Why are Indian marriages successful? We Indians take pride in the longevity of Indian marriages. It’s something we can’t stop gushing about every time we find ourselves in the vicinity of a conversation on divorce, especially its high rate in the West.
True, a divorce rate that barely touches the one percent mark is indeed impressive. So, what makes desi marriages so long-lasting? What are we doing right? Can we impart a lesson or two to West on how to sustain marriages and keep those promises about fulfilling janm-janmantar ka sath?
Yeah, before you huff and puff, let us be clear, this article isn’t about patting our backs collectively for our great culture that has created a system that ensures long-lasting marriages. That’s the trick, friend – Indian marriages do last long, but whether or not they can be deemed happy or “successful”, is another question.
Being in a long-lasting relationship doesn’t automatically make it a successful one. But then why do Indians have such a low divorce rate? Why is it so difficult in India for women and men to opt for a separation?
So here are three reasons why Indians do have long-lasting marriages, that may not be exactly successful:
Divorce is not even the last resort: Even in 2021 divorce is looked down upon in Indian society. Men and women are encouraged to stay put in a marriage at all costs, even at the cost of their mental peace or worse puts them in grave danger. The onus of sustaining a marriage mostly falls on women in a patriarchal society. Plus in most households, men are the primary breadwinners.
So many women, who have gone through bitter separations or at least tried to do so, will tell you how they were threatened into abandoning the thought of divorce. Parents refused to take them back, brothers said that they won’t support them. And then there is the financial aspect. How does a woman, with no family backing, sustain herself, especially when she is financially dependent on her partner?
Besides, in many cases, women often give up to the social pressure to not get divorced. Last month, the nation was shocked by the death of a Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery student named Vismaya Nair. The 22-year-old was found dead at her husband’s home just days after she had sent messages to a cousin, detailing the alleged physical abuse she faced from her husband, who was not happy with the car he had received as part of the dowry. Following her death, Nair’s mother told the press, “She would call me from the bathroom, and once she told me that he hit her so badly in the face that her mouth was bleeding. I told her to come back, but she said what people say, she will somehow endure it.”
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Divorce is easier said than done for most women in India who have to face backlash for bringing “shame” to their families and communities. It only gets worse for women from conservative backgrounds where divorce is not even an option. Their happiness doesn’t matter. They have to stay in a marriage, no matter how bad it is.
Marriages are a family/ social affair: One of the many reasons why divorces are easier in the West is because there, marriage is seen as a union between two people. In our society, on the other hand, a marriage is a union of two families. This means when a marriage fails to work out, its repercussions would be felt by both the involved families. Have you thought this through? Who will marry your sister if you get divorced? What will neighbours say? Our samaj will ostracise us if you file for a separation.
The more tangled lives of families are in a marriage, the messier the divorce. Since a lot of marriages in India still get formalised based on caste, religion, sub-caste etc, a husband and wife’s families often belong to a tight-knit community where it is inevitable to dodge social scrutiny. Your marital problems are an open book for anyone to pass a comment. Solutions are offered even when no one asks for them. Baccha paida kar lo, leave your job and focus on your relationship, ignore your partner’s misdemeanours, swallow your pride and do as your mother-in-law asks you to. The reason being that failure of a marriage is seen as detrimental to society, it sends “wrong” message to the youngsters, according to the elderly.
Why separate when you can adjust? And suffer in silence? This brings us to the tool that is often used to make people, especially women stay in bad marriages. Divorce is often seen as incapability of a woman to adjust with her husband and his family. The decision to separate casts doubt on a woman’s character. She must be quarrelsome, she doesn’t know how to appease her husband, she lacks patience. It is as if an adjustment is a virtue that makes a marriage work automatically.
Again, by putting the onus of making a marriage work on a virtue, and not on compatibility and a partner’s behaviour, society ends up putting women in harm’s way. They become susceptible to physical abuse and mental harassment, and the worse part is, they are expected to tolerate everything in the name of adjustment. Endurance is romanticised to such and extant that a woman are expected to forgive philandering or abusive partners, because the ultimate goal is not her happiness in a marriage, but to simply make a marriage long lasting.
One can only hope that society will one day see the fault in its argument against divorce. Any marriage that doesn’t bring happiness to the two people involved in it should be cut short, so that they get a second chance to start over in life. Suffering in silence, simply to increase the shelf-life of a relationship is not only unfair, it is cruel and corroding to the infrastructure of our society.
The views expressed are the author’s own.