‘Till death do us part’ was a phrase which referred to the level of commitment involved in a marriage, that a man and his wife could only be parted by death. Now too, they are parted by death - the death of the marriage itself.
It is believed that Indians lead a more stable and contented married life. Compared to developed countries like UK, US, most of the European Union etc, the divorce rate in India is quite low. The US has an astounding 50% while India has a divorce rate of 11%. Britain’s divorce rate soared six-fold between 1961 and 1991. But from 1991 to 2001, India has seen a rise in divorce rate, especially in the urban areas. The rate has gone up from 7.4% to 11%. This gradual but steady increase in divorces makes one wonder, are we truly a contentedly married nation?
In recent times, women of India have gone through a major cultural shift. In response to the spurt in the economy, women are now more educated, out going and self reliant. It is also during this period that the divorce rate has risen. So, is the divorce rate directly related to women’s ‘awareness’ ratio?
About 15 years ago, most middle class women were brought up and moulded by society not to work but just take care of the home, the husband and the children. She was taught to have unquestioning faith in her spouse, trusting his every word. Hence, she never learned of the life her spouse led outside the realms of the home, so the concept of infidelity did not exist for her. She had witnessed other women of the family silently bearing abuse. If a man came home drunk, it was his right as he worked hard for the bread that the family ate. It was a part of life, nothing to complain about.
But this is the class in which the divorce ratio has increased the most.
At the time, if a woman came across her husband’s ‘mistake’, she would forgive him, or in most cases, continue the relationship ‘for the sake of the children’, tolerating a marriage that has lost its trust and meaning. Financial dependence on her husband, the social stigma associated with divorced women being considered of loose character or keeping her husband happy, added to her predicament. Hence, though a woman may have wanted to break off a relationship, she was not able to. Consequentl for decades we Indians believed we were a happily married nation.
Now shift to the present day. The rise in female literacy and employment has provided the financial independence that women were deprived of for long. Women have left the more traditional fields of employment such as teaching and clerical work to take on a more executive profile. Even women from lower middle class have started seeking employment in call centers and other jobs that do not require formal qualifications.
Moving out of the confines of the four walls of their homes, women are exposed to the work environment in which men spend the major part of their day. Their eyes have been opened to office relationships, platonic and otherwise. Women who were ignorant began to question their husbands, and those who knew and were silent, began to raise their voices. They had moved to a society where infidelity was a known phenomenon and broken marriages were better received. Financial independence also ensured that women did not have to worry about being a ‘burden’ on their parents in the post-divorce scenario.
In short, women now have a CHOICE.
Now women are divided into two sections. Firstly there are those who are willing to forgo trust, forgive their husband’s infidelities and to tolerate domestic abuse. To them the institution of marriage is worth sacrificing their happiness for a lifetime. It is their ‘dharam’. And then there are the women who refuse to be tied down in an unhappy alliance and are willing to take on the challenges that will arise after a divorce. It is not that they have not tried to make their marriage work. They have also taken their share of abuses, forgiven betrayals and made compromises. But once all attempts at reconciliation have failed, they are the ones who taken the necessary step towards the termination of the union. Some women who have had enough but cannot end the marriage for whatever reason, chose separation. None of these women are necessarily wrong, in fact, it is their right.
However, while a woman who stays married does not face criticism, a divorcee is often made to go through unnecessary and unjustified social stigma, treated almost as an outcast. They have trouble blending back into the community and are considered somewhat substandard. Sometimes their children are also treated the same way, which is honestly pathetic. A responsible society would not be judgmental about them.
There are many segments of society who lay the blame of broken marriages on ‘western influence’. Do they consider the system of being tied down in a marriage that has lost its happiness, trust and mutual respect that are the building blocks to it, fair to the woman who is being asked to compromise her integrity for the sake of everyone but her self? Why is this level of self-sacrifice expected only of a woman? Would a man forgive his wife and treat her with respect and love if he found her having an affair with another man?
Every woman has the right to live happily in a manner that she can look at herself with dignity. Every woman has the right to make her decisions and be allowed to move on with what is left of her life.