RE­LA­TION­SHIP SAVVY

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...

Savvy - - Contents -

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.

CHANG­ING TRENDS

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.”

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