November 2004, its 7.30 in the evening, I am settled on the couch with a book, when my phone rings. On the other end is Soma, a close friend and photographer, mother of a beautiful 4 year old. Just as I’m about to settle into a chat, she informs me crisply, “Vedant and I have decided to file for divorce”. I’m concerned and immediately ask her if I should come over? She laughs mirthlessly and says, ‘You know things have not been well since a very long time now, and signing the papers doesn’t make it worse.”
Over the next few weeks I saw my friend going through a harrowing emotional upheaval. She was clear that she didn’t want sympathy from any of her friends. To her divorce was a culmination of an unacceptable situation for both the husband and wife. In her mind she was clear that it was a positive step and not a negative one.
Most traditional societies consider divorce a taboo. Divorcees have been regarded with slight in such societies, as people who are divorced came with a manufacturing defect. Also typical of a conservative society, it is the woman who usually bears the brunt mostly. People who have no idea of who you are, or what you are, are willing to make a judgment on your character and label you as something of a misfit in the society. My friend’s matter of fact approach is perhaps a mark of the times, where divorce is nothing but a correction of a situation gone wrong. And yet this is perhaps a simplified version of divorce, especially in a traditional society where a marriage is mostly not between two people but between two families.Moreover the economic and social repercussions of divorce, both on men and women have largely been a factor that has acted as a deterrent to those who would have otherwise taken a stand on their relationships.
Plenty of women as well as men still suffer and bear their spouses, under trying situations, simply because they are scared to be ostracized by the society. In the case of women whose choice is not governed by economics and who do have a support system, the fear of society plays a big role in making them stick to a situation that is far from being pleasant. But one of the major reasons why many women both in urban and rural areas still do not opt for a divorce is because of children and the impact it will have on the child.
But things are changing. Even till a decade ago, divorce was a dirty word. The fear of, the economic impact on a woman without an income, social isolation and a sense of duty to extended families, was tremendous. This often made making many couples stay together. But with more and more women becoming financially independent, breakdown of boundaries in traditional life the urban middle-class, especially women are beginning to view divorce in a different light altogether.
An ex teacher from Kolkata, Mrs Devyani tells me, “There are plenty of women who want to escape a certain situation in marriage but thinking about what society would say is a big burden on the mind. If only women were a little more courageous and take a step towards her happiness, she would find plenty of support. There are many organizations, women help groups, which can be approached too. The laws have become much more conducive to better arrangements for a woman after a divorce. Fear is the only thing that she has to conquer. Thinking about how children will take it is useless. Children always understand after an age, and you cannot continuously suffer thinking about the child. If the mother is not happy, it would reflect on the child too.”
But trends such as these never come without their fallouts. My friend Soma has remarried today and is happy in her new relation. She tells me that she went through a phase when men would look at her strangely when she told them she was a divorcee. The elderly often avoided her in social do s and all this in an urban society. But she feels that ‘divorce still is a big deal for anyone, especially from a middle class background’ but she is glad that she stood by her decision to make changes in her life when it was necessary. Perhaps in the same vein, the Indian Government passed the changes suggested in the ‘The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010’ by agreeing to quicken the process of divorce that will be beneficial for couples strapped in unhappy alliances.
However, at times in the name of making a decision for oneself, one also sees far too many people giving up too easily on relationships and as a result divorce rates take on alarming proportions in many urban sectors. Like anything else, relationships need working at and even though it might not be a big deal any more to be divorced, even in traditional societies, reason should always be the watchword.