Most Indians are trained to believe that individual happiness is somehow a bad, selfish thing. Women, particularly, are raised to believe that the ability to compromise unconditionally for the sake of familial stability is a virtue they inherently possess. Compatibility, friendship, and equality within marriages are small or simply alien ideas for most families. Their loss is seldom considered as a legitimate ground for separation or divorce. In fact, trying them in a marriage is often considered an unrealistic, childish expectation.
It is no wonder that India has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. But that by no means implies that Indian marriages are happy. It is no fluke that married women are the highest group to perform suicide – contrary to the global trend of more men committing suicide than women.
The popular image of a doting mother, a loving wife, and a dutiful bahu hides more about community than it reveals. It hides the regular humiliations and systematic corrosion of the self-esteem of scores of women in the name of familial honor and peace. It is our collective prioritization of a façade of joy over real, meaningful happiness. While anecdotally, we may be forced to believe that the rise of the ambitious, unapologetically assertive woman in urban India is a real phenomenon, at least for now, numbers tell a different story.
Out of 1000, only 13 marriages stop in divorce in India. “1.36 million people in India are divorced. That is equal to 0.24% of the married population, and 0.11% of the total population,” said a 2016 BBC report.
On the face of it, this can be a despairing story. People in India are blissfully married. But here’s the caveat – most frequently, they are not.
For beginners, most marriages in India are arranged. One allows spending the rest of the life with a person one identifies very little about.
The capability to dissolve a marriage is a privilege most Indian women don’t have. The speculations are both social and economic. A tremendous number of Indian women are not financially independent, which limits their choices severely. The social shame of being a ‘divorcee’ is worse than being unhappily married. Then, there are children.
We have all seen unfortunate marriages — from that aunt who lives with her abusive in-laws to that cook who goes home to a drunk, violent husband.
The supreme woman is prepared to sacrifice everything at the altar of patriarchy.
Low divorce rates don’t mean happy marriages; they just reek of a method that doesn’t allow agency or autonomy, especially for women.