Every other person will tell you that marriage in India has changed because women don’t adjust the way they used to as they are now financially independent. While this statement could not be more fantastical on many levels, the worst of it is that it still blames women for the untoward behaviour men are allowed to exhibit within a marriage. So if financial independence in women does not cause divorce, what does? We discuss, in our latest piece.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia.
“Divorce cases in India are rising so much these days,” she said as we had lunch at a swanky, uptown cafe that charges an obnoxious amount of money for a pretty crappy burger, “Every second person is divorced.”
Even though that number is grossly misrepresented and comprehensible only in a specific pincode in South Delhi, I was interested in what she had to say for the purpose of discourse.
“Why do you think that is?” I asked the woman I have known for decades, and respected for a few years of naive youth.
“You won’t like the answer,” she said, “You will take it the wrong way.”
I knew what was coming, I am accustomed to having the gut-wrenching discussion that destroys your idols and makes you feel like everyone has lost it, or you have.
“It’s the women that are to blame, I feel,” she said in one fell swoop of misplaced confidence, “Women are not adjusting anymore and financial independence makes them feel like they shouldn’t adjust, every decision is made from that place of ego.”
“I feel like there isn’t a right way to take that,” I told her, “Why don’t you tell me what the right way to take that might be?”
“See this is India, beta,” she said in that condescending tone that older women reserve for people who make rational arguments untainted by the demon of time and the art of compromise, “And women are women, no one is stopping women from having projects, but when women stop being adjusting, marriages stop working, is this what your feminism wants? That everyone should be alone? No companionship?”
I mean, cats are pretty good company (and they too maul you in the middle of the night to ask for something you’re too tired to give them just then). Dogs are cool too. Maybe even a highly-engaged rabbit. I hear some creepy people like birds too. I didn’t say that to her though, I tried to have a reasoned discussion which led to nothing except us never having lunch together again. You could say we went through a mutually-consensual friendship divorce, and it was a good decision too, we just weren’t compatible. I wonder if she thought my newfound financial independence was the cause for my lack of adjustment to her views. I like to think that she does, at least that way I get to believe she is consistent in her poorly-reasoned stances, and I like consistency in people. Just to be clear though, I do not agree with her, I do not believe financial independence causes divorce. I think that’s one of the stupidest things ever said to me and a priest once told me that coming to his ashram to interview him could lead to me being raped because asking a man questions so freely is immoral (am I hurting religious sentiments by reporting that extremely accurate fact? Good.).
I think financial independence empowers women to be able to avail the privilege (yes, divorce is not a right in India, it’s a legal privilege) of divorce. Claiming that the lack of “adjustment” from women is what causes divorce is just victim blaming. What causes divorce is that the normalised shitty marital behaviours that men have been allowed to demonstrate for generations are starting to seem less normal, and a small percentage (yes, it is a miniscule percentage) of women mostly in urban clusters won’t put up with that anymore. Before we go any further, let me just state for the record, I do not believe 100% of broken marriages are the fault of the man, there are many relationships that end because of women. There, I’ve said it and I hope no MRAs will feel the need to bark at me now (a girl can hope). However, there is a general trend in marriage and how it goes, and there is an accepted code of behaviours for both genders and a tendency to place the responsibility of a marriage working (and the blame for it failing) on the woman.
First, we must understand that this idea that “marriages are breaking like biscuits” in India these days is preposterous. In fact, whatever biscuits this person is eating are preposterous too, why are your biscuits breaking so easily, bake better! While the rate of divorce has doubled in the past two decades, our current divorce rate is 1.1% which is amongst the lowest rate of divorce anywhere in the world. Additionally, divorce in India is still largely prevalent mostly in large cities, and amongst the higher socioeconomic stratas of society. Availing divorce is India is still one of the hardest legal processes to conclude, you’d have an easier time settling a contested will that completing divorce proceedings, and the steps built into the process are deeply biased towards encouraging reconciliation (in the interest of the sanctity of marriage). This idea of divorce that your neighborhood aunty has created over her extended broken biscuit and chai sessions is as imaginary as the level of terrorists the current Indian government thinks exist in the country (so far we have muslims, students, journalists, anyone shot by an army bullet, everyone in J&K and farmers.. am I missing anyone?).
The real situation is that most people still opt for a lifetime of unhappiness over divorce. Most women still accept the archaic morays of traditional Indian marriage and carve out niche spaces of freedom for themselves. In many ways, Indian marriages are a deeply flawed institution. Just think about how marriage in India is supposed to function, suspend all idea of “this is Indian culture” and think about it without social context for a moment. A woman is often expected to marry someone she didn’t choose, retain her “virginity” for this person, quit her job to spend months shopping and preparing for the wedding, spend her life ensuring she doesn’t become too fat or too “dark” or too mouthy to be considered marriageable. Then she is expected to parade herself before people who analyse her every move, objectify her and grade her. Then the wedding itself is littered in sexist procedures like father’s “giving away” their daughters and the garb women are expected to adorn at the wedding, and many will say that they liked doing that (and that’s fine), but what would have happened if they said they didn’t want to do it? That’s the real test of tolerance. All of this is just about the wedding.
Then there’s marriage.
A woman is expected to leave her home and move in with another family where she taught to expect strife with the older female figures (and many times this strife is real). A woman is expected to care less about her own family, and visit them less, or be careful about having them over in her “new home”. It’s rarely so bad anymore that a father won’t even have water in the home of his daughter’s in-laws, but I am only 29 and I have met such people in my lifetime. A different set of people give her a different set of rules to live by. In some situations, women are “allowed” to work after marriage, but are expected also to be the ones responsible for all household work and cooking meals. Women are actively shamed in households where the men do the cooking or the cleaning, and those men are shamed too for not being “manly enough” to be able to demand domestic servitude from women. I’ve personally known a woman who was slapped by her husband before she divorced him, and everyone around her told her that it’s only one slap, she shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it.
Women are expected to make less money than their husbands, and if they don’t, to pretend that they do. Men are celebrated for doing the bare minimum when it comes to parenting while women are left to deal with the daily issues that come with parenting as well as the emotional development of the children. Women are taught not to “create issues” or “steal the son” of the family by expressing their views or demanding more time from their husbands. Women are taught to adjust even to criminal behaviour and I am as insulated in a modern privileged world as the next pretentious Walt Whitman toting slicker and I still am not immune to advice of this kind. Women are taught to have sex because their husbands need it, we are taught not to speak when the “men of the family” are talking, we are taught not to assert ourselves in ways that hurt the egos of our husbands. Women are invariably blamed for any issues of childbirth or fertility, to the point where even asking a man to get tested is akin to insulting him. Despite the fact that testing men is a lot less invasive, doctors still always test women first and more extensively when it comes to fertility issues. Women are blamed for not bearing sons or bearing too many daughters.
And those are the big things.
There are little things in marriages that deeply favour and enable poor behaviour on behalf of men. If a man goes out at night, he’s working hard and deserves the break, if a women does, she’s immoral and need to be reined in. If a man works an inordinate number of hours, he is doing it to provide for the family, if a woman does it, she’s shirking her family. If a man has to travel for work, it’s no big thing, if a woman does, how will the men eat? If a man buckles a woman’s shoes, it’s unsightly, but women are just expected to do if their husbands demand. If a man wears a gaudy silver shirt to dinner, that’s just his taste, if a woman wears a low-cut top, she doesn’t “look” married. If a man takes issue with a woman having a relationship with another man, and often even women who are considered “bad influences” (hi! Proudly bearing that title since 2008), she is expected to end the relationship. If a man is stressed, everyone is worried, if a woman in stress, she’s disrupting the peace of the family. The list is truly endless.
It’s not financial independence that is responsible for rising cases of divorce, it’s the nature of marriage in India that’s responsible. At its best it’s compromised happiness and at its worst its slavery in shackles of gold. Women being able to rent an apartment by themselves (and if you are woman who has ever rented apartment by herself you know how hard this is even when you do have the money) only enables them to leave, the cause for them leaving is all of this. It’s the shittiness of what marriage is allowed to be, and that we still hold the “lack of adjustment” of women responsible for the end of marriages is only further proof of that. When in doubt, blame the woman.
Well, fuck you.
We are done taking the blame, thank you very much. If you want to “fix” marriage, teach men less entitled behaviours when it comes to love, or they can get a cat too. That’ll teach them to expect love from a creature just because you took it into your home.