Is the increase of divorce rates good or bad? Are India’s spiralling divorce rates an indicator of society going wrong or of women empowerment catching up? Avleen K Mokha explores...
Are India’s spiralling divorce rates an indicator of women’s empowerment?
Marriage has played a large role in connecting India’s many communities. India has a low divorce rate compared to the rest of the world, especially those of Western countries. But as attitudes towards family values change and more women focus more on being self-dependent, divorce is becoming more common. Many feel that the cultural shift goes against the conventions of Indian society. But, rising divorce rates might be more good news than bad; they might suggest that women finally feel more secure in their independence to leave difficult relationships.
Today, the number of divorces filed all over India has risen dramatically. In an interview with ‘The Hindu’, Sunil Mittal, advocate at the Delhi High Court, estimated that “more than 100 divorce applications are being filed in [Delhi’s] courts every day.” In Mumbai alone, 11,667 cases were filed in 2014, up from 5,245 in 2010. Vandana Shah, a Mumbaibased lawyer, finds that her workload as a divorce lawyer has risen immensely, “There is still stigma associated with divorce, but at the same time, it’s everywhere.”
According to Pooja Bedi, actor and Chairperson of the Grassroots Foundation, increasing divorce rates are helping Indian women lead fuller lives. Because it’s happening all around us, it gives people courage. It shows them the successful lives women go on to lead post-divorce.”
REASONS FOR SEPARATING
Vandana has noticed that women leave for different reasons depending on their age, “After 50, unless and until you have another partner waiting for you, you are not going to file for divorce. You’ve been in marriage for too long, and you probably didn’t grow up in an environment that encouraged women to work.
“Increasifng divorce rates are helping Indian women lead fuller lives. Because it’s happening all around us, it gives people courage.” — Pooja Bedi
“A woman between 24 to 40 years knows that she doesn’t need to depend on a man; today, if you are financially welloff, you don’t want to be like women before you who had to accept the bad marriages they found themselves in.”
For better or for worse, the youth are more restless than their parents even after tying the knot. “No one is interested in fixing relationships for the long-term. When the self-esteem of the man and the woman clash, no one is ready to adjust, even in a marriage,” Vandana avers.
Women are finally more willing to break away from tradition if they are in unhappy situations. TV producer and activist Parveen Dusanj Bedi believes that, “It would be sad for a woman to stay in a marriage that’s abusive or disrespectful - just for society’s sake. Marriage is an institution that should be a place where you flourish. It should not be about being a doormat.
“No one who gets married does it with the intention of getting divorced. I think it’s a braver decision to decide to withdraw and reboot your life. You may decide to bow down and be dutiful. For how long? At the end, if you reach the same conclusion, you have to take action.”
STIGMA AND PREJUDICE
According to the 2011 census, more women were divorced than men, meaning that women remarry less often than men. Economist Suraj Jacob and anthropologist Sreeparna Chattopadhyay explain: “This is consistent with the bias that women face in India.” Women who have been divorced face a greater prejudice than their male counterparts. “My husband has been divorced three times. It didn’t stop him from getting married the fourth time. I don’t think this should be an impediment for a woman either,” Parveen avers.
“No one who gets married does it with the intention of getting divorced. I think it’s a braver decision to decide to withdraw and reboot your life.” — Parveen Dusanj Bedi
Many women have to consider the negative consequences of divorcing before they can break ties with their partners.
“No one is willing to talk about their divorce in an open setting,” adds Vandana. “We still live in a country where you are determined by what you make of your marriage. Everything hinges on it.
“Women I work with tell me that after one marriage, they are done. They want to live their lives without being told what to do, what to wear, or who to attend to. For these women, the situation is often so bad that they are willing to walk away without alimony.”
THE MATERNAL FACTOR
Being a mother can often stop a woman from seeking divorce. Even if the relationship is unsatisfactory or abusive, women think about their children before taking action. Although 90% women eventually end up with the sole custody of their children, deciding on custody rights and the distribution of property is often a lengthy and difficult process.
Women are also less likely to remarry when they have children from their first marriage. “Women are much more apprehensive to remarry if they have children,” says Vandana. “We have not reached a stage where it’s okay for a man to be a child’s parent even if he is not the biological father.”
KIDS GET TOUGH
In the meantime, some women have found an unexpected saviour to free them from their abusive partners: Their own children. Curiously, more children are making their mothers fight for divorce when she is being abused. Vandana agrees, “The youth is certainly taking more of the initiative.”
Women are now more comfortable standing up for themselves. They are realizing that being empowered means that they can choose to live their life with dignity, with or without a husband.
OPPOSITION TO CHANGE
In 2013, an amendments bill was prepared that would make the divorce-filing process more speedy. But the bill was shelved in 2014 after facing a lot of opposition. Those against the bill felt that making divorce easy to file would “create a society of loose morals” and damage the Indian traditions of family and marriage.
Vandana believes that we still have a long way to go before much-needed reforms can take place, “It’s very difficult for this mindset to change.”
Many generations in India have followed the same narrative of a good life: Study well, get a job, get married, have children and settle down. But reality isn’t always so clear-cut and the youth seems to be catching on to it.
“I see a lot of people with that screenplay in their heads,” says Parveen, “but there is so much more to life than getting married. It will be a shame if marriage becomes the reason you have to give up on exploring who you are.”
RAY OF HOPE
For many women, being able to leave hurtful partners is a huge step towards reclaiming their lives. Luckily, for today’s Indian woman, her career may be her passport to a better life. “Once a woman is educated, she has the same option as a man to move to another city or another state to earn her living,” agrees Pooja Bedi.
According to Vandana, the change in Indian society is organic and natural.
“What is perceived as ‘Indian culture’ has undergone a massive transformation. The entire landscape is changing, and Indian values will have to transform accordingly.”
Women are now more comfortable standing up for themselves. They are realizing that being empowered means that they can choose to live their life with dignity, with or without a husband. While this might upset those that want us to stick to our roots, Vandana sums up with: “What divorce and the law offers you is an opportunity - that if you are stuck in a really bad marriage, you will be able to walk out.”