A survey based study, called “The Economic Rights & Entitlements of Separated and Divorced Women India,” was conducted by a team of researchers, women’s rights activists and lawyers, for the Economic Research Foundation of India between October 2008 and September 2009 and will be published in 2012. It surveyed 405 Indian women who were either separated or divorced or deserted. The women were randomly selected from cities, towns and villages in north, east, south and west of India in an attempt to understand what happens to women when marriages fail. The survey looks at the economic and financial status of these women and seeks to capture the stark reality of their lives. It seeks to record their experiences with the police and the Courts.
Most of the surveyees were Hindus (75%) followed by Muslims (19%) and the rest belonged to other religious communities. A sizeable 42% belonged to the SC/ ST and OBC sections of our society. Education levels varied from 17.1% who had no formal education to 51.85% with different levels of schooling, ranging from primary to higher secondary. Surprisingly, 29.7% were graduates (10+2+3 years of education) and post-graduates. Thus though 29.7% of the surveyees were educated up to the graduate level or above, only 14.1% of the SC/ST surveyees had studied beyond school.
The key findings of the study titled: The Economic Rights & Entitlements of Separated and Divorced Women India (2012), are as follows, (please click here to access):
• In most parts of the country except the southern region, the majority of separated/divorced women (more than sixty percent) were aged between 23-32 years, i.e. they were separated/ divorced in their twenties or early thirties. Whereas in the Southern region most women (64%) surveyed were 28-42 years of age.
• Data analysis from a caste perspective shows that more than 60% of the SC/ ST (Scheduled Tribes) and Other Backward Class (OBC) surveyees were divorced/ separated when they were younger than 32 years of age. About 50% of these surveyees from general category were separated/ divorced at or below the age of 32 years.
• Majority live at the mercy of their husbands during the subsistence of marriage and post-marriage depend perforce on their parents, brothers, etc. Despite maintenance provisions most women are financially dependent on their natal families and 63% live with natal families, usually parents.
• Among general and OBCs this data is similar except that in SC/ST category where 71.4% of the surveyees from this category live with their natal family post separation. The miserable financial status of separated and divorced women is evident from the fact that even after separation 41.5% had no income and 27.4% earned less than Rs. 2000 per month.
• Although 58.5% of the women surveyed were able to work outside their homes and earn something, their earnings were often too low for them to survive independently. Only 14% of the surveyees were able to earn more than Rs. 6000 per month. In the Southern region more separated/divorced women were working and earning (66%); whereas, in the Northern region this percentage was the lowest i.e. about 39%.
• Only 2.7% of the women were in a better occupation like being a manager, engineer, professional and consultant, etc and 4.9% of the surveyees were advocates, teachers or doctors. 15.6% of our surveyees were working either as domestic workers or were labourers, 23% of the women were in service or employed. In contrast just 1% of the husbands were labourers, 11% were professionals like managers, and 5% were advocates, teachers or doctors. About 8% of surveyees did not know the current occupation of their spouses.
• Remarriage is extremely rare. The fact that 85.6% of the surveyees had children living with them compounded their troubles. As many as 429 (85.6%) out of 501 children were living with their mother while the rest were with their fathers (7%) and others.
• Most of the spouses of the surveyees were in the higher income group with over 55% of them earning Rs. 10,000 and above. In 32% of the cases where the surveyees’ incomes were less than Rs. 1,000 per month the income of the male spouses was more than Rs. 10,000 per month. The contrast is stark. Separation/divorce clearly spells financial disaster for women and children but leaves the separated/divorced male with more income to spend on himself alone. 87.9% of the surveyees who knew about their male spouses’ lifestyles said that they lived better than they had earlier or maintained the same lifestyle.
• A total of 516 cases were filed by 326 surveyees. Multiple cases were filed by some women, mostly (213) asking for maintenance. Thus the overwhelming need of our surveyees was for financial support. The second largest number of cases (94) was for harassment for Dowry and for recovery of Dowry.
• The survey highlights the startling reality that 83% of the surveyees were separated due to cruelty or domestic violence in their marital homes. The violence took place even though 87.92% of our surveyees were living in extended families. 13.5% of the surveyees reported that they had been deserted by their husbands.
• 84.5% of the Hindu surveyees and 79.2% of the Muslim surveyees reported that they had been subjected to cruelty/ domestic violence of various kinds. SC/ST surveyees reported that they had to face mental violence in almost all of the cases, whereas in about 90% of the OBC cases the surveyees had faced mental violence.
• Extra-marital affair was a reason for cruelty in about 35% of the cases among SC/ST category, whereas other reasons (30.8%) as well as the dowry related issues (28.8%) were also significant causes for cruelty.
• In over 69% of the 309 reported cases the dowry and Stridhan was in the possession of the male spouse and in-laws and in 30% cases it is with the surveyees. In quite a few cases it had been sold off by the in-laws/ spouse. Only 40.1% of the 367 surveyees went to the Police for recovery of dowry, Stridhan or gift items but their experience was not positive.
• The surveyees gave examples to show how marriage had affected their career opportunities as they could not work after marriage or work in a very limited way. Over half i.e. 62.7% in all of the cases, and in 75.6% from the North, 67.5% from the South, 59.3% from the East and 54.9% from the West said that they had suffered a loss of earning capacity.