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India: Impacts of a broken marriage

Jun 02, 2013

According to a survey, cruelty has been the main reason for separation in 85.3 per cent of the cases in the SC/ST category.

Delhi: Separated And Divorced Women In India: Economic Rights and Entitlements, written by a renowned Delhi-based gender rights lawyer, Kirti Singh, based on a rare survey of divorced and deserted Indian women from four different regions of the country, assesses the difficulties, challenges and traumas that these women’s experiences. An excerpt.

This new work, Separated and Divorced Women in India, examines the rights and entitlements of separated or deserted women in law and practice in India. It is based on a rare survey of more than 400 women in four different regions and reveals the difficult conditions of separated/deserted women.

Causes for Separation/Divorce: The survey highlights the startling reality that 83 per cent of the surveyees were separated due to cruelty or domestic violence in their marital homes. The violence took place even though 87.92 per cent of them were living in extended families. About 13.5 per cent of the surveyees reported that they had been deserted by their husbands. Some women from the northeastern states reported that their husbands deserted them and fled to the neighbouring country of Bangladesh; consequently they cannot even go to court to seek maintenance. They do not know the whereabouts of their spouses.

Cruelty was the main reason for separation in 85.3 per cent of the cases in the SC/ST category of the surveyees whereas other kinds of reasons were the cause of separation in about 15 per cent of these cases. Amongst OBCs, in 81.8 per cent of the cases, cruelty was the main reason for separation, whereas in 13.2 per cent of the cases desertion was also an additional reason for the separation.

Domestic violence/cruelty cut across all communities and religions as a reason for separation. Physical violence was present in 64.5 per cent of marriages and approximately two-thirds of the surveyees had suffered physical violence while mental violence was present in almost all the cases. The highest incidence of cruelty was reported from Hindu families; 84.5 per cent of the Hindu surveyees and 79.2 per cent of the Muslim surveyees reported that they had been subjected to cruelty/domestic violence of various kinds. Also, SC/ST surveyees reported that they had to face mental violence in almost all of the cases, whereas in about 90 per cent of the OBC cases the surveyees had faced mental violence.

The situation was just a bit different in general category where surveyees had faced mental violence in about 95 per cent of the cases. In all, we can say that mental violence was present in almost all of the cases. In comparison to the general and OBC categories, more SC/ST surveyees reported that they had to face physical violence, that is, in 73.1 per cent of the cases. Also, 65.8 per cent surveyees in the general category faced physical violence. A total of 56.1 per cent of the surveyees belonging to the OBC category faced physical violence resulting in forced separation.

Main Findings: The main reasons for cruelty/domestic violence were dowry/extra-marital affairs/second marriage of their spouse and the suspicious nature of the spouse. Other reasons cited were drug addiction, alcoholism of the male spouse, etc. Amongst the various reasons for domestic violence and cruelty, the surveyees in all the caste categories reported that dowry-related harassment remained a major cause of cruelty. Closely following this reason for cruelty was the reason that the male spouses of the surveyees had an extra-marital relationship or had a second wife and hence subjected the surveyees to various forms of cruelty.

Extra-marital affair was a reason for cruelty in about 35 per cent of the cases among SC/ST category, whereas other reasons (30.8 per cent) as well as dowry-related issues (28.8 per cent) were also significant causes for cruelty.

Our surveyees from the OBC category said that dowry-related issues were the main cause for the cruelty in 42.2 per cent of the cases. The husband perpetrating cruelty because he had a suspicious nature and constantly doubted his wife was a cause for cruelty amongst the OBC surveyees in 14.5 per cent of the cases. In the general category, while dowry accounted for cruelty in about a quarter of the cases, an extra-marital affair or second marriage of the husband was a cause in 36 per cent of these cases. A total of 12.7 per cent of the cases in this category reported that they were subjected to cruelty by their husband because of his unduly suspicious nature.

A majority of our surveyees were engaged in housework and did not work for gain. A total of 69.3 per cent did not work even before their marriage. During the subsistence of marriage, a larger number of them (74.3 per cent) reported that they were not working outside their marital homes and were involved in household chores, in maintaining the house and in looking after the children/elderly. After separation, however, many more surveyees (58.5 per cent) had to again start working or working afresh even though they never worked before. This indicates the lack of financial support post separation.

Value of Housework: The truism that almost all women do the housework and care for the children and elderly is borne out by the fact that 98.2 per cent of our surveyees reported that they did housework during the weekdays and 95 per cent also did housework on holidays. In contrast, only 10.4 per cent of their male spouses helped with occasional household chores like buying vegetables or cooking non-vegetarian food on Sundays. A total of 35.5 per cent of surveyees reported that during their marriage they had to work for 8–12 hours in a day doing housework like cooking, cleaning and washing clothes, besides constantly supervising the children. Quite a few also had to get up in the night to look after the child. Only 25.3 per cent worked between 4 and 8 hours a day in the house.

Our surveyees reported that a considerable amount of time was spent on cooking (4 hours 6 minutes on an average) and household chores (4 hours 45 minutes on average) during the subsistence of their marriage. On an average, another 4 hours approximately were spent on elderly care and approximately 3 hours on child care. Cleaning, reportedly, took about 3 hours on an average. Some women also had to fetch water and/fuel for their household and they spent on an average 1 hour and 27 minutes for these activities.

Our surveyees reported that on an average they spent comparatively less time on these activities after their separation. This showed that the burden of household work had actually decreased. However, more surveyees had to take employment outside the house. On an average, they spent 2 hours and 40 minutes on cooking and 3 hours 19 minutes on household chores. Another 3 hours approximately on an average was spent on elderly care and some minutes more than 3 hours on child care, whereas cleaning reportedly took approximately 2 hours on an average.

The burden of housework was reduced post separation in 39.7 per cent cases. However, an almost equal number (41.2 per cent) said that their burden had increased as they had to do both household and outside work and take care of the children and elderly parents, etc.

Stress and Anxiety Levels: Separation often results in acute feelings of anxiety and stress in women. They are generally insecure about the future. Many are traumatised by what they have undergone. They feel guilty about the break-up and their dependence on their natal families. They worry about the children’s emotional and physical upbringing. An average 60.5 per cent of the surveyees reported feelings of stress and anxiety. A heavy burden of responsibility was also felt by 53.4 per cent of women. A total of 34.3 per cent of the surveyees reported feeling emotionally burdened with responsibility for their children. A minority of the surveyees (9.4 per cent), however, felt that getting out of their marital home was a positive experience for them. They felt free after the separation.

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