India is one of the countries that has the lowest divorce rate globally and it is estimated to be around 1.1%. Does this mean that we are surrounded by mostly happy couples?
A majority of divorces in India are initiated by men while worldwide women initiate most divorces. This fact shows the correlation between India’s low divorce rate and lack of women empowerment. But currently, there is a significant rise in the number of divorces initiated by women. Should we be concerned or relieved about this? On one hand, relationships are breaking and on the other hand, women are becoming more aware of their rights and exercising their decision-making power. Also have you ever wondered why there are numerous ‘successful marriages’ around us? Let’s take a look at the reasons
The tightly arranged and family-knitted marriages
In India, family values and ties are so deeply rooted that marriages are not just considered as bonding of two people but two families. To add to the complication, alliances are majorly fixed on the basis of wealth, religion, caste, and for upholding family status in the eyes of society. India’s trust in arranged marriage still remains strong and it is not acceptable for many when the younger generation finds partners for themselves.
After all the permutations and combinations of brewing the perfect arranged marriage, many of these ‘arranged’ couples remain alien towards each other but are forced to lead a life of adjustments for sustaining their family’s prestige and happiness. Divorce is not an option for most of them due to family resistance and lack of support. The big fat Indian weddings not just burn holes in people’s pocket but also makes it all the more difficult to break the ‘sacred’ marital vows.
Who will put food on the table?
According to National Family Health Survey’s report, between 2019-2021, only 32% of married women in India were employed, and out of this, 15% of women were not paid. Even today, post-marriage, women are usually expected to focus on building a family and taking care of the household. Their career/job is seen as an option and not a compulsion. So the majority of married women are financially dependent on their spouse for meeting even their basic needs. In such a scenario, it is very rare for a woman to take a stand and leave an unhappy marriage.
Also among the women who earn, many either leave financial decision-making to their husbands or decide jointly. This is another form of dependency which hold women back from initiating a decision to separate. The financial independence of both spouses is important to sustain a marriage based on equality and respect.
When patriarchy knocks on the door
In India, men are deemed as the decision-makers of the family and it is generally not encouraged for a woman to voice out her opinion or take decisions independently. Also, women are conditioned to ignore gender-based inequality and abuse. This form of upbringing has adversely impacted women’s ability to spot red flags in a relationship such as physical and mental abuse, marital rape, infidelity, substance abuse, etc.
The patriarchal system has rendered many women to choose silence when their marriage goes sour and they continue to remain compliant because that is what they are taught (and have seen) since childhood.
The never-ending courtroom drama
Thanks to movies and serials, there is a general perception that legal proceedings are a long and messed up a battle. This aspect when coupled with the lack of legal awareness regarding the grounds of divorce, alimony, child custody, etc, stops many from taking the decision to divorce.
In many developed countries, prenuptial agreements are prevalent. This is a contract that is accepted and signed by both spouses prior to their marriage. It clearly states the details of the properties and debts of both parties and specifies each person’s financial rights post-marriage and also the monetary settlement in case of a divorce. Such agreements help to clarify all the financial aspects as well as avoid arguments at the time of divorce. But prenuptial agreements are not legally valid in India as our law does not consider marriage a contract. Maybe the existence of such a contract might have made divorce a bit easier choice for many.
Also, a good number of marriages in India are not even registered, especially among the underprivileged population, and hence divorce is not even a possibility in such cases.
Look who is suffering
In India, a child is treated like a magician; their birth will miraculously solve all the issues between spouses and bring them together. If things go sour again, then this same child is used as the reason for the couple to continue suffering in an unhappy marriage.
Since our society is not yet fully open-minded to accepting children from divorced families, couples often stay together for their children. The uncertainty and legal complications of getting child custody is also other contributing factor.
Studies do prove that kids who have cohabiting parents, do better in life but this is applicable only if the children are provided a safe and happy home. Children from dysfunctional families who witness violence are at risk of developing physical and mental health issues and there is also a higher chance of them being abusive in their future relationships. So maybe staying in unhappy marriages for children might not be doing them any good.
Talk of the town
The social stigma attached to divorce is still widely prevalent and it mostly affects women and children. Women are generally considered the binding force of the family and they are expected to be selfless and adjust to make the marriage work. Because of such a belief system, a divorced woman is often shamed and made to feel like a failure. They often face criticism and are tagged as ‘home breakers’. Many often prefer to adjust and continue in a marriage rather than face society’s jarring comments and judgments.
Also, have you noticed that many of the second marriage matrimonial ads have a statement similar to – “Innocent divorcee”. Because divorce is treated as a taboo, people feel that they ought to publicly announce their innocence in order to be considered suitable for a second marriage. What we as a society, fail to understand is that a marriage may break even without the fault of both parties. Lack of compatibility, misunderstandings, family involvement, etc could also be the reasons for a divorce. Instead of categorizing divorcees as either victims or culprits, our society should learn to empathise with and support them in coping with the separation.
The labeling ceremony
A person’s identity is associated with his values, habits, physical features, career, etc. But in India, for a separated person, the label of being a “divorcee” becomes their first identification criterion. No matter what this person achieves in life, the tag of “divorcee” most often remains lifelong and prominent. This form of labeling can easily bring down a person’s morale and adversely impact their mental health.
Another negative impact of this tagging system is that it also affects the people who are related to them. Getting supposedly ‘good’ marriage proposals for their immediate family members might become difficult, sometimes their close friends and relatives are also judged and are asked to keep a distance from them. Unfortunately, our society treats divorce exactly like a communicable disease. Maybe this is the reason why many divorcees seek refuge abroad. Removing the stigma attached to divorce would create a safe place for many to open up and even help to reduce the number of dowry deaths and suicides.
Every person and every relationship is unique and the decision to stay/leave a marriage is a personal choice. It is high time that we stop exaggerating the concept of divorce. Accepting and normalizing divorce does not mean relationships are disrespected, it just reiterates the fact that marriage is supposed to be a lifelong partnership and not a lifelong sentence. Now it’s up to each one of us to decide if we should be proud or concerned about India’s low divorce rate.