In India, we notice that there are more and more divorces in the city, but in rural areas, divorce is still an exception.
Along with birth and death, marriage is one of the most important stages in the life of an Indian man and woman. We get married first, then we learn to love each other. If it goes wrong, it is up to the woman to adapt at all costs to save the couple. Divorce remains a disgrace that will reflect the whole family.
India is one of the countries with the fewest divorces
The divorce rate (number of divorces pronounced during the year per 1,000 inhabitants) is 1.2 there, while it is 1.9 in France. At the top of the rankings is Russia with 4.65 per mille.
This rate is a national average that is subject to significant differences, especially between large cities and rural areas. It would have doubled in Delhi in ten years. Divorce is becoming more and more accepted as an option by the younger generations, while parents still talk about it “with a low voice”, as a shame or with pity for the woman in question. In the countryside, divorce remains a taboo in patriarchal culture, which expects the woman to integrate the husband’s family by placing her life as a couple according to the son’s basic relationship with his parents.
How to get divorced in India?
A family court judge will grant the divorce. Of course, depending on whether it becomes an “amicable” or controversial divorce, the duration of the procedure will be very different. But even when there is mutual consent, it will take at least two years to reach the end because the spouses have to appear twice before the judge and the courts are very crowded. For a disputed divorce, the procedure will take between three and five years. Two attorneys will be needed, one to accompany each party, the other to record the verdict.
Acceptable reasons to file for divorce depend on religion
Although presented as secular, the Indian legal system has laws based on the different religious beliefs. Thus, Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Muslims have different laws for their marriages and therefore for their divorces.
For Hindus, for example, the 1955 law lists the various reasons that can justify a divorce: infidelity, cruelty (mental and physical harm that endangers life, physical integrity and health), abandonment (at least two years), religious conversion of the spouse , incurable mental illness, leprosy, venereal diseases, the waiver of the spouse in all worldly affairs.
For a divorce, you must file a petition with the family court judge.
Regardless of their religion, whether the spouse agrees or not, you must file a request to the family court judge to file for divorce. In Chennai, the judge sits in the High Court of Madras, in the grand palace at the southern end of George Town. The building, built by the English, dates from the 19th century. It houses the Civil Court. Some architectural elements are said to be magnificent, such as the painted ceilings and stained glass windows, but we could not see them because the building is closed to the public without a summons from a judge.
However, it is interesting to walk into the gardens of the High Court to realize the flare-up that prevails there every morning at the time of the hearings.
That’s what we did, and we bring you here the testimony of three women struggling in a long and difficult divorce proceeding, and of two lawyers who were crossed at the end of the trial.
Lawyer, a profession that is becoming more feminized in India
A relentless ballet of women and men in black and white coats, their arms filled with paper folders held by strings, this is the performance on its way to the seven courtrooms of the Family Affairs Department of the Haute Court of Madras.
The lawyers, before entering the court, take stock of their clients, leaning on the seat of a scooter or on the windowsill. One of those in his forties says that he mainly works with litigation on private property and that he also handles divorces, difficult cases that require a lot of work.
A young woman, an intern, in her final year of study, tells us that five college years are required to become a lawyer. There are not enough places at public universities and those who can turn to private institutes with high tuition costs. The problem then is to get your diploma recognized by the state. The young intern, who wants to be a family law attorney, notes that half of the students in her promotion are girls. The profession is becoming more feminized.
In front of Madras High Court, a long wait that carries confessions
The stairs in the building facing the High Court courtroom are occupied by women waiting to be heard by the judge or the outcome of the verdict. The faces are strained. After long minutes, the word is free, and we then hear the story of painful separations, of those interested themselves or of their mother often accompanying them.
We met three of them who said yes to telling their story.
Saranay is 33 years old. She is a Christian. Her husband left her without resources, six months after the birth of their child. Her parents adopted her, and for the past four years she has been involved in a dragging divorce process because her spouse did not show up at the first hearings and COVID-19 delayed the rest. She has already spent 150,000 rupees on a lawyer and would like the divorce registration to be reversed soon. She found a job and still lives with her parents with her son.
Prya, 28, is a Hindu. Despite a dowry of 1 million rupees (about 12,000 euros), her husband always criticized her for being a financial burden. He was unfaithful to her and was often violent. The young woman sought refuge with her parents, who at first did not want to welcome her. His father had a heart attack, according to his wife, out of shame. Prya is determined to divorce at all costs. Her husband would agree to an amicable settlement, provided she gave him money.
Suganar, 20, is a Hindu. She has a child of 2 years. When her husband was unemployed, she became a cleaning assistant in a company. Her husband can not stand that she hangs out with other men. Jealous, he says the child is not his and beats her. A few weeks ago, he threw him out of the house. Suganar sought refuge with his parents and sought divorce. Today is the judge’s first summons. Suganar waited, but her husband did not show up. The road can be long.