Mississauga, February 13 (CINEWS): A whopping 40 to 50 percent of all marriages in North America WILL end in divorce this year. South Asians in the US number around 3.5 million and the divorce rate is estimated at anything from 1 to 15 per cent of all marriages, this isn’t a statistic to be proud about, because it points to a malaise that exists within the community. But that isn’t what cultural chauvinists among us want you to believe, they flaunt this low divorce rate as testament to our strong values, culture and tradition. It is a statistic often used to flaunt our perceived moral superiority over the debauched west. But talk to front line social workers, thinkers and councillors and what you hear are some horror stories that could break your heart.
High tolerance for mental and physical abuse
Domestic violence is a scourge afflicting our community not just in India but right here in Canada. Newlywed brides are often harassed over issues like dowry but very few would actually call out their husbands or the in-laws, such crime is rarely reported. Despite the fact that South Asians living in the West tend to be educated or atleast living in advanced countries that eschew violence against women, the fact that it still happens should be cause for concern. Seventy per cent of Indian marriages in North America are arranged and 87 per cent of all South Asians are foreign-born. This may in part explain why the hold of culture and tradition holds back thousands of men and women, mostly women from seeking liberation from a stifling or abusive relationship. They are often forced to endure mental and physical abuse for the sake of their children or the family name.
Caucasians have no qualms walking out of bad marriages
Caucasians and other mainstream Canadians for example for most part have few qualms about walking out of a marriage that isn’t working. They are unwilling to tolerate an uncouth and abusive partner for too long. For the average Canadian couple, if they are unhappy in a relationship they may at first seek counselling or a temporary separation before calling it quits. Among South Asians any such talk is swiftly dismissed outright. Counselling? Problem? What problem? As for separation, many imported brides have neither the means or the guts to walk out. The man is likely to live his own life and have mistresses and the woman ofcourse is expected to put up a front for society.
What keeps bad marriages going is the absolute fear of losing status within the family and in the community. Then there is shame in being seen as a failure and the stigma children of divorced parents could face. It could adversely impact their childrens’ marriage prospects.
But even though there are possibly thousands of unhappily married South Asian couples living under the same roof trapped in sham marriages, there are a few enlightened ones who aren’t willing to accept the status quo. These are often second-generation South Asians or the educated in India who seek divorce or separation when things go bad in their marriage. This sort of separation is mostly possible when the woman is not only educated but gainfully employed and has the confidence of being able to provide not only for themselves but for their children if necessary. When husbands know that their wives are not economically dependent on them or vice-versa, there is a healthy respect and partners know they can’t take each other for granted.
Re-thinking traditional Indian marriages
A couple of years ago Geetha Ravindra published a highly popular book titled Shaadi Remix: Transforming the Traditional Indian marriage. The book delves into the breakdown of Indian marriage within a rapidly changing culture, explaining why the conventional criteria used to arrange marriages no longer ensure lasting, healthy relationships. It is replete with stories of how real Indian couples navigate a twenty-first-century world, provides guidance on alternative methods of choosing partners.
The book now adorns many bookshelves of young South Asians contemplating marriage and with good reason- the traditional Indian marriage is getting harder to maintain. While online sites like Shaadi.com continues to be popular among the youth, also getting increasingly popular is another site called Secondshaadi.com.
In fact Secondshaadi.com seems poised to grow twice as fast as Shaadi.com in the years to come.
A match-maker once told me that many of her male clients holding top jobs in the field of medicine or engineering are self-confessed failures at finding partners. They are reluctant to take their parents help in lining up a partner from India and have never really dated a girl here in Canada. Since dating is still more or less socially unacceptable among Indians, not surprisingly they’ve not had any experience in that department and besides their cousins and relatives they’ve often never had friends belonging to the opposite sex. This may partly explain why in arranged marriages partners base their decision on caste, color looks and domesticity. All things that either fade away or are found to be totally irrelevant in the larger context of an enduring and happy marriage.
The question for South Asians should be this: If you could do it over again, would you marry the same person again? I suspect a good 40 to 50 per cent would be ready to upgrade or trade-in their non-performing or poorly performing partners for more compatible ones. The only difference between South Asians and other mainstream Canadians is that we would consider change partners in our next life while practical Canadians would be prepared to do so in this life itself.