Sunday, Jun 04, 2023

Making Quick Work Of What Isn’t Working

Making Quick Work Of What Isn’t Working

Some folks won’t suffer bad marriages—even for a few months

Making Quick Work Of What Isn’t Working Photo-illustrations by Sorit

The Business Of Breaking Up

  • The trend of rising divorces has fed new online businesses. Like, launched by ANZ Lawz. A one-stop shop, it offers help on an assortment of marital issues, from litigation and child custody to divorce, domestic violence and alimony.
  • On divorcees can register to meet other new singles
  • Ex-Files, India’s first divorce newsletter, available at Mumbai family courts. It offers info on cases, counselling, support, even dating rules for divorcees.


Divorce Trigger

  • One major causes of people ending marriages is violence, usually by the male. Women won’t take it any longer. Their parents won’t either.
  • Impotence, incompatibility in demands for and expectations from sex, perversions...
  • Carrying on with ex-flames, jealousy about spouse’s friends, lies about job, salary...


Souma Seal, 33, comes from a progressive, liberal family of Calcutta and works with a top international consultancy firm. Though she never grew up nursing the delusion that marriages are made in heaven, she wasn’t averse to marrying either. So, when a seemingly “good catch”, a US-based groom, came along, she decided to take the plunge. That was in 2006, when she was 27. A postgraduate in English literature, she looked forward to a teaching career in the US. Her husband had other plans: of having her sitting at home, doing nothing. She also found they had nothing in common. “Our incompatibility extended to every sphere. I’m an avid reader, he and his family made fun of that. Our attitude to money differed. I don’t mind if someone is frugal, but I don’t like miserly behaviour,” she says. And he was not what he’d claimed to be: though he’d been in the US for long, he’d never held a steady job and had no long-term career plans. In one and half months, she decided to walk out. “That was long enough for me to realise things wouldn’t work,” she says. “Better end such a marriage immediately than prolong the misery.”

Months. That’s again how long it took Rani Dubey (name changed), a 30-year-old media professional from Delhi, to sever a tie that wasn’t working. Only, in her case it was more violent. She found her husband obsessive, chauvinistic and extremely suspicious from the day they were engaged. But she held on, hoping he would change. “Things deteriorated. He was uncontrollable in his rage, and would abuse me physically,” she recounts. At last, unable to stand the beatings, she ran away to her cousin’s. She lodged a complaint with the Crimes Against Women cell and filed for divorce. And within a year, the marriage was over.

Sometimes it’s not about violence. Soumik Pal, a 35-year-old Mumbai surgeon, met his wife, a Tamilian and also a doctor, when they were in medical college. They married after a short courtship. But soon, Pal realised it was impossible to live with an “extremely domineering” woman. He felt she always wanted him to do things her way. Adding fuel to the fire were the many cultural differences, likes and dislikes in food and so on. The last straw was when Pal realised her family in Pondicherry wanted them to settle there. In three months, he decided to end the marriage and be on his own.

Souma, Rani and Soumik are not aberrations. They are a small but growing breed of urban Indians who are opting out of bad marriages quickly—rather too quickly by old reckonings, without necessarily allowing time for relationships to mature and settle, as the old-timers would have it, with all the negotiation and adjustment it entailed. Even so, a break-up can never be easy: it is always painful and often a battleground of emotions. But for them, it’s a matter of avoiding more agony and suffering. “Nobody wants ‘The End’, but there’s no reason to stay emotionally tied down to a status quo,” says Sadhana Vohra, a psychologist.

For some years now, divorce cases in urban India have been on the rise, but what counsellors are noting of late is that the fault-lines in marriages seem to be appearing far more quickly. “The time couples are willing to spend trying to work it out is getting shorter,” says Ruma Ghosh of Relations, a marriage and divorce counselling agency in Calcutta. Dr Vijay Nagaswami, a psychiatrist who counsels couples, says, “In the last five years, I have met many couples seeking divorce within a month or six months—even a couple of weeks—of marriage.” Often, women take the lead.

In India, with familial and social pressure to sustain a marriage, however bad it may be, divorce has always been the last option. But now, at least among educated, urban Indians, it’s fast becoming the first choice of couples trapped in traumatic marriages. This despite Indian laws having never been divorce-friendly: couples can’t file for divorce before one year of marriage, and even for a divorce by mutual consent, they must have remained separated for a year. Courts even played the role of counsellors and kept asking couples to try to make it work, says Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee, an advocate at the Calcutta High Court. Even as recently as in 2005, Justice Amit Talukdar of the high court had sent a couple to Digha, a beach resort in Bengal, telling them to try and work it out. “However, courts are taking a more realistic view, and divorce is becoming more accessible,” says Chatterjee.

And people are indeed walking out, and then waiting for the divorce. Comprehensive figures are hard to come by, but counsellors and lawyers across India say there are many pointers to a general increase in divorce rates. “In 2004-05, Delhi had two or three matrimonial courts. Now there are 17-20 and they’re still finding it difficult to cope, what with about 40 new cases being listed every day,” says Osama Sohail, a partner with legal firm ANZ Lawz. Nibedita Roye, an advocate from Alipore, says, “On any given day, there are more matrimonial cases heard in the courts than even property-related cases.” Most of these cases are by mutual consent, that is, they are uncontested and get disposed of quicker.

There’s another factor: in quick divorce cases, couples usually don’t have children, so maintenance or custody issues do not add to the dispute. In fact, it’s plain to see this as a goading factor: people in a bad marriage are likely to want to avoid the complications children would bring rather than wait long enough and invite it. Hence the haste. Ajit Kumar Bidwe, coordinator of counselling at the Bandra Family Courts, says a majority of mutual-consent divorces are cases of early breakdown of marriages and they have gone up by one-fifth from 2007 to 2010. Mumbai’s celebrity lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh gives a higher figure: she says divorces occurring within two years of marriage have gone up 30-40 per cent.

Except in instances of violent abuse or other aberrations, in which case it’s best to end a marriage, quick break-ups are somewhat symptomatic of the modern-day urge for quick solutions. Tolerance and patience are not necessarily virtues for a generation conditioned in a certain way; nor is the willingness to make compromises. “‘We’ has been replaced by ‘I’”, says Deshmukh. “Couples don’t want counselling. They only want me to advise them on how to get a divorce, pronto.” The reasons for early break-ups span the gamut—from serious to quirky. Lies or non-disclosure of physical defects or of previous affairs are a big factor. One woman walked out when she realised her husband was not the graduate he claimed to be: he had failed to clear Std X and held a clerical job. Another walked out after realising the man was schizophrenic when he had a full-blown psychotic episode during their honeymoon. Differences in sexual expectations, incompatibility, frigidity, impotence, of course, play a part. Intrusion by a spouse’s family members is another point of friction. One couple split a few months into marriage because the wife’s dominating mother even dictated what curtains to put up. Vandana Shah, editor of Ex-Files, a divorce newsletter, went through a similar situation herself. “We never found space to adjust to each other. Instead of spending time together, we spent it with relatives. There were eight people in our marriage, not two of us,” she says.

Then there are larger social changes and markers. Marriage, as an institution, is no longer seen as sacrosanct, as it used to be. “People are looking at marriage for plain closeness and companionship. It’s moving away from being a sacred space,” says Dr Nagaswami. Let’s Talk, a Facebook page on which the young discuss relationships and sexuality, recently asked if marriage was a sacred institution and if you’d stay in a loveless match: the overwhelming response to both was negative.

Career commitments also often increase fragility. “High-stress industries like IT and bpos are leading to early break-ups. When both partners are attending meetings, chasing targets, travelling and almost living in office, they can hardly give time to each other,” says Bidwe.

The stigma attached to divorce, too, is lessening in the urban scenario and people are hastening to break up rather than feel guilty about it. “Remarriages have become a lot easier,” says Madhabi Desai, counsellor at Mumbai Family Courts. “Divorced women are not socially ostracised; they are not old maids in the house any more,” says author Advaita Kala. And Amit Verma, in his ‘India Uncut’ blogpost headed ‘We Should Celebrate Rising Divorce Rates’, wrote that it is the single best statistical indicator we have of the empowerment of women. “Rising divorce rates tell us one thing for sure: that more and more women are finding the means, and the independence, to walk out of bad marriages and live life on their own terms,” he says. Women are no longer helpless victims. Unlike previous generations, this generation finds it easier to cope because, in the main, it is empowered by education and financial independence. “They are far less tolerant of abusive behaviour,” says Desai. It’s also easier for them, because their own family supports them.

Whatever the reasons, the trend towards quick break-ups shows that the irrational belief in marriage being sacrosanct, however agonising it might be, is fading—which is not a bad thing.

By Namrata Joshi with Smita Mitra in Mumbai, Akhila Krishnamurthy in Chennai, Dola Mitra in Calcutta

Photo-illustrations by Sorit