Whereas it’s the allure of love, companionship and ever-lasting happiness for many, there are others, (unmarried women, in this case), who are propelled into tying the knot; or are desisted from ‘untying’ it because of the heart cringing, soul breaking social pressure, condescending attitudes and stigma that bears upon their ‘unmarried’ or ‘not married anymore’ state.
Centrality of Marriage for Indians
Getting married in India is more or less normative, or even compulsory (if you will), a decision over which men and women in question have little choice or possibility of manoeuvre.
Marriage is not just considered a union of two people, but of two families. People attach family’s honour and a lot of emotions to it. From the point that a child is born, it marks the beginning of countdown for parents who start weaving dreams and stacking up savings and collectibles for their child’s wedding, especially when it’s a girl. As much of a softer sentiment this invokes, it is equally catastrophic for someone who goes against the stream, by deciding not to marry, or reaches a fateful point in marriage-divorce.
This is because the patriarchal ideology, backed by religious commandments, dictates that a man or a woman is “incomplete” without his/her consort. This particularly impinges on women, who are believed to have their highest worth in their ability to be a wife and a mother, and are considered safest in the protective shadows of their husbands.
Moreover, patriarchy tolerates only the conventional family structure, the mainstay of which is marriage. Whilst, the benefits that latter confers on family members can never be understated, it cannot however, override the human right of every individual to marry or not to marry, and/or the right to live a life free from violence and abuse, including abuse from intimate partner.
As much of a softer sentiment this invokes, it is equally catastrophic for someone who goes against the stream, by deciding not to marry, or reaches a fateful point in marriage-divorce.
Reality of Marriage in India
Marriage in 21st century India is as patriarchal as it ever was. Constrictive of women’s aspirations, autonomy and individuality, marriage here largely thrives on sacrifices and infinite endurance of women, leaving them bereft of rights and a life full of constraints.
Inherently oppressive nature of marriage continues to maintain its stronghold even in this day and age, through sustenance of traditional gender roles, and sanction of violence by husband. Patriarchal construction of marriage still places the onus on woman to ensure cooking, cleaning and washing, is done for the husband and his family, and all other needs taken care of, usually without the man being reciprocal, or partaking in any of these responsibilities (sometimes despite the woman contributing her bit to the family income).
Further, it’s the women who have to dim their light and make concessions to their professional and social life to maintain marital harmony. In contrast, men make no space for changes that come with marriage and continue to focus on their careers in the same way as when they were single. Rather, they are eulogised for their smallest of efforts towards household, wife or children.
In addition to meeting expectations of unquestioned obedience and uncomplaining subservience, women must be prepared to endure their husbands’ (and/or his family’s) exercise of anger, power and control; notwithstanding the anguish of unwanted sex that they undergo during the course of their married life.
In contrast, men make no space for changes that come with marriage and continue to focus on their careers in the same way as when they were single. Rather, they are eulogised for their smallest of efforts towards household, wife or children.
Lowest Divorce Rate
Shockingly, India has the lowest divorce rate in the world with less than 1%, with US at 46% and Luxemburg at 87%, with number of separated couples three times that of divorced, i.e., 0.61% of India’s married population.
These statistics are not a reflection of the blooming and blissful state of Indian marriages. Rather, it is indicative of the power of social stigma meted out by guardians of patriarchy on divorcees in this country, which is more excruciating and tormenting than being in a bad, abusive or violent marriage. It forces a large number of people to put up a marriage facade, even when, in essence, the marriage has broken down; or to opt for separation to spare them the stigma attached to divorce.
Context of Stigma
The lexicon of patriarchal studies defines “settled” as the state of being married. So, regardless of how academically or professionally accomplished an unmarried person, especially a woman is, Indians regard her as a failure, because she just doesn’t measure up to the marital pedestal. Not only is an unmarried woman considered sad, miserable, lonely, or lost in life, she can never be complete in her own right, is a disgrace to her family, and most of all, a threat to the institution of marriage.
A more extreme form of stigmatization involves characterising her as ‘wanton’, who doesn’t want to get married because she wants “freedom”, attributing a promiscuous connotation to the term. Finally, for the altruists that Indians are, unmarried women are inundated with unsolicited advice about how she should lower down her expectations and compromise her search criteria, while keeping a track of and reminding her of her ticking biological clock.
As for married woman who decide to make a break from her abusive marriage, she is tagged as audacious, quarrelsome, uncompromising and inadaptable. Patriarchy afflicts a married woman with the entire responsibility for making or breaking her marital home, regardless of circumstances. So even if the husband batters her black and blue, rolls down her dignity, strangles her financially or defiles her sexually, she is nevertheless, expected to put up with her violation.
Most part of nagging usually comes from the older women folk who seem to be most “concerned” about the woman contemplating divorce. They make them not only a subject of their spicy gossip, but are also most forthcoming with ‘expert’ advice about how abuse and violence is a normal part of marriage, while advising them to submit because they don’t really have a choice.
Not only is an unmarried woman considered sad, miserable, lonely, or lost in life, she can never be complete in her own right, is a disgrace to her family, and most of all, a threat to the institution of marriage.
Social spaces become awkward and unpleasant for unmarried, single-for too-long, separated or divorcees, since their marital status is either a starting point or the nucleus of most conversations. They are not only cast out by friends and relatives as unfortunate, abnormal, having some astrological affliction, or rebels who use subtle form of ostracism to avoiding affiliating with them, especially those in married circles. They are also excluded from many religious practices supposedly meant to be performed only by married people.
Changing Perception of Unmarried Status Of Women
However, perception of singlehood among women is changing and women are consciously choosing to remain unmarried. The strength comes from an understanding of the true reality of marriage in a patriarchal society, a realization of their self-worth and financial independence. Women are becoming more resilient to social stigma, are reticent about giving away their autonomy or having their individuality crushed, and are seeking to make the most of their lives by pursuing their aspirations whether that is travelling, to be an entrepreneur or to work for the underprivileged.
They are beginning to understand that it is not only counterintuitive to expect equality and respect from an institution that is inherently biased and licences oppression and subservice of women. It is also counterproductive to invest in a nuptial arrangement that is, more often than not, far away from the promise of love, togetherness, and happiness owing to the social conditioning of men who count on patriarchy to savour their position of (perceived) supremacy as husbands, rather than as partners/companions willing to share joys and sorrows and partake in rights and responsibilities in equality with women in an intimate relationship.
Well, now if this sounds like a road leading up to the collapse of institution of marriage that does not stand the test of gender equality and is in violation of women’s human rights, so be it.
Featured Image Source: Shaadi Saga