Arranged marriages in India are often termed ‘successful’ – especially because of the low divorce rate of about 1%, a rise from 0.11% from 2016. But is the low divorce rate due to how often marriages are arranged as people think? As much as people, especially of the older generations, may want to believe it, it’s not the truth. The truth lies in several aspects, from moral to traditional to legal.
Another point to note is that 90% of marriages in India are arranged. Moreover, since same-sex marriages are still not legal, this article applies to arranged marriages between men and women.
Patriarchy – the shackles on women, arranged marriages, and divorce in India
Patriarchy has a steadfast hold on marriages, just as it does on nearly everything. It’s usually the woman who has to show she’s good enough for marriage by showing she can cook and would stay home to take care of kids, in many cases. A man never compromises his job for marriage because gender roles dictate that he is the breadwinner for a family. Then, a woman takes his last name. So, after a divorce, a woman faces several problems – changing her name again is only a small part of it.
Divorce brings ‘shame’ to a household in India
Most families in India firmly believe that getting a divorce is shameful. ‘What will we tell our relatives and our neighbours?’
Firstly, to them, divorce suggests that the couple did not have a ‘happy’ marriage. More often than not, a woman bears the brunt of this because the responsibility of ensuring this happiness lies with her. Furthermore, parents believe a divorce means that they failed at bringing a suitable partner for their child. Lastly, remarriage is extremely difficult because divorced women are often considered ‘impure’.
‘What will others say?’ The not-so-apt response to abusive marriages
Even when a marriage is abusive, families still prioritise the shame a divorce may bring over the safety of their child facing violence, or even marital rape. Even in foreign countries, not maintaining the ‘tradition’ of a single marriage imparts shame on their divorced woman. Apart from this is the emotional trap abused partners are in, where they believe their partners will change or don’t ‘mean’ to abuse them. However, let’s assume that they do get a chance to divorce them.
Usually, the abuser ensures money is kept out of the survivor’s hands. Then, if they do get financial help, they still own a larger portion of the money, so winning the divorce case is easier. What’s worse is that winning that may mean they can win custody the same way – through money, unless the mother has a case strong enough to convince the judges. Furthermore, if the mother wins the case, she still needs to be financially well-off to take care of the child(ren) after the divorce.
Such circumstances often force women to stay with their abusive husbands.
The legal side of divorce in India
Divorce is an extremely drawn-out, time-consuming process in India of 18-24 months. Many cases are, regardless of what they’re about. It not only drains out a person financially but also mentally. Therefore, it’s an aspect to worry about before a person decides to go ahead with it.
Before they do, even lawyers themselves ask if a person is sure about it. Moreover, some lawyers themselves discourage it. ‘Stay together for the kids,’ they say. Of course, it’s easy to see that even the legal part of divorce isn’t entirely devoid of morals. After all, lawyers and judges are as much a part of this society as any of us.
The rate of separation in India is three times higher than that of divorced rates. Moreover, the separation rates are higher regardless of religion That shows that even though marriages don’t work out, the couple does not necessarily go through legal divorce. They simply separate. Hence, the divorce rate does not increase.
Are arranged marriages in India the reason for divorce?
Yes, and no. Although many arranged marriages are just ‘successful’ because the couple will not, or cannot, go through legal divorce, it doesn’t mean every couple in an arranged marriage is unhappy.
What matters is choice. A person could be okay with an arranged marriage, but only after they get to know them a little better. Parents should ensure that this happens, and should not place any pressure on their child to get married sooner than they are ready. Doing so only results in their child becoming resentful of their partner as they may believe they could have found someone better, or even achieved more in life if the marriage had not interfered with it. Parents also need to allow, even encourage, their daughters to be financially independent before marriage.
The cause of divorce isn’t arranged marriage, but lack of compatibility too sometimes. Since the partners don’t know each other well beforehand, they may even be at two different ends of a spectrum for a lot of things. Compromise isn’t always possible, especially if it has to do with one’s morals. So, dear parents, remember your child knows themselves better than you. Prioritise their needs of a partner over your idea of an ideal partner.
This doesn’t mean that love marriages are perfect either – sometimes, one person outgrows the other, or simply changes after a while. And that’s okay. At least, they know it was their choice in the first place.
The stigma around divorce needs to disappear. Divorce is not the end of the world – it’s a healthy end to an unhappy relationship.
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