No longer are divorced women viewed as tainted or unholy. The concept of a woman as an exclusive property of a man has been replaced by the perception that if the reputation of a divorced male remains unsullied, why should the same also not hold good for a woman? The commendable thing is that there is a shift in the attitudes of not only men but also their families. Chetna Banerjee analyses the emerging trend in remarriages.
the pages of any newspaper or magazine and you’ll find some
sociologist, feminist or other social conscience- keeper crying hoarse
about the erosion of the institution of marriage and the spiralling
divorce rate in our society. But a development that is lost sight of in
all this hullabaloo over the break-up of marriages is that the attitudes
towards divorcees are being redefined. The rules for remarriage are
being modified, if not entirely rewritten.
Contrast this with the scenario about a decade ago. If a divorced woman had to remarry, her options (or rather lack of them) were confined to either divorcees or widowers. If at all she had the good luck to get a bachelor, it would be a saath saal ka buddha. And to top it all, her family was expected to spend lavishly on the baraatis and give dowry out of sheer gratitude because they were supposedly relieved that even after a failed marriage their daughter was getting resettled.
But in the new millennium, the middle class in particular is witnessing a subtle shift in attitudes towards divorcees. There is a lessening of the stigma against them and, as a consequence, opening up of more channels of remarriage for them. More and more women who’ve been through bad marriages and the emotional trauma of divorce are now, at long last, getting a second chance at happiness and, that too, on their own terms.
Till now, it was a fact that the scales tilted in favour of male divorcees. If a divorced man was well-placed, the prospects for his remarriage were certainly not confined to widows or divorcees. Even being an also-ran in the matrimonial race, he could easily notch up a ‘trophy’ in the form of a nubile, unmarried girl. But now even the fortunes of divorced women are looking up.
That divorce is no longer a dirty word goes without saying. But that divorced women are finding wider acceptance and have greater choice with regard to remarriage is a refreshing phenomenon for middle-class families.Their choice of grooms is no longer limited and they don’t necessarily have to make drastic compromises to get resettled. In essence, women with an unhappy past no longer have a bleak future.
So far, it was only in the razzmatazz world of celebrities and the rich and the famous that the tag of divorcee did not have much stigma attached to it. In the world of the bold and beautiful, where marriages are broken, remade and re-remade at the drop of a hat (or rather mate), it has never been difficult or unusual for divorced women to find suitable boys, and bachelors at that. The second marriages of actress Renuka Shahane, former model Shyamolie Verma, TV compere Mona Bhattacharjee (of the Zaike ka Safar fame) to bachelors are just a few examples.
In an interesting trickle-down effect, though these celebrities inhabit virtually a different planet, some of the openness in their attitudes and lifestyles is percolating into the orbit of conservative and staid middle-class homes. The boldness of their mind-sets is apparently rubbing off on the hitherto convention-clogged log-kya-kahenge outlook of this social strata.
No longer are divorced women viewed as tainted or unholy. The concept of a woman as an exclusive property of a man has been replaced by the perception that if the reputation of a divorced male remains unsullied, why should the same not hold good for a woman?
The commendable thing is that there is a shift in the attitudes of not only men but also their families. There is not only acceptance, but unconditional acceptance at that, of a divorcee into the fold of remarriage. No longer do mothers of bachelors cluck their tongues in embarrassment and disapproval, "Kya karen, hamara beta ek divorcee bahu la raha hai."
Recalls Sona, who got engaged to a bachelor friend the day her divorce came through, "My in-laws went out of the way to make me feel welcome. Instead of waiting for my parents to approach them and making them feel that a big ahsaan was being done to them, my father-in-law himself came to ask for my hand for his son." In a refreshing change, rather than feel disappointed or act snooty, her mother-in-law was thrilled at having her as the bahu.
And in a display of immense maturity and understanding that was hitherto rare for the average Indian male, her husband has, through unconditional love and care helped her put her past completely behind her. "She had undergone so much trauma in her first marriage that I felt she deserved all happiness now," he says empathising fully with her.
The empathy and understanding that a divorcee now receives in her new marital home has a lot to do with the altered perception that divorce is no longer a dirty word now. There is a shift from the thinking that the tag of divorcee sullies a woman’s reputation. An unsuccessful alliance doesn’t make her a wicked or undesirable person. In fact, in the changed scenario, one man’s ‘bane’ may well be the second man’s ‘boon’.
The lyrics mouthed by singer Mukesh for a yesteryear film seem to echo the mind-set and sentiments of today’s men , "Mujhe nahin puchhni tum se beeti baatein, kaise bhi guzari ho tum nein apni raatein." In fact, "why bother about the past if we can have a happy future together" is the credo of today’s emancipated male.
Sociologically, the break-up of the joint family and the essentially nuclear existence of the younger generation is in a large way responsible for the thawing of rigid attitudes. Young, working men and women in urban areas don’t have to contend with conservative dadis, bhuas or chachis living under the same roof, who’ll raise eyebrows, and even raise hell, if the boy is either dating or planning to marry a divorcee.
The relatively anonymous existence that the youth lead in big cities keeps their personal lives safe from prying eyes and judgmental relatives. The financially independent youngsters are not answerable to nor do they seek the approval of their brood of relatives for every little personal decision. This leaves them free to make choices based on personal needs rather than solely on family expectations.
Opening up of the skies has in some way led to the opening of the minds. The Net-exposed, new-millennium men relate to women on a person-to-person level, as emotionally autonomous individuals, rather than as whimpering souls sighing under the weight of the emotional baggage from a broken relationship. And that has a lot to do with women’s own attitude.
Economic independence has given divorced women the courage to free themselves of the shackles of a soured relationship and move on in life without the burden of guilt or remorse. In fact, their financial autonomy lends an aura of confidence to them, making them attractive as prospective partners.
Says Gurdeep K. Dhir, Head of the Psychology Department, Government College for Girls, Sector 11, Chandigarh, "Since many women divorcees have fulfilling careers and are on a sound financial footing, this exerts a magnetic pull on young unmarried men around them. Bachelors are drawn by the professional and emotional maturity of these women. In fact, bachelors who marry divorcees with high achievements even take pride in their accomplishments."
Another major factor behind this new open-mindedness of men is that now less and less premium is being placed on a woman’s chastity. The new- millennium middle-class male is apparently overcoming the centuries’ old fixation or obsession with a woman’s virginity as the yardstick of her purity and desirability. Today, men, and that too bachelors, no longer hanker for or demand Sita-like chastity, but instead seek emotional fidelity in marriage. Whether they get it from an unmarried girl or a divorcee is immaterial. Having been the wife of a paraya mard no longer disqualifies a woman from becoming the life partner of a kunwara munda.
Emotional and mental compatibility now take precedence over such medieval notions as chastity as being the keys to marital acceptability and bliss. The new-age Indian male no longer views divorced females through primitive, prejudice-powered lenses but through empathy-tinted Ray Bans. He does not have the myopic vision of an MCP (male chauvinist pig) but the global, emancipated outlook of the Net-exposed SNAG (sensitive new age guy).
This is part of a larger redefining of the husband-wife equation. Gone are the days of a woman as just a child-bearing and rearing entity, with its attendant focus on her pavittar pativrata image. Now spouses are more like friends, sharing a camaraderie that in many cases extends to even guzzling a cuppa beer or shaking a leg in a disco in each other’s company.
The open and informal atmosphere at corporate workplaces, too, has contributed a lot to this trend by presenting opportunities to not only single men and women but even divorcees to interact on a one-to-one level. When professionals are able to vibe at an individual level and on an equal footing, their past relationships or marital status become irrelevant. It is on account of this dynamics of the modern workplace that so many men and women are dating and mating with each other, rising above considerations of caste, community, divorce, etc.
Captain Pramod truly personifies this emerging broad-minded, mature male identity. After an acrimonious divorce from her first husband, Nalini, along with her two-year-old son, returned to her parental home an embittered person, her entire universe plunged into darkness. But soon a rainbow of hope and promise broke through the clouds of gloom in the form of the Captain, an eligible bachelor posted in the same contingent as her father. He not only proffered her marriage but willingly decided to play father to her little son.
But in a typical case of "once bitten, twice shy", Nalini initially had qualms about taking the plunge again."It was Pramod’s whole-hearted acceptance and magnanimity that helped me overcome my reservations," she says.
However, on the flip side, an issue where the conservative, grooved thinking is still well entrenched is that of children from a past marriage.This is a sensitive subject that still casts a shadow on re-married bliss. Though men are willing to accept divorcees, they may be reluctant to play father to another man’s child.
Take the case of Kanu, who while going through a divorce, caught the fancy of the lawyer who was pleading her case. One thing led to another and soon the lawyer was pleading his own case ( for marriage) before her. But the proposal did not come without a clause. He insisted that she leave her little son behind with her mother.
But on the whole, with many liberal-minded bachelors around, divorced women are no longer doomed to getting the second best. And they are second to none. Divorce does not leave them as the poor cousins of the more eligible, unmarried girls as far as getting a Prince Charming is concerned. In the marriage market, they’re no longer the down-the-rung siblings of virgin girls who’ll only get hand-me-downs in the shape of once-married men.
In the emerging ground reality, if it turns out that a woman’s marriage has been a hell and not really made in heaven, she at least has the option to remake it on earth. And she can reshape her destiny to more suitably fulfill her needs and aspirations.
(Names have been changed on request)