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Expert Opinion: Hashtag Divorce And the Celebration Of Separation On Social Media

This article is the second part of a two-part series on the causes and effects of divorces in modern India. The previous article on the subject analysed why divorces were on the rise in India, what the effect of the pandemic has been on domestic relationships across the country and where India stands in terms of percentage of divorces as opposed to other countries. It also sought the opinion of experts to understand what the top three seasons are for divorces in 21st century India. Boldsky spoke to Kolkata-based counsellor Mridula Bose on the topic.

In this article, we will also explore the possible effects of divorce on us and the world around us and try to understand what the future looks like if the number of divorces in our society continue to rise. It will also attempt to answer the question of whether we are ready to handle what the future holds.

Remember the 2009 film Love Aaj Kal, where the characters of Saif Ali Khan and Deepka Padukone have a break-up party? Or the break-up song from the 2016 blockbuster Ae Dil Hai Mushkil? If art really is a reflection of society, it would seem like upper-class or upwardly mobile Indians are celebrating the end of unhappy relationships. Is it the same for the breakdown of marital relationships? It would seem so.

Here are some numbers from social media:

  • According to a 2019 article in the Economic Times, there has been the rise of a micro-community of divorced women on Instagram which has 617,021 posts hashtagged "divorce" in 2019.
  • Over 110,000 Facebook users from India openly state their relationship status as "divorced".
  • The dating app Truly Madly has seen a 200% increase in the number of profiles stating they are divorced, widowed or single-parents.

If these reports are to be believed, Indian women are truly overcoming the stigma surrounding divorce and not shying away from declaring their divorced relationship status. But is this a complete picture? Why then is separation a more preferred form of ending a marriage than divorce? Why is there discrimination against single parent families in India?

Also, all this data from social media and the cultural representation in movies showcase people of a certain class and background - city-bred, educated, independent, Internet users. There is no representation of the state of marital relationships in lower income-group families or of families in rural India. Therefore, it would not be wise to consider these numbers to be a true representation of India. They clearly do not take into account the diverse nature of India's population.

When changes creep up on a society, it is bound to have an effect on all spheres - social, cultural and legal. The rising divorce rates in India are not an exception to this rule. To begin, let us look at the social changes that we are going through.

First, there are fewer young people willing to marry than there were a generation ago. Many youngsters are happily single. That is not to say that they are averse to having relationships. They do have relationships, very fulfilling ones - just that those relationships are not marriage. This trend beggars the question 'are marriages becoming outdated'? Outdated or not, it clearly does not hold the charm it did, at least not for the demographic described by social media or Bollywood movies.

Second, due to the high number of divorces there, are a large number of single-parent families. This brings us to the question of what the divorce of parents means for a child. Do children of separated or divorced parents at a disadvantage when compared to children from 'normal' family setups?

Mridula Bose says, "No, as long as children are made part of the decision-making process, as long as they are talked to as equals, their emotional wellbeing is not at risk."

Third, there has been a growth of marital education, family counselling, and related services that are aimed at improving couples' communication and problem-solving skills. 'Seek help, before you make a final decision' might be good advice for couples who have hit a roadblock in their marriage.

Socio-cultural changes are one aspect of the whole picture, the other being legal changes. Rising divorces need our policy makers to acknowledge the changes and put policies and programmes in place to support people who need it. For instance, property laws or child custody laws might need changes to take care of the rights of divorced women.

Though marriage might seem to be becoming more and more outdated in urban circles, it will continue to remain the mainstream way of building relationships for decades to come. Though we are struggling to cope with the changes in our relationships and our societies, we may not be completely ready for the future that is staring us in the face.

Also, we also need to put in place more studies that offer data regarding relationships among Indians who do not belong to the privileged upper middle class. Only with that information can a true picture of India emerge.