The National daily New Indian Express recently reported an incident which had the Kerala High Court chastise the “new-gen”’s callous attitude towards concepts of marriage and family.

A man abandoned his wife and three daughters after nine years of marriage subsequent to an alleged affair with another woman. He filed for divorce in a family court, grounded on ‘his wife’s behavioral abnormality of quarrelling with him over his illicit affair’. The family court’s prompt rejection of his divorce plea had him approach the High Court against the former’s ruling.

A division bench of the High Court, comprising Justices Mohammed Mustaque and Sophy Thomas dismissed the man’s appeal for divorce. The Court said ‘when the wife suspects her husband’s fidelity on reasonable grounds and questions him, it cannot be termed behavioral abnormality. It is natural human conduct of a normal wife’.

The court did not stop at the decisive dismissal of the man’s divorce appeal. It opened a floodgate of hard-hitting observations and reprimands against the ‘new gen’s attitude to marriage.

The Court expressed shock at the crumbling edifice of once invincible marriages and healthy families in India.

 It observed that the ‘new-gen’ considers marriage as an avoidable ‘evil’ rife with liabilities and obligations.

The present generation would, unhesitantly expand the word ‘WIFE’ as ‘Worry Invited For Ever’, in lieu of ‘Wise Investment For Ever’.

 ‘Use and throw’ consumerist culture has impacted matrimonial relationships. The Court warned.

Live-in relationships are increasing, only to say goodbye when they fall apart. The two-bench division observed.

The Court red-flagged couples’ tendency to break the nuptial knot over flimsy and selfish reasons, or extra-marital relationships, unmindful of their children.

‘Wails and screams emanating from destroyed families will shake society’s conscience. When the numbers of warring couples, deserted children, and divorcees go up, it will affect society’s tranquility and growth adversely’, the judges observed.

Law and religion consider marriage as an institution. The married cannot walk away from that relationship unilaterally, unless legal requirements to dissolve the marriage through a court of law or by the personal law which govern them are met, they added.

Mere quarrels, ordinary wear and tear of matrimonial relationships, or casual emotional outbursts are not reasons for divorce, the court opined.

‘From the facts of this case, it is obvious that the husband’s unholy alliance with another lady disturbed an otherwise smooth family’, the Court observed, while dismissing the divorce plea.

 Where do we, as Indians stand with respect to divorce and stable marriages? A recent study showed that India has the lowest divorce rate in the world. Only 13 out of 1,000 marriages (a mere 1%) breakup in India, while 46% and 87% of marriages breakup in America and Luxembourg respectively.

Does that mean 987 of 1000 Indian marriages script ‘they lived happily ever after’ stories?

Far from it. Indian marriages might have long shelf-lives. But, whether 987/1000 marriages are happy is million-dollar question.

Indian marriages would be distinctly way down if happiness factor within marriages is considered. Indian couples might live ‘ever after’. But they don’t ‘live happily ever after’. Oftentimes the couple, either both, or one, usually the woman is unhappy within marriages.

Why is that?    

  • The ability to dissolve a marriage is a privilege most Indian women don’t have. Reasons are social and economic.  Large numbers of Indian women are not financially independent, which limits their options. Factually, the tendency among women to walk out of marriages is directly proportional to their financial independence. The two-income family norm has bestowed economic parity among men and women, giving women more ‘leverage’ within marriages, that they don’t think twice before walking out of unhappy marriages.  Social reasons that check divorces are the ‘children factor’, persisting iron-fisted patriarchal system and social stigma tagged to a ‘divorcee’. Women are happy to be unhappy within marriages than be labeled ‘divorcee’.  Sensitive Issues of parental custody of children and alimony minimize divorce rates.
  • ‘The ideal woman’ is groomed to sacrifice everything at the altar of patriarchy. Women aren’t empowered to seek emancipation from an ordeal marriage is for many of them. They bear the yoke of unhappy marriages like cattle tilling the fields. Financially independent women aren’t essentially ‘empowered’. Before women reading me pick up stones, let me explain! Indian Women will only be empowered the moment they are liberated from dowry, dowry-related cruelty, physical violation and sexual harassment including marital rape, and torture at the hands of inebriated husbands. Marriages will only be fruitful and wholesome if women are freed from these travails, and not if they’re financially independent.
  • Couples who live separately don’t file for divorce legally, due to the taboo attached to the process.
  • As majority of Indian marriages are ‘arranged’, divorces are prevented.  Both families intervene through counseling and other methods to patch up ‘warring’ couples.
  • Longwinded legal procedure to secure divorce deters couples from filing for divorce.

While the High Court came down heavily on crumbling marriages in the country, statistics do not support it ironically. The Court overlooked the happiness quotient within marriages.

  • Religious factor. While it’s almost impossible for Christians, especially Catholics to secure divorce, there was a time when triple talaq used to separate Muslim couples within seconds. For Hindus, it’s somewhere in between.

The crux, therefore is statistics takes into account only longevity of Indian marriages. They don’t address the ‘happiness factor’ within marriages. The health and wholesomeness of marriages. Marriages will be happy if the couple and children within families are ‘equally happy’. Empowered equally in every sense to enjoy the most sacred among relationships humans have been blessed with. Unconditional love, mutual respect, commitment and scope for individual growth within marriages truly form the bedrock of healthy marriages, where couples are not heard to say, ‘till death us do part’.

It is to achieve this that courts ought to strive. Judiciary must look further than chiding rocky marriages and render marriages more wholesome by liberating women from subjugation by men within unhappy marriages.