So Konkona Sensharma and Ranvir Shorey are ending their marriage of five years. The acclaimed actors are going the splitsville way over irreconcilable differences – the commonest virus to kill the organism that’s marital union.
India supposedly still has the lowest divorce rates in the world, with about one in 1,000 marriages collapsing, according to a 2011 study. However, the grand aggregate gives a misleading picture since India has split into a kaleidoscope of mini nations, with urban conglomerations behaving like parallel universes of social mores and expectations. Divorce rates in cities, particularly metropolises like New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, are sky-rocketing, along with the coffee shops and bistros and IT offices and smaller media groups, which are mushrooming at every nook and cranny.
With the exit option now present like a low-hanging fruit, shouldn’t marriage itself undergo a radical reconfiguration? With a horde of in-between arrangements, such as live-in relationships, civil partnerships, open relationships, casual dating, hookups, extended courtships, long-distance and digital romance all operational under a single roof of heteronormative desire (coming to homoerotic desire in a bit), marriage, in its present “un-upgraded” state looks like a singular pterodactyl among a demography of cooler and evolutionarily more adapted creatures.
Moreover, marriage, that is still as exclusionary as it used to be in the past, with chunks of populace inadmissible under its hallowed premises because of their sexual orientation, or because their desires are outside the set boundaries prescribed by Manusmriti or Hadith, is like a woolly mammoth in the age of unprecedented global warming.
Because I cannot distribute my friends and acquaintances almost neatly and equally among the abovementioned categories (they are spawning categories as I write), a general observation (since my job, most of the time, is to be the “participant observer”) is all I can offer. And a general suggestion. Naturally, this may get your goat. Or not.
Let’s face it. Marriage is the same wine in a pricier bottle, with a lot many, a lot, lot many, more paper work. And expenditure. Since even children out of wedlock and single mothers are now not that much of a rarity, and if not less frowned upon, we are gradually approaching a state of sexual eclecticism. There’s a furious jostling for space among older and newer mores of sexual behaviour, a phenomenon, which while interacting with the fellow axes of identity politics – the usual suspects such as class, caste, religion, language – is certainly impacting marriage. Its rate of occurrence, rate of dissolution, and some such credentials.
It’s time that the social contract that is marriage undergoes an overhaul. Realities today are astronomically different from the time laws were written down to solemnise marriages. In India, a 19th century colonial law, with all its Victorian hangovers, exists, with versions according to your religion. The Hindu Marriage Act (1955), the Indian Christian Marriage Act (1872), Islamic Marriage law, Special Marriage Act (1954) – every legal provision, no matter how diverse in their respective composition and allowances, however, stands united in one thing. Every marriage is supposed to a happily ever after, with an assumed life-time validity.
Yes, divorce is easier than ever before, despite the slow poisoning by law. But marriage itself, the marital contract, comes bundled with a beautiful but utterly invalidated delusion – that of lifelong togetherness.