Divorce (noun): The legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or some other competent body.
This is how the Oxford dictionary defines divorce. Other dictionaries offer minor variations of the same definition. They really gladdened my heart when I first read them as they made divorce sound so simple, like walking into a store and buying a box of candy. This image fades when I think back on my own divorce. I spent a decade of my youth banging my head against the family court, losing my peace of mind. I fail to see the congruence and simplicity of this definition with the reality of divorce, especially in India.
Since then, I have in my support group counselled over 8000 people going through divorce; as a divorce lawyer I have interacted with so many more. I have come to realise that the layers in divorce are just like the famous Russian dolls -- each time you open up one doll there is another one inside. The pain and trauma of separation from someone who you once loved (or even hating someone you once may have loved), the anxiety of starting a new life, the legal hassles. The most depressing aspect has to be the children's fate who are all too often bounced around like pawns of convenience between the parents and get a headstart in misery, loneliness and cultivate a strange Machiavellian streak in order to just survive the aftershocks of their parents' "bad marriage".
"In fact, when my divorce was in progress, I was "advised" to not be a part of any religious ceremonies since I was no longer a married woman. I became a "new age widow".
A curious phenomenon in India and parts of the Asian sub-continent, which I don't see in many other parts of the Western world, is how society comes along for the ride. The friends and family who participated in the dhoom-dham (celebrations) of a wedding also become players in what I call the dhoom-dhadaka (explosion) of a divorce. This time, though, they are not invited. Everyone has an opinion, someone to fix, their own ideas about the marriage and the cause of divorce and the next course of action and of course the best lawyer to inflict maximum indignity and financial punishment on the "opposite side". It's a free for all.
The non-acceptance of divorce for what it is -- the end of a marriage -- leads to a stigma around it and stigma as we all know is colourless, odourless and poisonous and effectively corrodes our sense of self. Stigma is inversely proportional to knowledge and hence the vicious cycle continues. The cause of stigma could be rooted in our religious texts which seem to indicate that a woman without a man is not complete and needs a man -- be it her father, brother, husband or son - to make her whole.
"The friends and family who participated in the dhoom-dham (celebrations) of a wedding also become players in what I call the dhoom-dhadaka (explosion) of a divorce."
In fact, when my divorce was in progress, I was "advised" to not be a part of any religious ceremonies since I was no longer a married woman. I became a "new age widow". Religious discrimination based on divorce is rampant and almost exclusive to India and since almost all ceremonies are related to only married women. Divorced women have a dodgy status and are subjected to ostracism as there is no direct mention of divorce in our scriptures. So a divorced woman automatically gets somewhat clubbed in with widows -- another category that is subjected to the most inhuman treatment right from being deprived of food, discarded by their sons, treated like evil witches who cast a malevolent spell on the family, a convenient punching bag and worse, still, sometimes even fed cow dung in the villages.
Complicated? I've barely scratched the surface. So in India, the next time you read a simplistic definition of divorce, don't be fooled for a minute. And spare a kind thought for others going through the hell of divorce in this country.
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