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As a counterpart to the Big Fat Indian Wedding we have its sordid cousin the lowly, hushed up divorce. Divorce was and is still a bad word in most parts of India. India has among the world's lowest divorce rates ( ~ 1.1%). Compared to the 50% plus numbers in the US and Sweden this seems like a statistical anomaly. Or do we have something that Western countries don't? Is it our "Culture" that is responsible for this difference? To phrase it in a different manner, does Western culture promote divorce?

Before we can jump to any conclusion, it is worthwhile to have a look at whatever data is out there regarding divorce. As stated before, the rate of divorce in India is pretty low as compared to the rich countries (viz. US, UK, Sweden etc. ). India - 1.1%
US - 51%
Sweden - 54%
The rate is high for pretty much all the countries with a western culture.

A look at this data should be sufficient for most to make a proclamation that, yes, Western culture does indeed promote Divorce. However, another way to analyze this same set of data will reveal a slightly more complex picture. If we step back some decades, we can see that in both western countries and ours the number of divorces have increased by quite a lot. However, that divorce rates started increasing in the western countries towards the middle of the 20th century whereas the trend of increasing divorces in India is at a much later period. What has this got to do with culture?

Both periods coincide with increasing empowerment of women. Women began to be treated on par with men; getting equal opportunities in education and employment. This resulted in a paradigm shift in the mindset of the "empowered" women. They realized that it was no longer required to put up with a spouse who did not respect/ take care of her or worse abused her physically and/or mentally. This combined with the easing of divorce laws opened the floodgates for divorce petitions. Similarly, in India, the trend of higher education and employment has caused a spurt in the number of divorce cases. This argument suggests that it is only the empowered women who are responsible for the increasing divorce rates. IS that a valid argument?

The answer to the previous question is yes and no. Yes, because a lot of cases were initialized by more women than was previously the case. No, because men were also filing for divorce. Along with empowerment there was the rise of the individual in the 20th century. The principal of individualism garnered widespread acceptance. This in turn lead to a society where a person could do whatever he/she wants to achieve happiness as long as he/she did not harm others. A consequence of this is infidelity. This shift towards the individual instead of the family as a unit was also responsible for the increasingly short lives of marriages.

Another major factor in the divorce rates in the western countries was the absence of the extended family. For example, in a country like India, the moment a couple starts having marital problems there is a big support system behind them i.e. their family which tries to sort out the differences between them. However, because of the way western society is structured most of the time family members outside the nuclear setup do not have influence on the individuals. The absence of family does increase the number of divorces filed for frivolous reasons. A major drawback of this peculiarly Indian advantage is the number of marriages that have broken down in all but name and couple still present a facade of marital bliss in front of others, since a divorce is frowned upon by most family members and society.

The increasing divorce rates do have a silver lining, so to say. It shows that couples can take recourse to legal action when the marriage fails. Couples no longer have to present a happy conjugal picture in front of society. This leads to a happier home environment for children instead of having to see their parents bickering and fighting every day. On the dark side, the increasing number of divorces due to frivolous reason tears apart the innocent childhood of a kid who does not realize why his mom and dad want to live separately. Here too the culture plays a significant part. Western parents generally tend to have a more hands off approach to their kids. This leads them to believe in the kids ability to cope up with whatever situations might crop up. Eastern cultures, on the other hand, tend to be more protective when it comes to kids. This is one reason why divorce is often a last resort.

To summarize, we can see that countries with a western culture does indeed have higher divorce rates. However, it is not actively endorsed. It is more of a by product of the rise of individualism, women rights and so on. The same phenomenon can be witnessed in the urban centers of India where divorce rates are increasing with spread of urbanization.

Dinu Nair

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