Till divorce do us part

Till divorce do us part

Marriage and the commitment that it entails is no laughing matter and the institution has been acknowledged across civilisations and ages as more daunting than most travails faced by mankind Samsara, the cycle that a grihastha or householder faces involving marriage and procreation is often compared to an ocean most difficult to cross

Marriage and the commitment that it entails is no laughing matter and the institution has been acknowledged across civilisations and ages as more daunting than most travails faced by mankind. Samsara, the cycle that a grihastha or householder faces involving marriage and procreation is often compared to an ocean most difficult to cross.

“Iha samsaare bahu dustaare” (Life’s journey is fraught with difficulties) was how the great spiritual teacher and guru Adi Shankaracharya described a householder’s struggle in his famous “Bhajagovindam”, a work embellished with pearls of wisdom calling for constructive action.

“Till death or divorce do us part” and “I am happy, he/she is married” are some of the jokes that use the veil of humour to convey the difficulty of people coming together and facing life’s vicissitudes and happy moments without discord. The moral codes and rituals that marked life from birth to death in various cultures of the world sought to make marriage a solemn and sacred ritual that would ultimately liberate man.

But as the perceptively beautiful Bob Dylan number states “The times they are a changin”, one is forced to adapt to changes and thoughts that articulate the view that marriage is no longer sacred and binding. Those who subscribe to this view call it just a legal contract or a social sanction for two people to live together and perhaps procreate.

The institution considered sacrosanct with low divorce rates attributed to family values and morals is now minus the “lifetime guarantee” that came with it. Millennial marriages like everything else they do are becoming short-lived with most of them collapsing under the weight of expectations and uncompromising attitudes. Family courts across the country are seeing a spurt in couples seeking divorce just weeks and months into their marriage.

A look at the cases being filed in Family Courts under the jurisdiction of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) is an indicator of the increasing number of people with differences that cannot be reconciled. An average of 100 divorce applications per month at the family courts and a monthly average of 40-50 cases of domestic disputes where couples feel legal separation is the only answer is seen in varying proportions all over India. About 98 per cent of these cases seems to revolve around domestic violence with women clearly stating that they can no longer put up with abusive behaviour.

Anasuya, a professional marriage counsellor in the city attributes the increase in divorce cases to the fact that couples are in a hurry to get into and out of relationships without the intention or patience to sort out differences that are natural when two different human beings begin a life together.

“Couples are very rigid fighting over trivial matters and elders in the family are precipitating matters rather than help iron out differences. Even as they take counselling most couples are filing for divorce, without the patience to change their attitude and outlook on life,” she adds.

Divorce has become an option not just for young couples but for people who have been married for decades. Done with the responsibilities of parenting many couples see no reason why they have to lead a life of compromise. No longer are the old-fashioned values of staying in a marriage for the sake of family, children or society dictating how individuals lead their lives.

“It’s time I lived for myself” is an oft-heard refrain among men and women who seem to be waking up to the “virtue of selfishness” popularised by the well-known writer and crusader for individual rights, Ayn Rand. The disintegration of joint families leading to nuclear setups with both men and women working, the effects of Westernisation and the lack of social stigma attached to divorce are factors that are considered crucial to new attitudes dictating lifestyles in the country.

Some say low divorce rates of the past are an indicator of the lack of an option for people to get out of toxic relationships. Saroja, an independent advertising professional in Hyderabad, who has been through two divorces and has a child from each marriage is now single and raising her children with each of the father’s contributing financially to their children’s education.

“Both experiences were bad for me as my former husbands in their own way tried to assert their dominance and change my personality. I realised that I was a pale shadow of myself trying to please these men who were entrenched in their patriarchal attitudes. I am single and happy today because I can live as I am and not as a puppet controlled by someone else,” she says.

“Why should anyone give bad relationships a chance and be miserable all their life?” she reasons.
Experts feel that women who are economically independent are mentally, socially and physically independent too taking their life into their hands. Many social changes over the past few decades seem to have contributed to the present state of affairs.

The landmark Hindu Code Bill passed in the Parliament in the mid-1950’s gave women property rights, outlawed polygamy and allowed partners to file for divorce. The laws further tweaked in 1976 to allow divorce by mutual consent and various enactments regarding domestic violence have brought issues pertaining to abusive marriages to the fore.

However, marital rape which is not a criminal offence in India continues to be a challenge for most women meted out this inhuman treatment and is said to be the cause of disgruntlement leading to separation and divorce in the rural milieu. Middle-class and affluent families too are not excluded from this influence and counsellors are in demand even as the inevitable divorce comes through.

A study by Suraj Jacob and Sreeparna Chattopadhyay offers region wise statistics for divorce in India coming up with the view that although India’s divorce rate is low in cross-national perspective, the separation rate is three times as large as the divorce rate. “There is a striking variation across states, with marriage dissolution lower in the North compared with the South and the North-East, consistent with female autonomy across regions.

Surprisingly, there is very little difference between rural and urban rates of dissolution of marriage across states,” the study reveals. The entrenched patriarchal system in the Northern states and the lack of economic independence among women is cited as the reason for the low divorce rates in the North.

This, however, does not indicate happier marriages but perhaps a lack of option. Disposable incomes where most people have money to spend have not just altered lifestyles but brought about changes in attitude that impact every aspect of life including marriage and relationships. With communication between couples rarely extending beyond the “honeymoon” period failed relationships are garnering attention with one person in the relationship trying to change the other to suit their own agenda.

Cheating and extra-marital affairs are more common with increased workplace interaction denting many marriages beyond repair. Sexual incompatibility and sexual orientation which were rarely discussed in the past are now out in the open with film, television and media discussing these matters in detail and offering greater choices to those trapped by them.

Although we have more nuclear families on the horizon, interference by in-laws is said to be a cause of divorce in 60 per cent of the cases of divorce in both arranged and love marriages. Despite live-in relationships and testing compatibility before tying the knot many young couples are unable to make their relationships last.

This, however, is no reflection on the institution of marriage and does not signify its disintegration. With personal happiness high on the agenda, many people trapped in abusive marriages are no longer willing to stay there, while marriages that survive are the healthy and happy ones.

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