Remarried 6 0.2% 14 0.13%

Table No. 7

How the Divorce Happened? (N = 331)

Oral Instant Triple Talaq in One GO 1 0.3%
NGO/Police Station/Panchayats 56 16.9%
Courts & Notice 70 21.1%
Talaq by Quazi/Darul Kaza 82 24.7%

Talaq Once a month over 3 months

In front of Elders and Family

123 36.2%

Table 8

Main Reason for Talaq

Alcoholic and pronounced talaq under the influence of alcohol 0.88%
Because he did not like me 3.54%
Because he felt I was not a good housewife 6.19%
Because I had no children 7.08%
Because I had only girls 2.65%
Because my family could not fulfil the dowry demands 8.41%
Because my health was not good 2.65%
He was frustrated as he had no job/ lost his job 4.87%
He was having an affair and so he divorced me 7.96%
Instigated by his parents or relatives 13.27%
Other reason 37.61%
Sexual incompatibility 4.42%
Spur of the moment in temper 0.44%
Grand Total 100.00%


[2] Research Associate, Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, New Delhi

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