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Divorce on the Rise in India 

By Sudha Chandrasekaran

"In every marriage more than a week old, there are grounds for divorce. The trick is to find, and continue to find, grounds for marriage,” says Robert Anderson, an American Economist.

It is said that marriages are made in Heaven, but they are not lasting long in our little corner of the earth these days. We are now witnessing The Great Indian Wedding yielding to The Great Indian Divorce. Few societies on earth take marriage more seriously than in India. Opulent weddings swallow life savings. So revered is wedlock  that when beaten wives run their parental homes for support and safety, they are more often sent back to their marital homes after giving them advise to ‘adjust’ with their husbands and make their marriage work!. But in the present scenario we find a growing number of Indians fighting for divorce. Several are the cases of divorce in courtrooms across India filed by the rich and poor alike-whether it is slum dwellers or highly paid executives. Many observers bemoan a profound metamorphosis of values in a nation trotting towards new affluence. The sanctity of marriage is taking a beating and the spectre of divorce is now here to haunt us all.

Financial security and dependency on the man, is now no longer the case. Professional women are making their own choices and financial stability is giving them the confidence which was absent in the past. However, this evolution is currently damaging the sacred institution of marriage because, separation and divorce rates in India are rising. The estimated national figure for divorce in India is as high as 6 to 7 percent. Many unhappy women are now taking the stance to leave relationships compared to those of the past that took everything that was literally thrown at them, for the sake of honour, family and society. Abusive relationships are one key reason for many splits, where the women feel enough is enough. Violent and abusive partners are no longer being tolerated. “There is no shame or stigma attached to a divorce now and even parents often back their daughters who want to separate if things do not fall in place,” says psychiatrist Harish Shetty. In general, Indian women today are becoming physically, financially and sexually more demanding. Conversely, many unhappy Indian men are divorcing women due to the stress, tension and pressure of 21st century Indian marriages and thus, increasing their urge for personal freedom. They are finding it harder to adjust to the changes in women. Extra-marital affairs and break-downs in communication, all play a role too. . But the way I see it is that increasing divorce rates are just a part of the early reactions to the phenomenon of liberalization of the new Indian thought process. Having experienced suppression for long, we are suddenly aware of the fact that we now have the power to choose what we wish for. However, some of us, intoxicated by this sense of personal empowerment, tend to go a bit over the top. Added to this is the fact that our levels of tolerance have decreased over the years, and we find more people taking impulsive decisions which are hard to reverse.

Ranjitha and Rohan stayed married for one miserable year before they decided, by mutual consent, to seek dissolution of their marriage in the Family Court. The reason for their unhappiness was Rohan’s discomfort with Ranjitha’s obsessive pursuit of her career. Rohan could not get his sick mother to stay with them as both of them were busy pursuing their challenging career. As for their sex life, it was totally absent from the very first month of marriage as they were too exhausted after their return from work to even think of intimacy. And weekends usually fly away as they try to recover from their busy weekdays. Obtaining divorce by mutual consent is a long drawn procedure in India and is not all that simple. First it needs to be confirmed that the couple have lived separately for at least a period of six months. Further the couple has to wait for another six months, as a change in thinking is quite possible. It so happened that Ranjitha had to go abroad on official work for nine months. During this time, some introspection had taken place in both minds and finally they decided to reunite. Admittedly, Ranjitha and Rohan were having a very hard time and their respective personal goals appeared to be discordant. However, if they had gone a little deeper, they may have been able to handle things differently. Conversely, had they not filed for a divorce, they may not have come to an understanding at all!

About 40 per cent of the divorce cases filed is by professionals in the IT/ITES sector and the people from the film industry. This trend is keeping the family counsellors and lawyers busy who are trying to patch up the crumbling marriages.  Ranjani Nandakumar, a pre-marital counsellor with matrimonial portal Bharat, says that the main reason for the increase in divorce cases of late was mainly due to less tolerance level among younger generation. The break up of joint family system, marriages by choice, late marriages, absence of pre and post marital counselling, economic independence, fast paced lifestyle, poor marital values and ego wars coupled with lack of conflict management skills were often the reasons behind divorces. Noel D'Souza, who assists in counselling, feels that a communication gap is at the core of many shaky marriages. Now-a-days, when young couples indulge in petty quarrels, they try to bring the past conflicts into the scene and so the misunderstanding aggravates which in turn leads to several complications in their lives. 

Couples seek divorce with absolutely inane justifications these days. "The reasons are very frivolous and laughable. In such cases, both partners are well-educated and come from good families," said advocate Shabiya Sindhi, who fights divorce cases. Are you over or under-weight, very hirsute, reek of body-odour or foul breath and generally not a head-turner of sorts? Maybe it is time you paid attention to your appearance, for it could be a reason for being hauled to the court for a messy divorce! It may sound like a cautionary tale, but renowned Bollywood singer Adnan Sami’s admission to the fact that he was separated from his currently estranged wife on grounds of his obesity has brought to the fore the bizarre reasons for which people could seek divorce from their spouses. Dr G.R. Rathnavel, a specialist in cosmetology with Apollo Hospitals says, “It is foolish to separate from your spouse on grounds of physical imperfections. Beauty is skin deep and youth is temporary. Character is what you should look for.” Psychiatrists attribute mental stress among the younger lot for the trend. Around the age of 28, couples become hyper sensitive. By the time they reach their mid-30s they are totally worn out. The demands both in terms of economic, physical and social stature have gone up and it does not take a second to decide that ‘we have had it with each other’! Continues Shabiya Sindhi, “I dealt with a case wherein the husband wanted a divorce as his wife always added more sugar to his tea. He alleged that she wanted him to die of diabetes!” The reasons couples wish to break up range from extramarital affairs to misunderstandings caused by - of all things - the cell phone. This particular case relates to a lady who had gone to her mother's place to deliver her baby and upon her return found that her husband had been getting several missed calls from a particular number. She called the number and found that it was that of a sex worker her husband had visited while she was away. 

Says advocate Ashok Menon, a marriage counsellor, “There was this well-educated professional, who sought separation from his wife as she suffered from a condition of excessive facial hair growth. She frequently developed a moustache and beard, which he found repulsive, and he sought divorce for the same”. He adds, “One of the strangest cases I came across was pertaining to this man who was tricked into thinking that his bride had perfect vision in both eyes despite her being practically blind. Interestingly, the bride’s relatives were able to conceal the fact even on the day of the wedding. When he discovered the truth, he sought a divorce. Then again is the case where the husband maintained an extremely poor standard of hygiene and he suffered from pyorrhea and perpetual body odour. The wife was unable to stand him and she wanted a separation”. He further adds, “But if you thought mere surface level imperfections were the only reasons for an increase in divorces in the city, think again. One of the major reasons for young couples getting divorced these days is impotence in one of the partners. According to a recent study, junk food culture is one of the main culprits in the same”.

Yet another spark for divorce is the unavoidable tension between the new flush and centrality of the newly wedded couple on one side, and the long standing traditional priority of a man's relationship with his own parents, brothers, and sisters. There was a case very recently in Indore court where a Kanishka filed divorce against her husband as she felt that his priority was his parents and not her. With the parents-in-law occupying the ground floor, her husband stopped by his parents’ apartment every evening on his return from work before going to his apartment situated in the third floor.  This created a rift between Kanishka and her husband!! She desired to be the core of his universe, not unlike in the Western home.

To avert such family tensions, many young couples today choose their own spouses and move away from their parents. But this type of living does not stop couples from going in for divorce. It rather encourages divorce as the kin ties which is now severed once was the binding factor among couples.  . Ever more, couples marry people different from them instead of family-vetted spouses of like backgrounds, then compound the risk by living apart from their parents, socializing with friends rather than family.
These are not reasons to end a marriage; but are reasons to sit down and talk to each other. Families can play a pivotal role in all of this - sometimes a bit too much of a role, in the Indian context. Often, the boy and girl are not allowed to discuss issues or make their own decisions. Families on both sides get involved and a lot of mudslinging follows.

Many are beginning to refer to divorce as an IT or ITES syndrome because in several of these cases, both husband and wife work in the software or BPO industry. We are seeing a rise in infertility and more and more cases where marriages are not being consummated at all. But the rise in the number of divorces cannot be attributed entirely to IT careers. It is an indicator of a larger societal change. Increasingly, people believe that they should live life on their own terms. Conversations with marriage counsellors, divorce lawyers, social scientists and couples themselves suggest that, if divorce is rising, it is because of an underlying transformation of love. Conventional marriages in India had very little to do with romance.  It was love after marriage and was not openly expressed by hand-holding and declarations of love. It had the strong foundation of mutual sacrifice, endurance and tolerance. But there is a vast change in the marriage scenario these days. Family duties take a back seat and we find that even in arranged marriages there are several new expectations in the emotional gratifications which cut into the family ties and duties. And it is this new notion of love, with the couple at the core, which makes marriage both, more riveting and more precarious than ever before.

"Too often, divorcees rush into a second marriage to prove to themselves or to their former spouse that they are not to be blamed for the ending of their marriage," says Uma Ranganathan, a leading high court lawyer. And having re-married, they tend to hold on for dear life to that relationship even if it is failing and they will do anything to avoid the stigma of being 'twice-divorced’.

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