Are we ready for law on Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage?
Marriage Laws should represent the social realities of a country and thus by virtue, be evolutive. In that sense, the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2013 passed by Rajya Sabha on the 26th of August maybe perceived by many as a progressive step in adapting the law to the changing dynamics of Indian society. However, a careful consideration of the pace of changing marriage laws and their consequences needs to be done among thought leaders of the country.
Although, the debate regarding irretrievable breakdown of marriage as grounds for divorce has been raging in this country ever since the seventy first Law Commission report came out in 1978; the ethos around the institution of marriage haven’t changed much in the last thirty five years. Marriages in India are considered to be everlasting. It represents a holy bond between a man and a woman that is expected to transcend everything else. No wonder divorce rate in India is 0.3 per cent for males and 0.2 per cent for females, out of a population where more than 50 per cent has been married at least once.
The question is whether our society is ready for a predominantly western form of marriage law? Irretrievable breakdown of marriage as grounds for divorce is a popular concept in the western world and is comfortably placed in the western socio-cultural environment. Although, not trying to take anything away from their concept of marriage, the western society is much more adaptive to divorce than ours, hence the presence of concepts such as reconstituted families, where both spouses have kids from a previous marriage. Similarly, prenuptial agreements have become common phenomena in the west. Prenuptial agreements are legal contacts which include provisions for division of property, spousal support and also protection to either the husband’s or the wife’s wealth in the event of a divorce. It is reported that in United States, as many as almost half of marriages end up in divorce, and in Europe around one third of marriages fail. In contrast, divorce, in India, still accompanies a cultural stigma instead of being seen as a solution and an escape route out of an undesirable and a difficult situation. Marriage in our cultural context is still seen as an absolute among many sections of society.
While adapting our laws to the changing times, there should be an active debate whether the eco system surrounding the law is ready to accommodate the consequences of new legal framework. For example, the government needs to be prepared to step in to support child bearing single parents in longer term, with the changing of this law.
India has historically been a progressive nation in adapting its personal laws to grant protection to women and in adapting laws to changing societal values. However, my hope is that there is a constructive debate among sociologists, civil society and lawmakers on the supporting eco system that needs to be prepared to be able to absorb the changes that these laws usher in. A truly progressive society is one that is prepared to accept and support the outcomes of its changing values.