When I touched about stigma in divorce in my last article, I promised I'd elaborate on it another time. So, what is it about divorce that leads to hushed whispers when we speak of it in the context of someone we know? Why is there an element of the "breaking news" variety of gossip attached to it? News of it is shared with a mix of sympathy, pity, salaciousness, condescension and, in some cases, envy. It is very rarely talked about in a matter-of fact manner.
The reason for this is the shame and secrecy surrounding divorce. To go through a divorce is akin to having AIDS - both are stigmatised. You are ostracised, everyone blames you for your troubles and judges you negatively even if they have partial to no facts on the matter.
The breeding ground for the stigma that shrouds divorce is a compound of both lack of information and misinformation. It's ironic, because the less the information, the less the acceptance and more the stigma. And because of the stigma, there is still less information. It's a self-feeding vicious cycle.
I am a lawyer but I have also been a litigant in a divorce case. With my vantage points from both sides of the fence I have found that most lawyers hold on to information like it is a Michelangelo original -- precious and to be auctioned to the highest bidder. Even when they do part with it, they do so in complex legalese, which makes even the simplest procedure sound like a circuitous route uphill. Misinformation is another tactic used by them, all for the sake of increasing their importance and also raising their monetary demands.
To further exacerbate matters, you have the social stigma in India where the family, both immediate and extended, think nothing of prying in your personal affairs. Instead of offering acceptance and unconditional love and support, they either/or judge you harshly or dole out unsolicited advice.
Incidentally, a counsellor in the family court hid her separation from her husband for the longest time due to the immense stigma around divorce. This definitely sends out the wrong signals to those who come to you for guidance. If you are in a position of influence in a divorce matter but are actually ashamed of your personal situation, how can you do justice to those who come to you for help?
So, what can be done to reduce - and eventually banish - the stigma around divorce?
Of utmost importance is the easy availability of simple comprehensible information regarding divorce. Divorce needs to be demystified so that everyone would know at a basic level what to do. In one word -- awareness.
Once this is done, the erroneous notions and myths around divorce have a better chance of dispelled. Divorce need not be a bad word and divorcees need not be seen as failures but even as successful in rectifying an untenable situation. With facts at hand, it would be so much easier to challenge misconceptions about divorce.
With awareness, the likelihood of acceptance by society and family would also increase. Once you are armed with your family's support the battle of divorce seems easier and you don't feel the need to hide what you are going through.
In fact let me start by saying, "Hi! I'm Vandana and I went through a divorce ..." You can read more about me on www.vandanashah.com.
There -- I've taken my first step, now you take yours.