Between 1970 and 2008, Cheng-Tong Lir Wang and Evan Schofer, two sociologists from the University of California discovered that the global divorce rate rose from 2.6 divorces for every 1,000 married people to 5.5 – the rate had more than doubled. Meanwhile, in 2017 India’s divorce rate — stood at 1%, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. While the absolute number of divorces has gone up from 1 in 1,000 to 13 in 1,000 over the last decade or so, India still remains at the top of the list of countries with the lowest divorce rates. But why a sudden increase in divorce rates for a country where marriage holds the highest status and divorce is still a taboo?
Divorces are riddled with stigma in India with divorced women being looked down upon in society. One of the main reasons for the rise in divorce rates is women finally taking a stand against the injustice done to them for generations. Today, three billion women and girls live in a country where rape within marriage is not explicitly criminalized. But injustice and violations take other forms as well. In one out of five countries girls do not have the same inheritance rights as boys, while in others (a total of 19 countries) women are required by law to obey their husbands. Around one third of married women in developing countries report having little or no say over their own healthcare. A divorce gives them the opportunity to be more in control of their lives and not rely on anyone else.
Cheating and affairs are also major contributors to divorce in India. This issue has grown with the growth of a more digitalised world, with apps providing the ability to contact people at a ‘tap’ of a screen. Many Indian women in marriages are even aware of their husbands having affairs and ‘turn a blind-eye’ due to their age or years in the marriage. But it does not mean the dynamics of the marriage are happy anymore. Having an affair is the one thing that is destructive to a marriage, once found out. It destroys trust, love and care but for many, the marriage will carry on due to family and society pressures.
Indian marriages are influenced, supported and inspired by family. But also, sadly, marriages are destroyed by family too. Especially, extended family. The most common marital issue is that of the in-laws and the daughter-in-law. Breakdown of Indian marriages where the daughter-in-law is not good enough for the in-laws is one of the biggest reasons for divorce in India. From issues like ‘not enough dowry’ to ‘not being part of the family’ to ‘stealing the son from the family’ are all typical examples of the cause.
Divorce has led to the death of marriages which gives it a reputation of it being a negative word. But women are challenging that perception now and pushing for a change. Through stand-up comedies, spoken word poetry, Instagram accounts and support groups, they are fighting the stigma around divorce, one act, one verse, one post at a time. The end of a marriage could mean the beginning of a happy life and not necessarily the end of life itself.