Marriages are built on the foundation of love, trust and respect and when either of these factors begin to lose its way, the marriage starts disintegrating in bits and pieces. Later, what follows is a nightmare, leading to the “D” word. In India, divorce is a married woman’s nightmare as she is branded for life with the idea that she is an individual with a lot of baggage, and is responsible for breaking the family. Did you know that divorce wasn’t even an option for women in India until after independence? It was after the implementation of the Hindu Code Bill in 1950, that women were allowed to file for divorce with equal rights on the property.
This leads to the question: Why would a woman opt for divorce in a country where marriages are not only considered auspicious and the coming together of two families, but are also celebrated in a lavish manner, with no expenses spared? The answer is rooted in tradition and our archaic values. In the ancient society, given that women weren’t the bread earners of the family, when they wanted to opt out of a marriage, they found themselves without any money or support for the rest of their lives, which meant that divorce wasn’t an option. Interestingly, throughout all epochs of Indian history, women also did not have property rights and all property laws were exclusively for the benefit of men, which meant that women were subservient and dependent on male support. This exclusion from property meant that a woman had to live through a bad marriage as a separated or divorced woman did not have a place anywhere in the society.
Moreover, according to the Hindu tradition, a marriage is a sacrament that cannot be broken. Therefore, our culture is known to shun and often outcast those who have made the conscious decision of choosing divorce. From calling out people for opting out of a marriage to not letting divorcees stay in housing societies, the idea that a woman can be happy by herself is considered a foreign notion.
However, over time, gender equations have changed and so did the idea that women need not be bound in a loveless marriage. As more and more women pursued education and started working, it dawned upon them that they need not be dependent on their spouses for financial stability, which gave them lots of independence to make decisions.
While divorce has become quite common in the present times, our society still looks down upon divorced people with a disparaging eye. In many cases, while divorced men are given sympathetic treatment, divorced or separated women are regarded reprehensibly. We have all heard of cases, when a woman complaining about her partner’s family, is told to ‘adjust and compromise’, without any opinion on her husband’s side of the family. She is repeatedly told that a divorced woman has no ‘place’ in society and her fate is better off in a loveless, even violent marriage than seeking divorce.
No one consciously gets into a marriage thinking they will ever walk out of it. However, not all people are destined to be together and relationships do break apart. But sometimes, a marriage does not work out. And in that case, one has to opt out. In such a situation, it is best if we respect a person’s choice.