A CLOSE PERSON has been toying with the idea of a divorce for over two years. She has left her husband several times. The most recent attempt seems the most likely to result in divorce—she talked to her husband seriously, met with a lawyer and got all the gory details of how the law stipulates that a one-year ‘reconciliation period’ is necessary before granting a divorce. The massive family disapproval, nay downright prohibition via obsessive calls, pleas and commands, does not seem to have dented her resolve.
Being a child of divorced parents myself, I am still processing her experience and trying to fit it into a frame of reference. I am familiar with some of the repercussions that divorce can have on a family. The ‘traditional’ camp, actually, is not all that specific to Indian culture and exists in various dimensions among all cultures. Catholics don’t believe in divorce; nor do many Christian fundamentalists. My 93-year-old Jewish grandfather never quite understood my mom’s divorce. He would ask us kids how it’s possible for people who love each other to be apart, despite the hard times. We had a tough time explaining that maybe they don’t love each other and can’t be together. Anyway, he was never one to see other points of view contradictory to his own.
In India though, the anti-divorce side has its own particularities. I am presenting the following reasons in the most generalised terms but would be pleased if readers could add their own variations. This is what I have gathered from the experience of my friend, who comes from a relatively traditional, middle class family. Marriage is held to be a sacred union and the bond should be unbreakable even despite infinite misery. This is premised on a lack of female autonomy especially financial independence. A woman’s identity is fully tied to the institution of marriage i.e. her wedding is the most important event in her life and defines her place in society. So, of course, the question of what she would do after a divorce — both financially and socially — is unthinkable. The possibility of dating or remarriage is out of bounds. Lastly, there is the issue of the children — the mother should suck it up and do ‘what’s best’ for the child, who needs the father around and would be ostracised if he/she came from a ‘broken’ home.
I wish I could convince them that the pro-divorce (or anti-suffering) approach is more humane. That there is no point of pursuing avoidable hardship. Why force it if it isn’t working? Ultimately, this is in recognition of an individual’s right to be happy. Sometimes people just don’t/can’t change — so the relationship circumstances must change. Finally, I think that the child will be happiest if his/her parents are happy. An intact family isn’t necessarily a happy one. Plenty of troubled teens today have parents who are married. While I would never say that I had it easy dividing time between divorced parents (and the situation here might be even more difficult), I think divorce is the best possible solution when people simply can’t get along anymore.
Now, with women’s increasing financial independence, divorce is on the rise for those able to afford its costs — for example, women working in the IT sector in Bangalore, and apparently 2 out of 5 couples in Mumbai. This rise is seen by many as shocking, worrisome and the death knell to Indian culture. While it is sad and disturbing in cases where couples no longer have time for each other and are too stressed to connect because of crazy working hours, I also see it as a positive sign. Maybe, arranged marriages aren’t working for some people anymore. Or people are less willing to stay in relationships that make them unhappy. One thing is clear though. Whether or not people agree with divorce, the institution of marriage is changing and people had better start accepting it.