Fragile Marriages, Now in India

Posted on March 3, 2012 in Society

By Sapan Parekh:

In an unfortunate incident recently, Gajendra Kumar, a 27-year-old RPF commando turned his service rifle inwards and fired on himself; dying a bloody death instantaneously (source – http://www.newsbullet.in/india/34-more/26288-unhappy-in-marriage-commando-shoots-self ). Prima facie, the cause of his suicide was his apparent frustration with his arranged marriage. In another incident, a couple, who were college sweethearts, filed for divorce attributing their marital problems to deadline pressures at work (source – http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/splits-in-silicon-valley/1/111320.html ). Such incidents were unheard of not long ago, but have now become a regular occurrence in our society.

Traditionally, marriages in India have been held to be sacred and a wedding once performed was considered perpetual. Also, it had an inbuilt system of checks and balances for the couple where roles and priorities were clearly defined by the traditions of the society.  But the spurt in divorces clearly indicates that the traditional values are melting away.

Though the phenomenon of divorce is not new to India and has existed for a fairly long time, it was resorted to only in extreme cases. But it is no longer so. A study by matrimonial website, ‘jeevansathi.com’ concludes that the number of divorcees under 25 years of age has risen over the years in India from 2% in 2008 to 8% in 2011. In Delhi alone, the number of divorce cases has risen exponentially from a few cases in 1960’s, to about 1000 in 1990s, and reaching a shocking figure of 9000 cases per annum in the present decade. The figures from other metros including the cultural hubs of Kolkata and Chennai are not far behind. Agro-based states like Punjab and Haryana are also now seeing an increase of 150% in divorce cases since the last decade.

If this exponential rise in divorce cases is an indication to go by, then marriages in India are increasingly becoming fragile. Not only is the incidence of divorce increasing, but the underlying causes of divorce have also been taking a new dimension. Factors such as incompatibility etc. have all existed in the past, but what is new is that the tolerance threshold seems to have moved down while the ego of marital partners has risen significantly.

Also the malaise of fragile marriages has remained unchecked because of the erosion of family values and diminishing social pressure to keep the marriage going. While the level of impatience has gone up, there is a diminishing tendency for adjustment. Earlier, the non-likable personality traits, which emerged after marriage, usually led to displeasure or temporary break of intimacy, but are now resulting in marital feud/divorce.

Assertion of freedom and the need for individual space, characterised by ambition and the fast pace of life have also created new pressures on institution of marriage. For many career-oriented individuals their career, promotion and money have become more important, and hence get higher priority over marriage.

Also because of the opportunities the present-day work environment provides to people for closer interaction at the workplace and liberal views of the new generation, extra-marital relationships, involving physical intimacy, have become a common practice over the recent past, especially if there is a context of a failed/failing marriage.

Traditionally, disputes were solved by the elders or by the intervention of the joint family system which ensured the stability of a couple’s marriage. On the other hand, today, small differences get magnified in the nuclear family. What else has given a fillip to the rising number of divorces is that the taboo attached to divorce is slowly fading away especially in urban areas. In the new socio-economic environment, women do not feel shy of walking out of difficult marriages. What makes the decision for women easier is the financial independence they enjoy because to their own jobs.

However, divorce still consists of a miniscule portion of all fragile marriages in India. The figure for fragile marriage will be many times larger if ‘half-happy’ marriages are also included. Such marriages just continue due to strong societal pressure, financial dependency of women and labyrinth of laws for divorce which deter people especially women to opt out of marriage and forces them to continue with their unsatisfactory marital relationship. At times women have to put up with the abuse of their husband and in-laws, and sometimes even the man has to put up with such difficulties, just because of the social stigma still attached to divorce, especially in rural India.

All said and done, perfect adjustment in a marital relation is a myth since marriage involves two thinking and living humans. The understanding, resulting in compatibility in marriage can thus develop only gradually given that there is a genuine desire to adjust with each other.

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