An easier end to unhappy marriages in India?

June 11, 2010

India’s cabinet this week cleared a proposal to amend the Hindu Marriage Act to allow “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” as a ground for divorce.

Hindu brides sit during a mass wedding ceremony in Noida December 26, 2009. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/FilesThe amendment had been resisted earlier and been pending for nearly three decades now. Other grounds for divorce, which can take anywhere from six months to 20 years, include cruelty, desertion and adultery.

The amendment, if approved by parliament, will make divorce easier for estranged couples, experts say, particularly in cases where a partner is deliberately delaying proceedings. Even family courts are notoriously ineffective and insensitive when it comes to separation, with judges often admonishing the woman to be more “adjusting” or offering advice thinly disguised as rulings.

The proposed amendment gives women, who are sometimes forced into marriage, an easier way to end an unhappy marriage and provides some safeguards against harassment.

Some counsellors have warned against making divorce too easy, lest couples do not even attempt to reconcile differences.

But others say the recognition that the divorce process must be easier only reflects the present day reality: while the divorce rate in India, at about 1.1 percent, is among the lowest in the world, it is ticking up, particularly in cities, where women tend to be more financially independent and where divorce is seen as more acceptable in a country where there is still a big stigma attached to it.

Indian laws have often trailed reality; indeed, the courts have stepped in to resolve matters such as a higher marriage age, and more recently, legalising live-in relationships and homosexual relations.

But our laws still don’t have enough bite when it comes to prosecuting those guilty of female foeticide, say, child marriage, dowry offences or “honour” killings.

Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has famously spoken of the millions of “missing” women in India because of higher rates of infant mortality, neglect and discrimination.

The amendment to the divorce law will give Indian women a greater degree of protection from abusive spouses and in-laws. But it is just a tiny step toward fully protecting our women.

3 comments

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A recent op-ed published in The Times of India (link – http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Repositor y/ml.asp?Ref=Q0FQLzIwMTAvMDYvMTIjQXIwMTU wMw%3D%3D) tried to argue in favour and against this legislation.

It is the belief of this author that the opposition of this law on the ground that it would make it easier for women (in particular) and married couples (in general) to seek divorce and therefore it may affect the integrity of marriage as as institution in India is totally incorrect, misconceived and without any basis. Incidentally, this happens to be the only ground!

First, this law will help educated couples only as it is only the educated segment of the Indian society who would know and therefore would take recourse to this law. Second, the Hindu Marriage Act and other matrimonial legaislations already have a ground to seek divorce on ‘breakdown theory’. Third, the Supreme Court of India itself has accepted this theory. Fourth, people are using this law to end their marriages when the so feel the need. Fifth, divorce in India still remains a social taboo and it is only the more educated, courageous and financially dependent sort of women who decide to go ahead with it.

Making the legal procedure easy would never affect marriage as an institution for the sole reason that most of the women would never become aware that such a legal provision exists and even if they are made aware an overwhelmingly vast majority would never take recourse to this. It would be the more educated, upwardly mobile and metro couples who would use this law.

Also, making divorce laws easier does not affect marriage. What affects marriage is the society where the institution exits. Perhaps it is time that we stop opposing laws on misplaced opinions and start using our brains to think things through.

Posted by Khagesh | Report as abusive

The following article in today’s TOI (link – http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India  /Finally-a-law-to-deal-with-dead-marria ges/articleshow/6044766.cms) reinforces the view stated above. Furthermore, coming from the expert legal correspondent, the views must be given due attention.

Posted by Khagesh | Report as abusive

The ammendment gurantees half of the assets of the husband for the wife regardless of her conduct. So tommorrow if the wife deserts the husband within 1-2 years , she still gets on the benifits.As the author rightly said the ammendment would be know to the upwardly mobile , economically independent women. So this means, there is clear scope for gross misuse here. While the traditional wife would not be evernaware , those unscruplous women who have no serious intention or respect for marriage would use it as a tool to earn quick and large amount of money by marrying, and causing a divorce within say 1-2 years.

Posted by DeepakPalan | Report as abusive