Saturday, Nov 29, 2014

Giving divorce its due

Written by Namrata Zakaria | Posted: June 21, 2014 12:24 am | Updated: June 21, 2014 8:16 am

Have you noticed Indian advertising is suddenly becoming the social chronicler to supersede all social chroniclers? Only a few months ago, it made all the right noises with Gauri Shinde’s oh-so-subtle TVC for Tanishq jewellery themed around the bride’s remarriage. Now Bombay Dyeing is enjoying its place in the sun with its “Change is Beautiful” advertisement. A father and daughter are shopping for bedsheets as Pop checks out a lady in the store. The daughter suggests dad buy a more colourful bedsheet. “You’ve only gotten divorced, not sainthood [sic],” she says.

Not so subtle, for sure. But it is time Indians redefined their approach to divorce. Or are they already doing it?

One of the most high-profile divorces lately is that of Hrithik Roshan and his wife of a decade and a half, Suzanne. Theirs was an ideal Bollywood-style romance: first love, glitzy wedding, two gorgeous kids and nothing that could ever go wrong. The news of their separation and divorce came as a bolt out of darkness. Actors don’t divorce, superstars certainly not. I remember reading an interview about a yesteryear hero who had walked out on his wife and daughters. When his girls did good, he tried to portray a happy-family picture once again. “At least I didn’t divorce her,” he stated. Nevermind that he abandoned his wife and kids and left them penniless, at least she had the dignity of still being his wife. I couldn’t see anything right about a man not giving a woman her legitimate freedom and financial maintenance.

The reason the Roshans’ annulment is so special is because it quite literally is a “conscious uncoupling”. Besides the two families and a tight inner circle of friends, no one knows what went wrong. The two separated and a few months later, had the Bandra Family Court open half hour early to sign their mutual consent terms. No one knows who gets what. It is no one’s business but the couple’s and they are bent on maintaining reciprocal respect and privacy.

With an increasing number of Indians divorcing each year (some statistics show they rise by up to 50 per cent every year), this is one relationship status update that is getting harder to ignore. Of course, the breakdown of a marriage is extremely painful, with longlasting emotional and financial ramifications for both. But the social ostracism that goes with being called a “divorcee” in India is actually worse.

Moreover, a divorce battle is a long and complicated legal minefield in Indian courts. Allegations against each other are a must do, alimony amounts are often laughable. If one has ever hung about a family court, stories of anger, betrayal, harassment and even suicide abound.

The West has found a unique way to celebrate annulments. Either one of a couple celebrates with a “divorce party” where friends are invited to cheer the person on. Even if the separation was a bitter one, this sounds cold-hearted. It is almost as if one is glad to be rid of the other. But if the idea is continued…

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