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The Worthy Divorcee: Why We Don’t Support Divorce In India

Posted: August 21, 2013

In conversations with friends and the extended circle, I notice a curious phenomenon. Urban Indians, at least in certain circles, are becoming more accepting of divorce. So, we no longer think it is the end of the world, or at least that is how we express our opinions if we want to be seen as ‘modern’.

Dig a little deeper though, and contradictions emerge. It is true that we are becoming more sympathetic to women who’ve gone through a divorce, but our sympathy and support are also reserved for certain kinds of divorced women, and that is what I call, ‘The Worthy Divorcee.’

So, we’re supportive of women who have filed for divorce because they have been abused, abandoned or otherwise ill-treated by their husbands and/or in-laws. We are satisfied that they have ‘tried their best’ to keep the marriage together, even if it means that they have gone through some amount of trauma.

But women who’ve filed for divorce by mutual consent because the couple realized that they were incompatible or wanted very different things from life? This woman doesn’t fit our criteria for the worthy divorcee, and we feel smug about withdrawing support for her. We assume that she was arrogant, or just too lazy to try hard enough, or she’s been corrupted by Western morals.

We’re supportive of the divorced single mother who is working hard at being a single parent, often being the sole breadwinner in her family. But when this single mother begins dating again, or enters into a relationship with another man, we are quick to withdraw support. We are self-righteous in our ‘worry’ about her – doesn’t she know that men can take advantage of her? We assume we know what she needs better than she does. And if she is brave enough to admit that apart from companionship and love, sex is also important to her, we’re quick to condemn her as easy.

For that matter, it’s not just sex, but any kind of fun that disqualifies a divorced woman from being the worthy divorcee. So long as she works hard and keeps her head down, we’re happy to root for her, but even seemingly liberal folks are quick to adopt different standards – what they would not judge a single (non-married) woman for is somehow seen as flighty in a divorcee.

As for the divorced woman with kids, who live with the father for whatever reason? We’ll all set to crucify her.

As divorce becomes more common and we all know someone who’s gone through a divorce – in our families, our communities, our workplaces, it becomes harder to be judgmental. So, we try and look sympathetic. Deep down though, we believe that they haven’t tried hard enough, and the divorce is punishment for that. Our support for divorce is still very superficial, which is why we want divorcees to fit a certain righteous mould before we accept that they have suffered enough.

*Photo credit: Brian Ambrozy (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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  1. Sex? no, Indian women don’t need it and certainly dont have sex! cheee 😉

  2. Completely agree…we all need to stop judging people who are divorced..we don’t know the pain they underwent and have no right to point fingers..

    I strongly believe everyone has the right to be happy..if a marriage is not able to bring happiness to the partners, its better they get divorced..

    Just for the sake of society, so many women put up with nonsense and end up ruining their lives..its time even parents are supportive of their daughters and support them if their marriage is not working…

    If a married woman is seen visiting her parents often, nosy neighbours assume that she has some problem in her marriage!

    Hope the situation changes!

    • Even supportive parents are crucified like in my case. They were blamed because they understood my perspective and let me “inside home” :)…As If I did not justify getting divorced without suffering a few burns or beatings!!!
      And even after all the hypocrisy, oppression, Indians would point out how wonderfully cultured, traditional and honourable they are.

    • Dear Sonali,

      Sad to know how society treats parents…am happy and proud of your parents for supporting you…

      Indian society is scary..when you follow its set rules and procedures, you are a part of it…otherwise you are ostracized…

  3. I hope this piece gets widely read.

  4. Being non judgemental to others’ choices and ways of living is a very difficult choice for many of us. Sad to admit, but I have caught my self doing just the same so many times. And when caught red handed, I shudder as I realise that, that ‘She’ could have been me, my mum, my MIL, my daughter, my sister, my bestee, any one. Would I have been just as judgemental then?

  5. Who are we to judge a divorced woman? This article sounds too judgmental, biased and primitive. And also, why do we condemn and withdraw our trust and support if she starts leading a normal happy life once again after her divorce? We must admire her for her guts and courage to walk out from a relationship even though if it just had compatibility issues with the spouse. Anyone who values life would weigh the pros and cons of a relationship/ If one is conviced after trying that the relationship is taking her closer to death gradually and has no fizz at all, she has every right to walk out and try harder to work out another relationship. Doesn’t she have the right to lead a happy life, have a new man in her life if she chooses to and move on with life?? Maybe she may really find a worthy man this time. In any case, no harm in trying as without trying she is only reducing the possibilities fo a new life! We should encourage people to lead lives as per their own wishes and make their own choices. If a divorced woman is financially independednt and sound, then we need not provide her any support in this regard.Otherwise, we have no reason not to support them in whatever capacity we can. Any woman – married or divorced should have equal rights and being judgmental is the last thing expected of any other balanced woman or man. Only then this society can change for the better. DO you realise while being judgmental that the next divorcee may be YOU for reasons you never know. So, let’s stop preaching about morality and ethics without knowing every single fact clearly.

  6. More power to the ladies who have the guts to walk out of a bad marriage but i sometimes hope that in the name of empowerment and modernity, we are not moving towards a world where we are ready to move out of relations, situations and circumstances at the drop of a hat as we don’t have the patience to give even a single try to find solutions to the problems, disagreements or differences. Lately i have observed a rise in this trend, may it be friends, siblings, relatives, employer n employee and husband wife in this case.

  7. Thank you all for your comments.

    @gouthami – LOL. We are all miracle babies, no? 😛

    @Sue & Sri – thank you for your positive words.

    @Saumya – I agree none of us are immune to this, its all part of the conditioning, which we have to consciously resist.

    @Sonali – thank you for sharing your experience. Its true that even progressive parents face intense pressure from others. kudos to your parents for resisting it.

    @Arunima – I think you have misunderstood the post. I am saying exactly what you are saying, that we need not be judgmental, and that divorce is not the end of life.

    @Bhawna – I feel in many cases, one doesn’t know the reality.

  8. Nice one, Aparna. I think you could have written more…I was looking for more biases to be revealed. ;). Another interesting point would be that divorced men are rarely judged as much as divorced women.

  9. Well written Aparna. This is exactly what happens. Mutual consent divorce – I’ve done that. Now so called friends have this riposte, whenever I’m lonely, ill, upset about something or down in any way – “But this is what you wanted.” I kid you not. They mean – serves you right – but they say This is what you wanted.

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  11. I think the problem in India is – few understand the problem of incompatibility. A divorced friend told me how her parents and relatives looked incredulous when she told them that she had divorced her husband because of incompatibility. Her parents actually wondered what more she desired from a well-placed husband, with no vices, a nice house and car….Incidentally, though hers was a divorce by mutual consent, with no rancour, she remains unmarried, while her husband remarried a decade ago!

    In a divorce, again, everyone points fingers if the woman happens to be articulate and outspoken. I still remember this pretty young woman who had returned home with a one-year old son after an abusive marriage. Since she was hard-working and good-looking, everyone kept finding fault with her sharp tongue, although she always spoke the harsh truth! No wonder, her husband divorced her-was the refrain.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more on this! I sometimes feel, people, even parents, do not even consider compatibility as something important for a quality life. They don’t think that Compatibility is something which is important in a satisfying relationship, which makes you grow as a person. All what one hears in such cases, as I am told all the time, is, at least give another try. And I wonder, how can another try bring two people on the same page, who literally exist in different books, on different subjects!

  12. It is a sad truth of our society that a woman is thought of having the right of asking for a divorce only when she has been beaten up and bruised, and has physical wounds to show the world. No one considers psychological oppression, blackmailing, stress, lack of support, sexual suppression and exploitation, ridicule, narcissistic treatment, demeaning behaviour etc by the spouse as reasons enough for a woman to ask for a divorce. It is a very sorry state, as not many people realise that psychological wounds, the unseen wounds are more difficult to heal, and more stubborn to deal with. They break a person’s atomic built up, and crush all the feelings of self worth, self respect and hope. Such wounds result in an individual who is not living at all, but just breathing. Rebuilding one’s own self is the toughest thing to do after all this. Society, including women, needs to understand and not take any relationship at only the face value to pass judgments.

    It is a very well written piece and tries to put in words the general thought process of a society about a very ignored aspect of a women’s life- Her Happiness.

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