While addressing RSS workers and their families recently, chief Mohan Bhagwat extolled the virtues of a Hindu society and cautioned against a life without “sanskar”. Commenting on modern living today, Bhagwat, a 69-year-old bachelor had a unique take on marital problems. “People fight over trifling issues. The cases of divorce are more in educated and affluent families because then people become arrogant,” claimed Bhagwat. He went on to explain the great value in “matru shakti”, an Indianised concept of women’s empowerment, needless to say, coined by men. “Women members of the family create the identity of a society,” asserted Bhagwat, blissfully oblivious to the possibility that these supporting roles so kindly doled out to women could be precisely the reasons for relationship chaos.
In this gloomy world full of tragedy, one must be grateful for moments of hilarity that we in India are lucky enough to receive regularly, from elected representatives. We must be philosophical and accept that though the AQI is a dismal 150 and unlikely to improve, at least we can count on an occasional laugh via quotes of priceless inanity. I have often wondered at the lack of imagination among publishers who are always complaining that people don’t read anymore. Somebody should come up with a compilation of such gems by India’s political class or godmen, and market it as a realtime joke book. It’s sure to be a bestseller. Though, Bhagwat’s sweeping correlation between wealth, education, arrogance and divorce deserves careful scrutiny because it is a common enough refrain, hardly restricted just to politicians with verbal diarrhea.
Indeed, there is a strong link between money and divorce. According to a UN report published in 2019, divorce rates in India have doubled in the last two decades, and the numbers are significantly more among educated and economically independent women. Obvious reasons being, there’s no question of leaving someone if you can’t afford to. But, with money comes the agency to reject situations women have been forced to grin and bear in the name of marriage, for generations. Bhagwat may think money has caused ‘arrogance’ but what it has caused is an explosion in self worth. Earning a salary has come with some startling revelations for women — they don’t have to stick around in unhappy marriages.
In one scene in the grave and nuanced Oscar-nominated film Marriage Story, the divorce lawyer is counselling the tearful protagonist about to leave her husband: “What you’re doing is an act of hope. You’re saying I want something better for myself.” Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that vows like ‘for better or worse’ or ‘till death do us part’, have to be framed in a new context. What Bhagwat and a lot of people don’t get is that a new generation of Indians don’t believe it’s their duty to shelve their dreams and keep up a lie in the (alleged) interests of family and society. Till fairly recently, unless you were getting beaten black and blue or unless your husband was a hopeless drunk, women were expected to stay for the sake of the children. Even now, among the most emancipated, if someone wants to leave a marriage because there’s nothing going on in it, they are likely to be dismissed as selfish and immature. However, with foreign influence, and most importantly money, Indians have slowly come around to believing, lesser reasons than getting beaten up are also perfectly valid grounds for a separation.
Bhagwat’s irresponsible generalisation on modern marriages feeds into orthodox stereotypes that project divorce as shameful. There are few societies left on earth that take marriage as seriously as Indians. Absolutely nobody here enters a union with the intention of eventually breaking up. People deserve some sensitivity when they take these hard decisions. The more useful way of approaching the divorce conundrum is to recognise that time is gone when lifelong partnerships were based on mutual sacrifice for the greater good. If divorce is rising, it’s because of the huge gap between existing ‘family values’ and peoples realities.
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