AMONG states with a population of over 1 crore, Kerala and Tamil Nadu stand first and third, respectively, in recording the highest divorce and separation rates according to the 2011 Census. The reasons, say experts, are more jobs and education for women, coupled with a gradual erosion of the joint family system.
Sudha Ramalingam, a family court lawyer in Chennai, says “IT couples” form a chunk of her client base now, while sociologist N P Hafiz Mohamad from Calicut University points to examples of Muslim women challenging the institution of marriage in the conservative Malabar region primarily for the right to work and freedom of movement.
Ramalingam, who handles over 150 divorce cases a year, says, “Many wives are annoyed by the nature of their husbands’ work, including frequent client calls at home, while husbands complain that their partner’s workshift affects family life. Also, the taboo attached to a divorcee is shrinking across economic, religious and caste backgrounds.”
In Kerala, Kuttichira in Kozhikode, one of the earliest settlements of Islam in the state and an area that still follow the matrilineal system, provides a glimpse at conflicting trends in marriage.
For instance, counsellors and progressive Muslim groups say at least 13 marriages had been cancelled in Kuttichira last year, some after engagement ceremonies, as women realise that they wouldn’t be allowed to work by their husbands’ families.
“These women believe in marriage, seek love and are happy to be good wives but only if their husbands treat them equally. Many educated women find it difficult to tolerate male dominant practices within the family system. They revolt the moment they get challenged on freedom and identity,” says leading writer Sarah Joseph.
“Not only in Muslim families, my niece who hails from a traditional Catholic family has refused several marriage proposals after she realised that they come with queries regarding dowry. She is ready to go by the traditional marriage system but can’t digest the idea of dowry in such ‘deals’,” she says.