In 2015, the divorce rates in India were about 13 in every 1000 marriages. While this is still among the lowest in the world, it marks a sharp rise from the earlier 1 in 1000 ratio of a decade ago. In 2013, three new family courts had to be set up in Bengaluru to cater to the increasing demand for divorces. The judicial system of the country sees more and more new cases pouring in every day.
The increased divorce rates have raised concerns for one part of the society who sees it as an erosion of our cultural values. The other side, however, considers it a sign that our country is becoming more progressive.
The situation through the ages
For a long time in our history, women were thought of as an established property of their husband. Even as late as the 20th century England, husbands had full rights over their wife’s property, as well as her body. Marital rape was a concept that was introduced and recognised later. India, on the other hand, is yet to debar the practice.
Manusmriti, the ancient Hindu legal text, granted women property and inheritance rights. However, it also placed women under the continuous guardianship of males- first her father, then her husband, and ultimately her sons. While there are no confirmed origins, the practice of Kanyadaan is often defined as the father handing over the responsibility of his daughter to the groom. The word daan literally means donation.
The debate over divorces
As the number of young couples seeking legal separation and divorces increase, so does a sense of concern. Many people, especially from the older age group see it as a shift towards the ‘western’ culture. The impatience and ego of the young generation is considered the prime cause of marriages falling apart.
Several marriage counsellors observe that these days couples do not seek counselling as a way of reconciliation, but to convince their partner or family that separation is the wise choice. This ideology is seen as a new entrant to our society. However, Aarti Mundkur, a lawyer from Bengaluru, thinks otherwise. “Marriages have been breaking down with much the same regularity over the years. But couples have been continuing with the marriage to keep up appearances. The growing rate of divorce is an indication that the stigma associated with it is on the wane.”
The reasoning is, it is not that some sudden westernisation has created faults in the institution of marriage. People had problems even before. It’s merely that with changed times, they now have the courage to come forward and talk openly about the issues. Our culture might refer to matrimony as a bond that lasts across reincarnations, but that does not mean a permanent consent to being unhappy, and modern day couples realise that well.
While stating causes of divorces, people also mention women empowerment. Today, an average woman is more likely to be working, and hence financially independent. Earlier, when women had no means of sustenance other than the husband, they found it difficult to get out of a marriage. Not to mention, the alienation faced by a divorced woman used to be, and still is more than what a divorced man has to go through. Statistics show that the instances of women remarrying are less frequent than that for men.
If indeed women empowerment is a cause for our increased divorce rates, then that is something we should be happy about. It is of no glory to supposedly preserve a ‘sacred’ institution if the cost we pay is the liberty of women, or any gender, for that matter.
The National Family Health Survey (NHFS-4) released a data earlier in 2018 showing that one in every three women has faced domestic violence at least once in her life. The same organisation in 2004 found out that nearly 1.8% women have inflicted physical violence on their husbands, with no provocation. The conclusion is simple. There are unhappy, broken marriages in the country. Spouses suffer through the toxicity for years because the prospect of a divorce is still unacceptable to many.
“What will the society think?” takes away so many people’s chance at a happier life. If disregarding that question means stepping away from our country’s culture, then perhaps it’s worth it.