Divorce Indian Style
A friend of mine reminded me yesterday that today is the final date for his divorce. He has been kept hanging in the no-man’s land of trying-to-get-a-divorce for the last five years. Today was to have been his final meeting before the Judge who would then graciously grant him and his wife the long awaited divorce.
We spoke to him, encouraging him to be positive, assuring him that celebratory dinners would follow, as his freedom from the bad marriage was imminent. Emboldened, the man made his way to the Tees Hazari Courts. Getting there, past the ISBT and on the traffic congested Ring Road, is in itself a challenge. Trying to park your car is another. Added to this is the torture (if you are a sensitive person – and most people going through a divorce are over sensitive for a while) of wondering what people think of you. Thoughts run something along the lines of – “why are they looking at me?”, “Do they think I’m a failure because I couldn’t make my marriage work?”, “ Do they think I’m a criminal because I’m at court – oh no this is not the criminal court.” And so on and so forth. Having braced yourself through all these external and internal devils, you enter the court which is stained with paan stains, has no usable washrooms and is over run with touts. It’s worse than a railway station. And it doesn’t even have a canteen where you can recover from your journey.
For anyone who hasn’t been to Tees Hazari, I would like to add that the courtrooms look nothing like those shown in films. They are tiny, badly painted rooms, lit with tube lights, adorned with rusting steel cupboards with files spilling out of them. The judge sits at a desk and people waiting for their cases sit on chairs in front of the judge waiting to be called. Your very private family matters are discussed loudly in front of a room full of strangers. The judge reprimands you for not making your marriage work, tells you (often) that you will have to wait for six months for a second hearing – just in case you decide to make up, because you have been married for a long time and you have children. This despite the fact that it is a mutual consent divorce where both parties have agreed that they do not wish to live together anymore. This apparently doesn’t count at all, because Big Brother Justice System knows better than you what is required and sets out to make your life miserable because you don’t agree and because you have the audacity to go against parampara and Indian tradition of quietly accepting your suffering.
Little wonder that any Indian who has already been through a divorce swears they will never marry again. And why do they say this? Because they don’t want somebody else (like the Judge for example) telling them what to do. They would rather have a live-in partner than a husband or a wife. In any case you’re considered a tainted person with no morals by the rest of society once you have a divorce, so why bother keeping society happy by getting married again. This seems to be the thinking. Thus a couple who love each other are deprived of a second marriage and kept out of the circle of warmth, commitment and safety that is part of a good marriage because of the fear of courts, should they fail again.
Indian society and Indian courts leaves no room for failure. The message is ‘get it right’ or suffer. No wonder so many people prefer to suffer within their dysfunctional marriages rather than suffer in court. To them I say, the suffering in court is time bound – eventually you do get the divorce, even if it takes five years, and then a load lifts off your life.
As usual, my friend, who moved heaven and earth to collect the alimony money due to his wife, and whose wife is waiting for the divorce so that she can marry another man, has to wait for another date, because the Judge left the court to go somewhere else and did not take the case today. In the meantime, the state of limbo continues. Visiting rights to children remain suspended and the happiness of each individual within the family remains in abeyance until another court date. Another trip to the amusement park called Tees Hazari, some more months of suspense while children grow up and further away and people who actually love each other hold their lives in chains waiting for the courts to catch up with their lives. How sad. And how unnecessary. But what do the courts care! They have jailed people for no reason for 9 years, simply because of a shadow of suspicion.