Not so happily ever after as Indian divorce rate doubles

Indian models display bridal wear during a bridal make-up workshop in Amritsar, August 2010 Most of those splitting up are members of the thriving, urban middle class

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It is wedding season in India, the time of year when astrologers say the omens are best for a long and successful marriage.

Traditionally these were arranged by the two families and the weight of social pressure ensured divorces hardly ever happened.

But as it grows wealthier, so India's old taboos are being challenged, and the chances of this year's newly-weds staying together for the rest of their lives are slimmer than ever.

"There has been a huge change, a drastic change and divorce rates are increasing," Dr Geetanjali Sharma, a marriage counsellor working in Gurgaon, a wealthy Delhi satellite city, told the BBC.

"There's been a 100% increase in divorce rates in the past five years alone."

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Dr Geetanjali Sharma, marriage counsellor, India, December 2010

They don't want to put more efforts into a relationship to fix the issues”

End Quote Dr Geetanjali Sharma Marriage counsellor

Most of those splitting up are members of India's thriving, urban middle class whose lives have been transformed by India's boom, and whose aspirations are radically different to those of their parents and grandparents.

Nowhere represents those changes better than Gurgaon, which only two decades ago was little more than a village.

Its buffalos and mustard fields have now made way for shopping malls, coffee shops and multi-national IT companies. A state-of-the-art metro line connecting Gurgaon with Delhi, 25km (16 miles) away, was only recently opened.

And while millions of Indians might aspire to live in Gurgaon's high-rise apartment blocks, they are, according to Dr Sharma, populated by many unhappy couples.

Escapism

The pressures of the modern workplace make a bigger difference, she thinks, than whether it was a traditional arranged marriage, or a so-called "love marriage".

"I feel people are concentrating more on the careers and less on their personal lives," she said.

Application of henna or 'Mahendi' to a girl's hand in a market in Jaipur, India, October 2010.  Like wedding henna, Indian marriages are not always permanent these days

"I also feel they lack patience and tolerance. They don't want to put more efforts into a relationship to fix the issues, and they feel that escapism is the solution."

India still has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world, with about one in 1,000 marriages collapsing, according to recent studies.

But the courts are now seeing so many new cases that the government has proposed making divorce easier and faster, in line with other countries.

As things stand, contested divorces can drag on for years.

Delhi High Court is the only place where Mohit, who works for a successful IT firm, now gets to meet his wife.

They fell in love as teenagers, married in their early 20s and separated three years ago when she walked out.

Honeymoon's over

While he awaits a final court settlement, Mohit (who did not want his surname to be made public) has been left contemplating what went wrong and why.

"I was way too young to realise that being in love and being married are slightly different - in fact humongously different," he told me.

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We Indian males want our wives to be really progressive, but at the same time to cook food for us”

End Quote Mohit Divorcee

"We used to fight about pretty much everything, you know. Let's say that the first fight we had was pretty early, as in just after we got back from our honeymoon."

Mohit puts the failure down to a culture clash between the old India and the new.

For a start, he says, his mother-in-law disapproved of their marriage, and his family also interfered.

He admits that sometimes he too found it hard to accept that his wife had her own career.

"Today the Indian male, as opposed to earlier, is a very complex entity. We want our wives to be really progressive, modern, so to say, which is why we married them in the first place," he said.

"But at the same time we still want our wives to cook food for us. We want our wives to be there when we get back home."

Stigma

Swarupa (who also did not want her full name revealed) finalised her divorce in December.

She too left her husband - which she says is only possible for women who are financially independent or who have the support of their parents. In the past this would have been more or less unthinkable.

Traditional Rajasthan bridal wear in a shop in Japiur, India 17 October 2010 Aisle be damned: Some blame broken marriages on the culture clash between the old and new India

Swarupa believes that divorce has certainly become more socially acceptable in India, but there are still problems.

"Personally, I don't feel scared to tell people that I am a divorced person but stigmas are still there and it comes out in very odd places," she said.

"I've been house-hunting near my ex-husband's [home], but you know it is very difficult to get a house because people are very sceptical about giving it to a single woman."

It seems inevitable that the divorce rate is going to continue to rise - which is good news for some.

Vivek Pahwa, for example, runs a Mumbai-based matchmaking website for divorcees called Secondshaadi.com.

He claims to get as many as 4,000 new customers every month.

"Ours is a relatively young website, but in the three years since we have started, I have seen a remarkable shift in people's perceptions about divorce," he says. "It is not only limited to metros like Delhi and Mumbai. Business is good."

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