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Marriage — on trial

Divorce is no longer a dirty word in India. And the mother-in-law is no longer the No 1 reason for couples to split. SUNDAY HT goes across the country to report on the Not-Made-for-Each-Other epidemic.
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON FEB 17, 2008 03:52 PM IST

Malini Ramanathan, a 28-year-old finance professional in Mumbai was happily married — for just 15 days. It took a garbage bin for her love marriage to go to the dumps.

The story, unbelievable as it is, goes like this: The new bride was aghast to find that there was no garbage bin in her marital home, with her mother-in-law quite content throwing out waste onto the neighbour’s roof everyday. After Malini’s protests, her husband finally bought a waste bin.

Next, there was a fight over a bucket.

The family used just one bucket — in which the maid washed the dishes and the clothes. The bucket was then used for mopping the house. The family would also bathe using the same pail. Another round of loud protests led to the purchase of a new bucket. Malini was delighted to finally have a ‘clean’ bath. But the next morning, the bucket had disappeared. Her ma-in-law thought it was silly to use two buckets at a time, and stuffed the new one into the store-room. Every morning, Malini would end up being late for work, having to negotiate to get it out of the store room. Obviously, the story about the bucket held no water with her boss.

There were other equally ‘grave’ issues troubling her marriage. For one, she was not allowed to oil and wash her long hair every alternate day. Washing hair every other day is simply a waste of soap and water, her father-in-law declared.

Exasperated, Malini soon filed for divorce. Neither her in-laws nor her husband have been able to understand what the great fuss was all about. Her marriage lasted all of six months (in cohabitation) and three years between separation and divorce.

Courting break-ups

The myth of the Great Indian Marriage has been split wide open. Shaadi is no longer a sacrosanct institution, and divorce, no longer a dirty word.

“People are now more accepting of the fact that divorcees need companionship,” says Vivek Pahwa, CEO,secondshaadi.com, which launched last June and already has 30,000 users. An increasing number of divorced women are now hoping to click with someone online. Seven per cent of all registered women on jeevansathi.com are divorcees, as against 4 per cent of all male users.

“Girls aren’t brought up to think of themselves as paraya dhan anymore. After marriage, subjugation of any form is hard to accept,” says Punjab-based Human Rights lawyer R.S. Bains. Boys, he says, aren’t ready to break free of stereotypical notions, and therefore, the marital discord.

Not surprisingly, couples are crashlanding from courtships into the court room. Six more family courts have come up in Delhi since the late ’90s, to deal with over 9,000 cases of matrimonial disputes. In Kolkata, divorce cases have gone up nearly 200 per cent in the last few years. “Nearly six out of ten married couples now require counselling to prevent break-ups,” says Siladitya Ray, consultant psychiatrist at Kolkata’s Belle Vue Nursing Home. And for every five weddings registered in Mumbai in the past five years, there have been two divorce applications — an increase of nearly 50 per cent.

Bangalore’s buzzing IT-BPO sector has become a fertile ground for marriages to split. Worried employers are now offering counselling to prevent mishaps on their employees’ home turf. Dr Ali Khwaja of the Banjara Academy, that sees an average of ten couples a week from the IT-BPO sector, says, “With easy money, people pick up expensive gifts for their spouse rather than offering them emotional support.”

It’s not just the metros where marriages are breaking up. In 2005, nearly 76 per cent of the divorce claims to the qazi in Bhopal were made by Muslim women — up from barely 20 per cent in 2004. In Lucknow’s Family Court, almost 300 divorce cases are filed every month — twice the number five years ago. Jharkhand sees six divorce cases daily, with coal city Dhanbad topping the charts. The numbers in Ranchi have nearly doubled from 237 in 2006 to 433 cases in 2007.

At Ludhiana’s Marriage Dispute Cell, complaints have increased seven times over the last seven years. In the Allahabad Family Court, maintenance cases jumped from 204 in 2005 to 612 last year. Says Naseem, an Allahabad-based lawyer, “Out of about 7,000 pending cases, 40 per cent are related to divorce.” Sixty per cent divorce cases are based on trivial issues, he adds.

Intimate enemies

Seemingly trivial issues — like Malini’s obsession with the bucket — are emerging as the new reasons for doomed marriages, rather than just the age-old and still common factors like dowry harassment, impotency and the mother-in-law factor.

Consider the case of a young bride from Jaipur, who sought divorce over the food served to her. Surplus puri from her marriage celebration was dried in the sun and cooked as vegetable by her in-laws. The dish served to her was unpalatable, she claimed. Within 20 days of tying the knot, she separated from her husband and a year later, obtained a divorce. “The puri-vegetable was mentioned as a ‘cruelty’ in her divorce application,” says her advocate Vibhuti Bhushan Sharma.

The new Indian wife with a mind of her own is also unsettling the patriarchal male. In last year’s blockbuster Om Shanti Om, a pinch of sindoor was heroine Deepika Padukone’s constant demand. It wasn’t so in the case of Allahabad’s Shubhra and Vineet Shukla, whose perfect marriage broke up within two years — over a pinch of vermillion. “She wants to be simple and said a big no to applying sindoor — which is very important for me,” Vineet complained to the judge while seeking a separation. The couple finally got a divorce in 2007.

Lucknow’s Neeta (name changed), a 27-year-old in the midst of divorce proceedings, says, “I started having marriage problems because I earn more than my husband. He always taunted me. After three years of marriage, we decided to part ways.”

And in Darjeeling, a seven-year-old ‘love’ marriage is on the rocks — because the man and wife have different political affiliations. Chandan Yolmo, 29, is all set to divorce his wife “for Gorkhaland.” Yolmo is a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporter, while his wife Romila Tamang supports the GNLF. He fumes: “I told her I would divorce her if she didn’t leave the GNLF, but she kept silent, indicating she didn’t care.” Politics, clearly, doesn’t make happy bedfellows.

Old whine in a new bottle

Love’s just not maturing like wine — for an increasing number of couples married for several years. Delhi couple Sanjeev and Rakhi separated after ten years of marriage — because Sanjeev suddenly turned too religious for his wife’s liking. Rakhi, who runs an export house, alleged that he was having an affair with a woman who was a regular at the temple he frequented. With her case still pending in Tis Hazari, Rakhi now lives with her 9-year-old son, having separated from Sanjeev two years ago.

It is quite the other way round for Kolkata’s Subir Chatterjee and his wife Aparna (names changed), who want to part ways because “it’s impossible to communicate with each other anymore.” While Aparna is deeply religious and loathes socialising, Subir is an avid club-goer. “We never really had too much in common. With our only son settled abroad, we found we had nothing to talk about,” says Chatterjee.

Things take a bizarre twist when parents and children find the generation gap between them blurring vis-à-vis their marital status. A 58-year-old woman in Delhi and her 32-year-old son simultaneously sought divorce from their respective spouses. While the son’s case is still on, his mother dropped the case after her husband passed away during the course of trial.

Quite clearly— for a growing number of Indian couples, marriage is becoming an arduous journey from the heady moment
of exchanging an engagement rock to the downside of having their relationship hitting the rocks. A journey from —

“Till death do us part," to "Till marriage do us part."

— Neha Tara Mehta and Naziya Alvi in New Delhi, Sujata Anandan in Mumbai, BR Srikanth in Bangalore, Amitava Banerjee in Darjeeling, Rakeeb Hossain in Kolkata, Bhanu Pratap Singh in Jaipur, Aradhana Mishra and Prakash Kumar in Ranchi, Manisha Gangahar in Chandigarh, Sanjay Mehta and Rashpal Chambyal in Ludhiana, Padmini Singh in Allahabad, Surya Agarwal in Lucknow, Rakesh Dixit and P Naveen in Bhopal and Padma Shastri in Indore.

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