A marriage may happen very swiftly, but a divorce does not take place in a hurry. There is anguish, lasting trauma, and untold complications of ending the relationship if there are children.
And then, what gives more pain is when family and members of the community, instead of giving support, turn round to blame and shame the divorced person.
There is deep rooted ambivalence among many South Asians. Marriage is talked about all the time. Divorce is frowned upon in the same way as domestic violence is never openly addressed. There is huge pressure to subvert mental and physical distress of individuals in order to maintain what is termed as ‘family honor’.
How long can this carry on?
Listen to these voices
MINREET KAUR decided to divorce a year after having a semi-arranged marriage.
“To begin with I was ashamed myself. I felt dirty and used. How could I look at another man when I knew he would regard me as used goods?
Other people reinforced this feeling.
My grandma in London told me I should have worked at my marriage, even though she knew what I had been through. My dad's family in India said they were disappointed that I was home; I was a disgrace to them. My parents supported me 100% but I felt I had let them down.”
Minreet wants to get married again but the going is tough as some of her community feel she is like a ‘scratched car’ and fit only for divorced men. On the other hand, divorced men have no problem in finding matrimonial matches with non-divorced women….
PUNITA MANGAT, for whom motherhood was quickly followed by divorce, recounts how it was for her.
“They don’t really want you in their presence. People label you as bad luck or a bad omen and scatter when you come to functions – as if you are contagious and divorce is a deadly disease that they might catch. I once went to a friend’s wedding and her older divorced sister was asked to stay away from the altar because she was recently divorced.”
Fortunately, she has been toughened by her experience and is a mental and physical fitness trainer, urging women to be strong: “You are not a failure, you don’t have to feel terrible about yourself. I want to remind you that you don’t have to hide or have to feel like disappearing from the world. There is nothing wrong with you...”
YVONNE SINIAH was crushed by rejection from her parents when she informed them of her intention to divorce amicably.
“My father said you are selfish - when you have kids you don’t think about yourself...My mother said this is what you do to us? - I will pray to Jesus to work things out…And I thought why do you not pray for my peace and happiness? My parents are still on a journey…Mum doesn’t talk about it (my divorce) to anyone or to me…she is in denial.”
Yvonne has dealt with divorce and the subsequent realignments in society. She is today a vibrant motivational speaker who advises on enhancing healthy relationships and advocates divorce as a healthy move when things are not working out.
“People look at you differently and judge you if you are divorced. The woman must be flawed for the marriage to break.”
In her interviews with many divorced South Asians such as Sara, Natasha Ashfaq finds “Often women are blamed for the divorce. Reasoning such as “she couldn’t control her marriage” is used. A daughter that is divorced is an embarrassment to the family.”
The shaming has to stop. Though there are many South Asians who think differently, seeing divorce as a healthy alternative to a bad marriage, everyone in the community can play a role, consciously and pro-actively. Talking openly about divorce is one way of breaking the taboo.