A Divorce Can Last Longer Than A Marriage In India

Last week, a silver Mercedes parked outside my gate, blocking the entry to my house. When I asked the driver of the car to move the vehicle, he was not only unapologetic but belligerent. Instead of moving the car so that I could enter my own house, he insisted on arguing with me about my lack of patience. After a brief war of words, he ended the argument by calling me "a divorcee"—and I went from a state of shock to raucous laughter. In his own narrow-minded world, he had won by proclaiming me as a woman of fallen virtue because I was a divorcee and couldn't stick with one man. When the divorcee tag is hurled at you like a slur—by a so-called hip guy in his 20s, wearing low-slung boxer-displaying jeans, leaning against his silver Mercedes in Mumbai city—you know that being a divorcee still means carrying a stigma in India.

A simple reason for divorce, like "we outgrew each other" or "can't get along with each other" just isn't acceptable in India—either by society or by law.

Be that as it may, the rates of divorce in India are on the rise—almost 13 in 1000 in comparison to 1 in 1000 about 10 years ago. Of course, mindsets of people towards divorce haven't kept up with these rates. Many people are condescending towards those going through divorce; people who are married (happily or not) in particular have a superior, know-it-all attitude. Worse still, if you don't want to know about the joys of married life, you are made to feel guilty as though you're the newcomer in school who doesn't want to belong to "the cool group." After all, married people are a group unto themselves and have the right to censure you for not continuing to remain married and opting for freedom, oops I meant divorce.

The reason for going through a divorce must be deep-rooted and mysterious to justify the breakdown of a marriage. A simple reason like "we outgrew each other" or "can't get along with each other" or "I married the wrong person" just isn't acceptable in India—either by society or by law. The law in India does not allow irretrievable breakdown of marriage as one of the reasons for divorce. When the proposal was mooted in Parliament, it was routed. So the above reasons can be submitted in a petition for divorce, to somehow fit the legal concept of cruelty in a marriage, which is one of the most frequently used legal sections for filing for divorce.

Since divorce is frowned upon, getting one is a battle that can take anywhere between 6 months, if you are lucky, to up to 10 years—like it did in my case. During those 10 years I entered the family court as a litigant, went on to become a counsellor, and finally studied law to become a divorce lawyer. Somewhere along my personal journey to get a divorce I also started India's first support group to provide non-judgemental support to those going through divorce and wrote books such as 360 Degrees Back To Life, a litigant's humorous perspective on divorce, and Ex-Files, the story of my divorce.

Ten years seems far too long to be going through a divorce, but those are the realities in India. It's a decade in which you go through your ups and downs emotionally, financially and physically. The law provides hope but in India divorce is a socio-legal battle where you are constantly judged—and the judgements by those outside law are definitely harsher. After all, we are a society in which weddings are celebrated for days or weeks on end, so when a divorce happens your punishment also lasts forever... or until your next marriage when you have redeemed yourself and your old marriage scars have been Kim Kardashianed away.

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