Madras High Court made news in June this year when it modified an April 2006 judgment of a Coimbatore family court in a maintenance case involving a couple and ruled that couples having premarital sex will be considered equivalent to married couples. Prior to that, on May 16, the Orissa High Court gave a verdict on the introduction of a new law for those live-in relationships. The two were only the latest in a series of cases which point to the fact that the rules of marriage and domestic partnerships are changing in India.
The idea of an Indian marriage has seen drastic changes over the past few years. Says sociologist Dipankar Gupta, “Increasing urbanisation and migration from rural to urban setups is one of the primary cause for the change. Rural economy is pushing out people in the urban economic bracket which exposes them to modern trends and spaces. Today we see many people from the lower social stratas advertising in the matrimonial sections which shows that they are getting accustomed to urban trends. Even the category ‘caste no bar’ appears a lot in various sections of the matrimonial columns, which shows that we are rising above deep-rooted disparities like caste and religion.” He also feels that with patriarchal control over women decreasing and joint family setups in both rural and urban India seeing a decline, more changes are set to come.
But even with setups like serial monogamy, live-in relationships, single-parent households, deliberate single statuses, late marriages and homosexual partnerships, there is still a space in society where marriage continues to be one of the most important institutions.
However, marriage is increasingly no longer a given, at least in urban India. Nuclear family setups of various kinds are coming up. Says lawyer Pinki Anand, “Society is not unanimous about the institution. Differential treatment comes from different sections. The youth is exposed to new lifestyles which is now permissible and is exploring their sexual identities. Certain legal attempts have been made to deal with the reality but still there is no consensus over the matter. For example, live-in status has been given rights under the Domestic Violence Act but still there is a long road ahead.”
Though it’s four years since the Delhi High Court has decriminalised homosexuality, there is still much to be done. Says Anand, “We still have so many biases. We are trying to get into areas where we think there is liberalisation. Societal pressures are a major roadblock in acceptance of new partnerships.” Anand also feels that excessive breakdown of marriages in the West has influenced the institution in India.
Changing marriage prototype is also the result of progress in women’s education and income, and the rights granted to them over property, but still we lack in many ways as far as their economic security is concerned. In an article published in May 2013, “Division of Property after divorce”, Dr. Ranjana Kumari – Director, Centre for Social Research, stated that, “The recent decision by the Union Cabinet to make further amendments to the Marriage Laws Amendment Bill, 2010 that will guarantee a women’s right to 50 per cent of residential property in the case of divorce is an important step towards ensuring women’s economic security and equality in marriage and divorce proceedings.”
Rajya Sabha in August this year, approved a proposal to make divorce friendly for women. The proposal provides for the wife getting share in the husband’s immovable property after “irretrievable breakdown” of marriage.
This year, the Supreme Court said that if a man deceitfully marries a woman hiding the subsistence of earlier marriage, he is obliged to pay maintenance to her under Section 125 of Code of Criminal Procedure. Says advocate Vikas Gupta, “In the past, cases like the Shah Bano case (1985), and Visakha’s case (1997) have been political bones of contention as well as defining moments in the history of judiciary for a woman’s right in the society. We still have no benefits for single mothers or single people. In the US, there are provisions for tax exemptions and benefits for single mothers and also for their children in terms of education. In India, one hasn’t even thought about it. Empowerment isn’t supported by practical measures.”
Says psychiatrist, relationships consultant and author Dr Vijay Nagaswami, “Young Indians don’t necessarily feel as bound by duty and are more conscious of working towards fulfilment in the relationship than merely playing the role of husband or wife. I think the changing norms are making the institution less of an institution and more of a personal human relationship determined by emotionality and companionship than by rigid legal, familial or social diktats. ”
Economic disparity also plays a significant role in perusal, acceptance and working of any domestic household and partnership. Says financial consultant Devangshu Datta, “Formal or informal relationships both depend upon economic factors. It’s easier to make a decision and live through it if you are economically independent. It supports in handling the social barriers.”
Adds Dipankar Gupta, “Nobody plans to marry thrice, or be a single parent or marry late or not marry at all. It is all situation based. It is just that now people have choices to follow their will in a particular situation.”
‘Living-in is simpler to get out of’
Sonali Mehra (27) and Deepak Sharma (34) met 13 years ago in Delhi and have been in a live-in relationship for the past five years. Both hail from small towns, they came to Delhi in search of a bright future. While Sonali is a media professional, Deepak has been working in sales in the city.
Twist in the tale: Sonali and Deepak were very sure about living together before marriage and feel that marriage isn’t an important thing which everyone needs to give in to. Says Mehra, “It was convenient for us to live together as we got to spend more time together and life was easy this was.” Mehra believes that when two people are living together, it’s more viable, making it economical and easy. “What is marriage going to change anyway? It’s a great thing that now women who are in a live-in relationship have certain rights. But still it will take a long time to get fully implemented and accepted,” says Mehra. A lot of women are taken advantage of during this arrangement of live-in, feels Mehra. She says, “It’s all about making the right decision. Live-in is simpler to get out of if things aren’t working fine.”
Family and friends: The couple lives in south Delhi. They claim that their neighbours, grocer and almost everyone around knows about their relationship and respect their decision. Their families are also comfortable with the set-up. Their friends hang out together and families get along pretty well. “It’s a personal choice and demands willingness not a formality. Marriage has lost importance now, but still some people really believe in it and we respect that,” says Deepak.
Single in the city
Dhirendra Kumar (45), spent his growing up and student years in Bangalore, before shifting base to Chandigarh for professional reasons. A veterinarian and national-level motor rallyist, Kumar is happily single.
Twist in the tale: Kumar became a regular motor-rally participant and treks to the Himalayas after shifting base to Chandigarh. “It was more a fluke, rather than a conscious decision to not marry. It started with a delay in getting married and then became a question of not getting a suitable match,” explains Kumar, adding, “Also now that I’m a national-level rally driver and have won competitions such as Raid-de-Himalayas, it’s difficult to get married with any random girl.”
He is quite happy about his single status. “When you turn 35, you realise that there is rarely anything missing from life because you are single. You have already adjusted yourself to your single routine. Getting the perfect match at this age becomes very difficult.”
There are various other factors that make Dhirender proud of his singlehood. “In the past ten years I have seen the values of marriage undergoing a change. Married men cheat more often than those who are single.”
Family and friends: Ask him about children and he says, “Only celebrities or those living in very permissible societies can think of having a child outside marriage. People like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have had children without caring about societal norms.” But Kumar has no plans of adopting a child either. “My niece and nephews are kind of adopted children for me. I would rather focus on them.”
-Navleen Kaur Lakhi
‘Pre-nups keep greed out of marriage’
Mansi Mehta (27) and her husband Dinesh (29)(names changed) of Mumbai, met in 2010 and fell in love. But when the question of marriage cropped up, the couple decided to consult a lawyer and sign a pre-nuptial agreement to keep money and greed out of the relationship.
Twist in the tale: This is not the first marriage for either Dinesh or Mansi. At the age of 21, Mansi had been married to a man two years elder to her and who was from the same community as her. In four years the marriage broke down and a gritty Mansi, took up a job at the front desk of a hotel and started the work of picking up the pieces of her life and putting it back in order. When she met Dinesh, through common friends, she was too afraid to even consider a second marriage. Meanwhile, Dinesh, an IT engineer from Bangalore, too was recovering from a failed marriage. “We finally agreed to have a very simple registered wedding and, to keep money and greed out of the marriage, decided to sign a pre-nuptial agreement,” says Mansi. Adds Vandana Shah, a divorce lawyer who counselled the couple: “According to the pre-nup, the couple has foregone the rights to one other’s parental property in case of a divorce. Mansi insisted that Dinesh should not get claims over her mother’s jewellery, which she has inherited. They have separate bank accounts, and one joint account, operated through individual accounts.”
Family and friends: The couple discussed with their friends, but decided not to bother our parents with it.
- Deeksha Gautam
Wedded to vocation
Jaba Basak, a gynaecologist aged in her forties, chose her profession over marriage and children. The Kolkata-based doctor now lives with her brother, who is separated from his wife, and pursues her passion for embroidery during her leisure hours.
Twist in the tale: Dr Basak, did not pursue further studies for the same commitment towards her patients and practice, that prevented her from getting married. “I never felt the need to get married. Ever since our childhood, I had to go through a lot of struggles, to earn a living and study for my MBBS in Bangladesh. After getting my degree, I didn’t want to give it up for the sake of marriage,” says Basak. “After the day’s work I come back home to my brother, finish off with all the household chores and then I keep myself busy with my embroidery works. It is something that I really love doing,” says Basak with a smile. With every year that she became more popular as a gynaecologist, her reluctance to get married also increased. As in her internship and house-staffship days, Basak is still running around the city, from one hospital to another, and then again to her private chamber.
Family and friends: Basak’s reluctance to get married was favoured by her family members, but her mother released her of the guilt of not fulfilling her parents’ wishes on her deathbed.
“My mother, before she died gave me relief saying, ‘If you don’t want to get married ever, you don’t have to for us’. I never again felt the need to get married,” she added.
- Sanchari Chatterjee
‘No ego hassles if wife earns more’
Suchi Agarwal (27) and Rohit Mittal (35) (names changed) have experienced what many face before marriage in our society – the girl earns more. Based in Delhi, Suchi works as a public relations consultant and Rohit is a photographer in the advertising industry and works on assignment basis. She earns around 60% more than him.
Twist in the tale: They met seven years ago, when Suchi was 21 and he, 29. They got married last year in December in a simple ceremony where just close ones were present. “Of course, I had my doubts but every relationship goes through that. We belong to completely different professions and background,” says Suchi. Suchi wanted to be with someone who had seen and experienced life more than she had. She says, “Meeting an experienced man was a big change. He had the stability, personally and professionally.” But the family was skeptical to accept the gap, but later accepted him. “There is no ego tussle, even if I earn more than him. What we care about is good money coming in the household. Rohit feels that marriage works on a lot of understanding. “A sense of maturity plays a big role here. Her money goes into savings which will be very helpful when we plan our family. I run the house conveniently and take her support whenever required,” says he. Family and friends: Suchi still supports her brother’s education and have also helped her family buy a house. She feels her family still has a right over her earnings and her husband agrees.
- Srishti Jha
‘Amma is most important to me’
Professor TR Gopalakrishnan (43) of Chennai was repeatedly asked to get married but he resisted such pressures, to stay unmarried and serve his widowed mother.
Twist in the tale: He was educated, completed his Phd from University of Leeds and came back to settle down in Chennai while taking up a teaching job at the Madras University. Gopalakrishnan resisted all pressures from his mother, friends and family to get married. And instead chose to remain a bachelor to serve his widowed mother who sacrificed a lot for the family. Gopalkakrishnan had lost his father when he was just 19, when he needed him the most. “I remember it was Amma who filled up the void and guided me in everything. So I felt I would repay a little of the kindness and love,” Gopalakrishnan explains as to why he did not get married. “I was scared of the unknown, in the wife to be, and because of some bad experiences around us, with troubles in families with the arrival of the daughter in law.” He was engaged to be married, but then doubts crept up about the nature of the girl. “It is a personal choice. Amma is of paramount importance to me. I am happy that she is happy,” he says, adding that he finds joy in immersing himself in books. Family and friends: There are several neighbours and friends who support him wholeheartedly. People of the elder generation living in the vicinity are fond of Gopalakrishnan as he has infused them with a life of their own.
- KV Lakshmana
‘I am happy with my second husband’
Reena Devadiga (43) (named changed), currentely based in Bangalore was subjected to harassment by her former husband, who suspected her fidelity and later threw her out of teh house. Fifteen years later she remarried and found happiness.
Twist in the tale: Reena hails from Mangalore and lived in Mumbai with her ex-husband and a son . Later her husband, who was always suspecting her fidelity, started harassing her and threw her out of his house in Mumbai. Her first husband later married another woman without getting a proper divorce. “I was there about four years, but was almost always locked inside the house,” recalls Reena. She later filed a case against him and got a divorce. Years later, Reena’s brother brought her a proposal from a man who ran his own small business. Dinesh K did not marry for 40 years after a failed love affair, but Reena’s brother and his friends convinced him to marry her.
After spending around 15 years alone, she remarried. “We got married in a sub-registrar’s office in 2010 and now I have a two- year-old girl with him. Dinesh and I are leading a happy life now with our baby,” says she.
Family and friends: Reena’s son didn’t consent to her second marriage initially but they were able to convince him later. He hasn’t met his step father yet.
- Naveen Ammembala
Thirty-one year old corporate communication executive, Jerry Johnson, popped the question to his 27-year-old psychologist boyfriend, Deepak Kashyap, while celebrating New Year’s Eve in Udaipur in 2012. The two exchanged rings in Udaipur, and followed it up with a more traditional ceremony back home in Mumbai
Twist in the tale: The couple have been living together in Mumbai’s Santacruz area for the past five years. Following the ring ceremony in Udaipur, the two organised a function in Mumbai, where family and friends were invited. At the Mumbai function Jerry and Deepak exchanged garlands and coconuts and swore their commitment to each other for life. It doesn’t end there.
Unable to legally wed in India, Jerry and Deepak eventually plan to head to Nepal where such unions have been declared legal by the country’s Supreme Court, but where a new constitution is yet to be drafted and passed. Meanwhile, the couple is focusing on finding their dream home and settling down. Asked what the engagement means to them, given that it is not recognised under the law, Jerry says: “A seriousness has set into the relationship now. We think of each other when taking decisions.”
Family and friends: Both families had been invited to the engagement ceremony in Mumbai, but while Kashyap’s mother sent her best wishes and his godfather attended the ceremony, the rest stayed away. “Our friends also support us in settling tiffs. Now they know that we mean to make this relationship last,” says Jerry.
- Deeksha Gautam.
He is ‘proud to support’ his wife
The Menons, of Patna, have been married for 21 years and still going strong. And they continue to challenge the conventional roles of husband and wife. While Monica (39) is a teacher, Jaideeep (46) works from home on short-term contractual basis and manages the house.
Twist in the tale: There were conflicts right from the word go. While Monica is a Bihari, Jaideep’s family is from Kerala. But of course, there was opposition. After marriage Jaideep left his job to start a joint venture with Monica in exporting and textiles. He says, “It went on well for a while and then we had to shut it in the year 1996. Our son was 6 months old then. Monica joined a school as a teacher. She has always been passionate about teaching and I wanted her to do that. There was more stability in her job than mine. So I took charge of the household to support her as she followed her passion of being a teacher.”
Jaideep says he is proud to support his wife and he doesn’t care about the divide the society has created in terms of a man’s role and a woman’s role in a household. “I think the institution depends upon companionship and support from each other. A man can also take responsibility of the household.”
Family and friends: Their son, who is 18 and studying, is proud of his parents.
- Srishti Jha
‘My wife and children are my world’
Sreenivasa K Naidu (38) of Bangalore, who became completely blind a few years ago considered suicide at one point, but his wife Sumathi Naidu (31) gave him moral courage and support to face the challenges life had thrown towards him.
Twist in the tale: Sreenivasa was partially blind when he married Sumathi ten years ago. However fate was against him and he went completely blind five years ago. They live with their two daughters in a rented house in a middle class locality in Kamalanagar in Bangalore. “My wife rolled Agarbatti (incense sticks) at home and I worked in a garment factory as store keeper. We were happy life till I suffered complete blindness,” recalls Sreenivasa. Sumathi loved Sreenivasa and decided to live with him even though he was suffering from partial blindness. “I lost hope five years ago when I got to know that he had become completely blind. However, I decided to help him and be with him whatever comes in our life. He could not go for work for some time, but now has joined a leather factory and gets paid around `3,000. I roll agarbattis and support him with family expenses and education of our daughters,” Sumathi says. Sreenivasa adds to this saying that he once decided to commit suicide, but his wife gave him moral support and courage to face the truth. “We need help for our children to get them good education. I am trying to get a good job,” he said.
Family and friends: Sreenivasa recalls how his some of his family members, including his own brothers avoided him after they got to know that he is blind. “Now, I am proud to say that I have only three relatives, my wife and two children,” he says.
- Naveen Ammembala
2nd time lucky, hubby 21 yrs younger
Rima Jaisingh (64) (name changed) an art consultant in Delhi challenged the social taboo around remarriage and married a man much younger to her. Despite the age gap and difference she still tries to fit in into the new family.
Twist in the tale: Rima, who was married to man from a royal family, lost her first husband seven years ago. Life wasn’t the same for her, with her children settling away abroad and her living a life of loneliness. Five years ago she met her second husband who was 21 years younger and her life started a second inning. They got married after being together for four years but faced a lot of opposition. She says, “It wasn’t just attraction. I met him at his house at a party. It was his first marriage and he wasn’t unsure at all about his liking. I still had some doubts, but his confidence got me there.” Her husband is at a senior position in a multinational in New York and shuttles between India and New York. “I never believed I would have a beautiful second phase. My kids were married and getting married at this age was a tough thing but it happened,” she adds. Rima who went through a lot of property disputes and family tussles said that her second marriage gave her a lot of strength. She says, “There was a major age gap and his family isn’t very modern. He belongs to a different religion and it was tough being a part of the new family but it happened.”
Family and friends: Rima’s children, and sisters were against the marriage but her old aunt and uncle supported her. Her children now interact with her husband.
- Srishti Jha
Being a single mom
Being a single mother is not easy in our society but Pooja Narayan (45) (name changed), a law professional living in Delhi, beats the odds as she raises her only child alone.
Twist in the tale: Pooja had an arranged in 1997. She was 29 years old then.
“I got divorced in 2005. In spite of the fact that my marriage was a living hell, I did try to endure it for my child’s sake for a couple of years,” she recalls.
Over time realisation dawned that she can’t put her child through a miserable childhood by going back into the same circumstances. She filed for divorce after nearly 3 years of separation. Pooja feels that it takes time to recover from the trauma of one’s marriage not having survived.
“Moreover, the mindset in India is not very conducive to accepting a single parent and it was a struggle to even get school admission for my daughter,” she says. After diligently working for years to rebuild her career, she feels she is in a secure space and her hard work is paying now.
Family and friends: Pooja had unstinted support from her parents and sisters.
- Srishti Jha
Third time happy
Shahid Rahman (63) (name changed), a senior executive and writer based in Delhi, suffered two divorces before finding happiness with his third wife.
Twist in the tale: Rahman married for the first time in 1971 and the couple had two children. But the marriage ended in divorce in 1991. Says Rahman, “ I never followed a pattern or a way of life as religion. If a marriage is not working out, one should end it, or else it gets tough not only for the two partners but also the children born off the marriage. My first marriage ended when my wife went off with a rich man. She didn’t demand much alimony, but asked me to take care of the children and their expenses.” Rahman’s second marriage, in 1995, too didn’t work out. He says, “ My second wife wanted a lumpsum from my property. She didn’t want me to give her something regularly. We agreed mutually on all the terms and my son, born of our marriage, went to live with her. I supported his education and other expenses.” He got married to his present wife in 2002.
Family and friends: Rahman has divided his assets equally among his three children. “My children can support themselves now. I am happy in my present marriage. We don’t have any children to take care of. Now it’s about company.”
- Srishti Jha
The decision to not have children at all is a lifestyle choice. Based in Mumbai, freelance writer and production designer Tara Kaushal (30) and photographer Sahil Mane (28) feel that a child wouldn’t fit into their space.
Twist in the tale: Tara Kaushal moved to Mumbai in 2005 when she left a three-year-old marriage she had entered at 19. She met Sahil, then a student, now an award-winning photographer, when she interviewed him for his first job. She says, “We started living together within a couple of months of getting together. That was five years ago. Getting married was a mere formality.” Kaushal says the decision to not have children at all is a lifestyle choice. She says, “Sahil and I freelance, do things we enjoy, go on holidays. We love the fun, unpredictability and fullness of our lives. We don’t feel that a child would fit in to our mindspace and lifestyle. We like being Double Income No Kids and involved pet parents.” The couple has four dogs and two cats till now, and they feel that pet parenting satisfies their maternal and paternal instincts. She says, “I don’t buy this idealising and romanticising of pregnancy and the motherhood myth, and don’t see parenting as ‘the most important thing you can do with your life’.”
Family and friends: Family and friends asked them to change their decision. Now with the passage of time, their families have made peace with our decision.
- Srishti Jha