After staying in a loveless wedlock for around seven years, Durga (name changed), a native of Betalghat in Kumaon region, decided to end her marriage. “My husband who worked in Delhi rarely used to visit me and my son in our village and also stopped providing for us. I didn’t want to put up with it anymore and so finally mustered the courage to fight for a divorce,” she said.
Betalghat is around 300 km from Dehradun, and is, from the periphery, the epitome of India’s rural ethos: marriage is more of a family duty than cupid at work, and is taken more seriously than most places on earth. But the latest data on marital status based on the 2011 Census released in April this year shatter the image. The number of divorced people is higher in rural Uttarakhand than in urban areas, it says.
According to data published by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, of the 6,283 divorced persons in the state, 58% are from rural areas. There were around 50.28 lakh ever-married persons in Uttarakhand, it says.
Though the number of divorcees was way less than 1% of ever-married persons, it reveals that breakups were more in rural belts than in the urban areas that had the advantage of slackening taboos, scope for financial independence and easy access to courts to end
The rural breakup bulge could partly be because population is higher in rural areas than urban areas. Around 70% of the state’s population live in rural areas.
The state’s neighbour further cements the theory.
In Himachal Pradesh, which shares the same topographical and cultural features with Uttarakhand, 89% of the total breakups were reported from the rural areas where 90% of the population live.
If a generation preceding the present kept marriages intact for the sake of children, for the fear of being labelled a pariah, women aren’t mostly shackled by them today. The change is fuelled by high exposure to media and technology, rising aspirations and intellectual maturity due to better education.Sunita Shahi, a Nainital-based women’s rights activist, tied the trend to growing literacy rate and awareness about rights among rural women.
Female literacy rate jumped from 59.63% in 2001 to 70.70% in 2011 in Uttarakhand, which is above the national female literacy rate of 65.46%. The divorce data correspond to the same decadal period.
“What’s even more encouraging is the fact that families in rural areas - even though gradually - are accepting (the decision of their daughters) to end their marriages if they are not feeling happy or safe anymore,” she says.
Increasingly, the new perception of love, with couple as the nucleus, is being sold to rural women by popular TV soaps and media. Many young girls who get married to rural households now aspire to lead a life similar to their urban counterparts, say experts.
“When aspirations suffer, dissent is bound to follow,” says Krishna Khatri, a member of the state commission for women from Dehradun. “Neither do they tolerate in-laws’ interference in their lives.”
Dehradun-based senior clinical psychologist Dr Veena Krishnan says increased exposure to media instills confidence in rural. It’s a good sign because it indicates that women, especially in the villages, are shedding their inhibition to fight their way out of unhappy marriages. They are no longer willing to ‘adjust’ to societal norms though there’s still a long way to go,” Krishnan said.
Dehradun and Haridwar were the only two among the state’s 13 districts where the number of divorcees in urban areas was higher compared to rural belt.