A neighbour, a divorcee, wants to get married again and is concerned about finding the right person this time round. She was the victim of domestic violence the last time round. She had endured the marriage for 10 long years despite being very well qualified and in a very responsible position at work. An acquaintance, a divorcee, has got married to another divorcee and is happily married since many years. Look at the matrimonial columns and one sees a separate one for divorcees. There is even an online matrimonial site for divorcees – secondshaadi.com
It is evident that the number of divorces in India is increasing. Where “divorce” was a dirty word not too long ago and being a divorcee carried a social stigma, making it difficult for the person to be married again (especially if it was a woman, so what even if she was an “innocent” divorcee – which all divorcees used to be if one were to believe the matrimonial ads – whatever that meant). Obviously something has changed, but what? The common conception seems to be that women becoming financially independent and empowered is a major reason for the increasing number of divorces. But is it really so?
There are a number of dynamics in any marriage that lead it to being a success or a failure. What was the reason for the number of divorces in India being globally one of the lowest? Odes have been sung to the social structure which supports a strong family system which in turn rests on the institution of marriage. So what has changed in the social structure for more marriages to fall apart? Earlier men and women stayed close to their families and social circles and were bound by social pressures to conform to certain patterns of behaviour. More recently, however, with the globalization of our economy, with more job opportunities opening up in the cities, more and more people have moved away from the family and started living on their own. They have effectively managed to break free from the stranglehold of social pressures. Alternative patterns of living such as “live-in relationships” have cropped up where people may choose not to get married in the first place. Living in a big city away from home offers the luxury of anonymity, making this possible. Where arranged marriages used to be the norm in the past, young people probably felt obliged to continue in marriages – happy or unhappy – to keep up social appearances and for the sake of family honour. Now, when more and more young people find their own partners and stay away from home, such pressures obviously decrease. This might explain, in general, the higher divorce rate and why it is more an urban pattern than a rural one where the old social structure seems to remain intact.
India is a country of many contradictions. Although we see so many social changes, scratch the surface and we find that not much has changed in our family hierarchy. If anything, our so-called “culture and traditions” are being grossly misuse to serve personal interests and to make a woman more subservient than she ever was. Today she has to excel at academics, extra-curricular activities, out-do her male counterparts to make a place for herself in her place of work – YET when it comes to marriage and home, nothing has changed for her. She still has to take care of the home as efficiently as she would if she was not working, make sure her kids do not suffer in any way (nutritionally, academically, emotionally .....) just because of her job ..... in short she has to be a Superwoman. As if all these demands placed on her are not enough, her position in the family hierarchy has not improved any. She still has to place her in-laws above her own parents. The number of women who complain of mental and emotional harassment at the hands of parents-in-law are not a few. It matters not then that she is a 60 year old woman herself retire from the highest echelons of Indian officialdom, she is still expected to toe the line. It matters not that not only is she independent but also supports the family in many ways, she is still seen as a “responsibility”. One might wonder why she does not walk out of the marriage or tell them where they get off. This is the sad reality of the Indian daughter-in-law. She might choose to stay on for the sake of her parents. She might do so for the sake for her children. She might just choose to do so because it is still not easy for an Indian woman to live alone as a divorcee. If this was the story for a woman who is 60 years old, the same still holds true for a woman in her 30s. She is just not mentally tuned to the idea of a “divorce”. So one can well imagine what a woman must be pushed to if she chooses to separate. Well, there might be exceptions, but here I have talked of the more common category of woman. It is a sad commentary, indeed, to think that to this day, many women, despite being financially independent, do not walk out of unhappy or abusive marriages.
If indeed there were women who said “enough is enough” and walked out when they should have, we would probably have read lesser reports of dowry deaths, forced abortions of female foeticides and the like. We would not hear of people who divorced their wives for not having kids or for having only daughters.
Having said this, there is no denying that the younger generation is (again a generalization here) tending to be more self-centred and growing more intolerant than the older ones (may be they have the option and luxury of doing so which we did not) and that this may result in a small proportion of divorces. Though I really doubt, we in India get to see many cases of divorces on flippant grounds like “I don't like the way my spouse snores or “my husband has lost his hair since the day I married him”.
So to conclude that empowerment of women is the sole or the major cause for the growing number of divorces is to shut one's eye to the picture as a whole. Even if it were true, it would only imply that the durability of Indian marriages in the past was not a result of any special virtue of our culture, but due to a lack of any viable options for women living in unhappy marriages. That would amount to nothing better than the most abject form of slavery. At the most one might say that women whose lives in a marriage have become so unendurable end up walking out because they have the financial option of doing so, the actual cause for the divorce being that their lives have become unendurable. Were women to walk out of marriages just because they were”empowered” or “financial independent”, would it not be more rational to believe that those women would have preferred to stay single in the first place or to opt for a live-in relationship?
This blog has been submitted for the 4th Annual International Women's Day Contest hosted by Indusladies.com