Divorce and the Indian Woman

This started off as a comment on IHM’s blog … but then it become too long to stay a comment.

IHM asked if divorce should be granted if one party wants it irrespective of whose fault it is.

The question actually made me see red. My question is :- Who the hell decides who is at fault? Who the hell has the right to judge the workings of a marriage – i.e. apart from the couple in question. And then … this is India. Personal boundaries are crossed with impunity, inappropriate questions are asked. Heck, we even presume to force young people to get married, just because we don’t like the world populated by single people. It makes us insecure. If young people are able to withstand our bogeyman ‘LOG” there is no telling what they will do next.

In reply to the question :-

1. Marriage ceremonies are just that – ceremonies and the marriage certificate is just a legal roll of toilet paper. It does not tell of the true state of the marriage. A truly happy marriage does not need such social sanctions. I know this may come across as revolutionary but it is the truth.

2. Women are forced to stay married – by their parents. It is mainly because the dowry and the functions were so freakingly expensive. So parents would like the girl to shut up and stay married otherwise all that money has gone down the drain.

3. The social stigma about a separated/divorced daughter. Yeah, again that mysterious LOG who will say things. Dammit, I think the parents should grow up and face the fucking social stigma. They are not the girl staying in an abusive environment. They do not have to live with a hostile family. They do not get beaten/raped/abused/neglected if the marriage sours up. So why do they interfere?

4. The law babying Indian women. Oh really? The law is just some words written in the law book. It is not ground reality. The laws may be there – but they can be twisted, manipulated etc by the people who are in charge. Indian law does (on paper) have many clauses to help the woman. But the implementors belong to this patriarchal society and twist them with impunity.

5. The Indian husband … well no such thing exists. There is the ideal Indian son, ideal Indian brother and the ideal Indian father. I have yet to read any ancient fable or scripture extolling the virtues of an Indian husband. Of course you have many myths and legends about the dutiful Indian wife – Savitri is one that comes to mind right now. So given this background, I do not think we should be surprised that men are actually clueless about their duties as husbands. In every man there is a deep seated guilt about appearing to be a Joru Ka Gulam if he shows more consideration to his wife as opposed to his parents/siblings. If you can recall any story about a husband who sacrificed for his wife or favored her in a family argument, do enlighten me.

6. This is India, where daughters are the lesser human beings. In their parental home, they are the mother’s helpers, baby sitters for their younger siblings and of course … they embody the honor of the men in the family, so they have to be suppressed. In their marital home, they are the home makers, baby producers and again they embody the honor of the men in the family and hence have to be suppressed. So given this ground reality – where are they being babied? And the laws – well no one can make the law work for you, unless you yourself take control and make it work.

These are the grounds for filing for a divorce

# Involvement of the spouse of the petitioner in adultery or indulging in sexual relationships outside his/her marriage…. the onus of proving adultery is on the petitioner.

#Willfully deserting or abandoning the petitioner for a continuous period of two years prior to the filing for divorce in India…. again the complainant has to bring proof.

#Inflicting physical and mental abuses that may cause danger to life and health… here it gets hilarious. You have to prove that you have been denied food, been abused or mentally harassed. It is humiliating to stand in front of strangers and depose. And a standard legal petition for divorce has – as one of its clause – disrespecting the husband’s parents and denying them food.

#Sexually impotent or inability to involve in sexual intercourse. Oh yes I forgot – perverse sexual acts. Can you imagine a woman standing in court and describing such an act?

#Suffering from incurable diseases and insanity … the disease has to be infectious, serious and preferably sexually communicable. My lawyer wanted to put in AIDS Sheesh!!

# Conversion to another religion.

Nowhere is it given that marriage is a partnership and when the partnership is irretrievably broken down – the marriage is null and void. The question of babying women has never been there … and frankly speaking it does not baby the men either. They have conveniently been left out of it.

Yes, by all means bring in the “No Fault Divorce” law. It would be true to the spirit of marriage.

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26 thoughts on “Divorce and the Indian Woman

  1. i don’t know about the stories in indian context but I can vouch that my husband did exactly that, “husband who sacrificed for his wife or favored her in a family argument”. Guess I am lucky… touch wood!

    But yes, generally I agree to whatever you said πŸ™‚

  2. A copy paste from my comment at her blog:
    Yes, Divorce should be granted when anyone of the couple wants out. But alimony should be considered for women who are not independent. If a marriage is not working out, there’s no point in staying together. There will be many direct and indirect verbal assaults, if not physical ones that will make life hell. If women were as independent (in all ways) as men, and the stigma of separation were removed, things will be much better for them.You cannot have equal laws if the repercussions are not equal.
    The whole point being that we see many men walk out of divorces to live if not the same but a better life. They got out of a marriage that did not work for them, got a partner better suited for their need(whatever they may be) that is a better life for them. However the women were ostracized being said that they were not upto the mark, it was their fault and social customs and blah blah. In many cases these were women who did not have a steady source of income and had to support themselves (and kids sometimes) . on top of that the fact that they were ostracised. until we make the two genders equally accountable, equally acceptable, equally independent, and remove the notion that a married life is the only goal of life things will not change.

    Will be back for more

    • Agreed. This is one of the better solutions to our problem. Alimony needs to be granted looking at the circumstances. At the same time, it should encourage the woman to become independent herself – if necessary, going through college etc. Which might have to be financed by the ex husband…but that’s a different story altogether.

      • Bhagwad, Hrishi I completely agree. But my point is that if we have a no fault divorce … who will benefit? Not the woman in the current social set up. Men will be in a hurry to get the divorce on flimsy causes, and move on. Women dont have that option yet

      • Hi Ritu,
        First off great post. I love reading your posts because they’re just so blo*^dy clear and cogent. You have a very clear-eyed view of life (I feel).

        I just wanted to quickly write about something that I remember reading in my college sociology text book. The chapter in question talked about the gradual introduction of no-fault divorce across several states in the US in the 60s and the 70s.

        Many people feared that men would use no-fault divorce to get out of inconvenient marriages. However, more women than men filed for divorce and this trend has continued to the present day.

        I forget the exact statistic, but almost a majority of divorces in the US are filed by women.

        Of course, I know that your hypothesis (of men taking advantage of no-fault divorce laws to leave dependent wives) is more likely to hold true in the Indian context.

        I wanted to write about this because oftentimes, laws bring about radical and completely unanticipated changes in society and have unintended consequences (abuses of 498A anyone?)

        My two cents!

      • Bad Indian Girl, by nature women are faster at receiving non verbal signals and they are introspective. They know faster than men if a relationship is not going anywhere. So they can and will step out if a marriage sours. The society is not ready for it as yet … I guess. (A small aside, I was the one who called it quits in my marriage) But still … I am scared in the Indian context because the husband’s family will abuse it.

        Thank you for liking my blogging style. I just say things (write them?) as I see them

  3. Hey there! Just dropped by from IHM’s blog. I agree with a lot of points that you bring up [a lot of these points can be applied to Nepali society as well], but I don’t think you can paint every part of Indian [or Nepali for that matter] society with the same brush. For example: ‘In every man there is a deep seated guilt about appearing to be a Joru Ka Gulam if he shows more consideration to his wife as opposed to his parents/siblings’ isn’t true of all Indian men. My fiance is an Indian man and his family is nothing like the traditional Indian family. We’ve been living together for three years now and we’re getting married because it’s the easiest route for citizens of two countries to be together and own property together. We were considered ‘common law’ in Canada and had the perks of a married couple without having to sign the legal docs. However, no such provisions exist in Indian society so getting married is the only legal route possible.

    “well no one can make the law work for you, unless you yourself take control and make it work.” This is they key to living a happy life. Indian women [and men and women all over the world] need to feel empowered and take control of their lives.

    • My post was a general one, Kay. 80% of Indian men do feel sheepish about favoring their wives as opposed to their parents. “Common Law” would be considered too revolutionary. That is not to say that many young people are living as a couple already … but then our laws and social norms change very slowly.

  4. It sounds extremely logical that if either party wants a divorce , whats the point in keeping the marriage going but , the fact of the matter is hundreds of marriages survive even after going to the brink of divorce. The couple patches up with the intervention of some ‘wise , discerning souls’ or parents who make the girl emotionally vulnerable by blackmailing her that she hsould continue with the marriage for the sake of kids or her own financial security .
    THe world is not so safe for a divorcee girl ( a common argument) , her brother’s family might not welcome her ( another argument). Recently I saw a girl going back to her ‘wife beater’ husband because her brother did not want her although she is financially independent.
    So , the girl patches up for varied reasons while husband patches up solely as a favour . and here lies my theory that many times staying in a marriage seems like the only solution to women , they cant be deprived of this option .
    It atleast gives them a semblence of security . It may take decades to break this mind set and till then Law should wait.
    And Ritu , you are sooo damn right that there is no such thing as ‘ideal husband’ , there is no example or attributes mentioned in our scriptures . guys are totally at a loss .
    They just go by their instincts but you know it ……..they don’t measure up .
    may be they should learn from some of our daily soaps in which Indian husbands are shown incredibly supportive ,rational and balanced.

  5. I think most parts of India (70% plus) do have an unwritten No Fault Divorce being followed. Many of my maids were married but lived alone when their husbands left them for other women, the second marriages had no legal validity but they spent entire lifetimes and never found out that.
    They would have preferred it if they had a say in whether or not they were divorced – maybe demanded some monetary support to raise the kids.

    • Yes the rural India has a informal attitude towards divorce. Separation is divorce. May be it is possible for them because there have less possessions to divide amongst two estranged people. Matters would be simpler if you just had to bundle up a few clothes and utensils and march out.

  6. Especially agree with point no 5. Indian men have very few (if at all ) role models of a good husband. If they try to be a good husband themself, they are questioned at every step by the society, their parents, their friends etc. I am not saying that as an excuse for them to be the way they are. But it is tthe truth. And kudos to everyone out there who make an effort to be fair and are fair despite the odds.

  7. I agree Ritu….

    The partnership and compatibility issue is seldom taken care of when going for a marriage or for a separation and it is sad . Marriages become social responsibilities, rituals and ceremonies and stay just that.

    Your line…//And the laws – well no one can make the law work for you, unless you yourself take control and make it work.// is something i always believe and keep saying. Laws are and should be there to help society but you should yourself be able to make things work for you.

    I will not be in absolute agreement with your view about the indian husbands….good people n bad people are everywhere …good people make good husbands too πŸ™‚

    • Agreed Sangeeta. There are good husbands, bad ones and indifferent ones. The point is that they have no role models. Perhaps they should, as another comment points out, watch the daily soaps that portray supportive husbands.

  8. You have hit the nail on the head Rituji..Somehow, we Indians are very pretentious, we sadly live more for others than for ourselves. Apart from this, more than blaming the Indian Men, i would say most of us women are raised with only one motive in life “marriage”. Its like a life n death situation. Also most parents, nurture their daughters as a Praya dhan” I am sure most of us would remember our mothers ranting, “Get married and then do what ever you want to do, till the time you are with us, behave and live morally, lets get you married and then our biggest responsibility will get over and we will be able to die in peace” Hilarious isn’t it, we are raised with hope and shown dreams, that marriage is the only way towards freedom, happiness etc. Wish parents realize their folly and raise kids who can take their own decision and know what is right n wrong for them. Its very imp to remember, we all have just one life to live, why shud we suffer just because we are scared of society and feel “divorce is a dirty word. Plus we need to live happily, irrespective of being married or unmarried. Lets all grow up, and not envy men/women who have the courage to move on and start life afresh.

  9. Despite every reason that you enumerated and every loophole exploited in the law…. and despite all the evidences etc …. most women do not file for divorce simply because they have no alternative to turn to. Their own families do not support ( if they have a family ).. and there is no place where they can get two square meals and live with dignity in case they are uneducated / do not have means to support themselves. If there were such a thing, I am sure there would be many more divorces or mutual separations.

  10. Our mythology has some of the lousiest husbands possible- the Pandavas and Rama come to mind. Seriously regressive role models, these.
    My father was one of the rare men who would put his wife’s welfare before that of the extended family- something for which I have always admired him.

    • There are progressive men, but for every one progressive man, there are three who think it is macho to suppress their wives/sisters/daughters. That is the crux of the problem

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