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Renuka Shahane opened up about being ostracised as a kid after her parents’ divorce. Still need a reason to destigmatise divorces?
In a special episode of Netflix’s ‘Behensplaining,’ actor Renuka Shahane, shared how she was ostracised as a kid after her parents’ divorce. The experience she shared reminds us of how toxic and harmful the taboo surrounding divorce is. And why it needs to end now.
The actress best known as the co-presenter of Doorsarshan’s Surabhi spoke of how other people’s reaction to her parents’ divorce affected her. As an eight-year-old girl, she found herself being isolated from her friends by their parents. Kids were discouraged from playing with her. And all of this mistreatment was attributed to the divorce of her parents.
Some referred to her family by using incredibly derogatory and problematic words like a ‘broken family.’ This was used as an excuse to justify the intentional seclusion of a girl as young as she was by adults. She shared how she was made to feel like any association with her would impact other people’s families negatively.
The way people refer to divorce so casually as the breakage of families without considering the gravity of it, speaks volumes about the place divorce holds in the public imagination. Reasons for filing a divorce can be varied – from incompatibility to domestic abuse to physical or emotional torture for dowry, the list is inexhaustible. Yet, we find that India has one of the lowest percentages of divorce cases.
Society always puts the burden of maintaining a marriage on the women’s shoulders. They have to compromise and adjust, even while facing violence. Even the Supreme Court of India thinks that a crime as grave as marital rape cannot be criminalised as it would “destabilise the institution of marriage.” This treatment of marriage as a sacrosanct institution makes it more important than ever to protect the women who have entered marriages.
Basically, this implies that divorce is viewed negatively without any consideration of how the parties in the marriage were treated. Any woman who dares to step out of the confines of marriage is called names and ostracised. This stigmatisation only snatches away from women the option to end a marriage for the fear of mistreatment from society.
There are certain laws and schemes, NGOs and support groups that work to cushion individuals from attacks of the patriarchal society. However, it isn’t enough as long as there isn’t a wider consensus of acknowledging the taboo around divorce. At the same time, we need to work towards not glorifying the heterosexual marriages as the only acceptable form of union.
When popular figures like Renuka Shahane and Dia Mirza speak about the impact of the stigmatisation of divorces, the messages reach a wider audience. Dia Mirza spoke about her divorce and elaborated on how even in the apparently ‘aware and conscious’ circles, she was treated as someone to be pitied.
This is exactly how the glorification of the institution of marriage determines the position of a woman in a patriarchal society. Women across class, caste and regional boundaries are judged on the basis of their marital status. However, the system is rigged in favour of men. Thus, a lot of these women are forced to keep their struggles hidden with the fear of backlash and even violence.
Conversations around divorce work towards chipping away at the patriarchal consciousness which stigmatises it. So, when Shasvathi Siva’s video went viral, it inspired a lot of people to talk about their experiences with their families.
The dialogue around divorce needs to grow and reach every individual. People need to listen and empathise and support. Renuka Shahane’s experience as a child did not exist in a vacuum. And the only way we can protect more women and more kids from trauma and seclusion is speaking up. The more we speak, the easier it becomes for the women who need courage out there.
Still from Renuka Shahane’s Instagram handle
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An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional
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