India last in divorce. Good or bad?

Stigma attached to divorce forces couples to remain in unhappy marriages, say Bengaluru divorce lawyers

Married in 2000, Hrithik Roshan and Sussanne Khan were divorced in 2014.

Indians have the lowest divorce rate in the world. Some attribute it to traditional Indian values that place family above the individual, but others say undue social pressure forces couples to stay in stifling marriages.

Only 1 per cent of Indian marriages end up in divorce, as against 46 in the United States, according to a study conducted by Unified Lawyers, based in Australia.

One in every two marriages in Russia ends in divorce. In Luxembourg, a small European nation with a population of about five lakh, almost nine in 10 marriages end in divorce.

Many attribute the low divorce rate in India to a patriarchal system, poor female participation in decision making, difficulty in chasing alimony and child support, and social pressure.

Divorce lawyer Alisha Peres says the rates are so low perhaps because many marriages aren’t registered. “Since I joined the bar in 2013, I have seen an increase in the number of cases. We find people of all ages — young couples and older ones whose children are financially independent — come in either for an enquiry or to file for divorce,” she says.

Not many register their marriages in India. Somehow, Indians aren’t particular about getting an official stamp for their marriages.

“So when you leave, you just leave because there is no legal document holding you back. In rural areas, the matter is sorted by the panchayat so we don’t have a legal record there either. This could be a reason,” she says.

Vasudha N R, advocate, says Bengaluru has six to seven family courts now, whereas it was only two in 2000. “Though we may have the lowest rate in the world, we definitely have a large number of unhappy marriages. The stigma attached to ‘divorce’ is one of the biggest reasons people continue in them,” she says.

Mutual divorce cases can be settled quickly, but in India, one of the parties resists the idea, and the cases drag on for a long time, says Vasudha.

Counselling psychologist Shreya Chatterjee finds more couples in love marriages than those in arranged marriages coming in for help.

“In an arranged marriage, family pressure is too much for couples to bear. Even when parents realise they have made the wrong choice, they find it easier to force their children to stay in a marriage than admit their mistake. Emotional blackmail leaves many paralysed,” she says.

Parents who stand by their children, no matter what, later say, “You are an adult and you have to learn to deal with these things on your own.” Kala Balasubramanian, relationship counsellor, advises individuals to be emotionally strong, no matter where the relationship is going.

“Though we have advanced technologically and enjoy financial independence now, some social roles have not changed. Family responsibilities aren’t shared equally, which can tire out a partner,” she says.

When things seem hard, everyone thinks the best way to get the couple to bond is to encourage them to have a child.

“This is the worst advice because you are not only jeopardising your own lives but also that of the child,” she says.

Happily ever after does exist
“We have seen plenty of cases where people are happier after a divorce. They finally don’t have to feel the burden of the partner or the family, which is exactly what they needed to stay strong. Though a large number of people don’t like the tag of ‘divorcee’, it’s becoming less of a taboo and people are slowly accepting it,” says Alisha Peres, divorce lawyer.

Globally, contrary trend
Divorces have risen by 251.8 per cent since 1960. In that year, 12 in 100 marriages ended in divorce. By 1980, that number had gone up to 26. In 2017, it was 44, according to Unified Lawyers.

Indian problems

  • Social taboos exist against divorce.
  • Arranged marriages involve large families.
  • One of the spouses refuses to let go.
  • Families force unhappy couples to have children.
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India last in divorce. Good or bad?

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