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POST TIME: 21 October, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Divorce no longer a dirty word
But with rapid urbanisation and changing social mores the rigid boundaries governing traditional life are beginning to fall
Syed Mehdi Momin

Divorce no longer a dirty word

Bangladesh remains a conservative country and the divorce rate here is still among the lowest in the world. However the low rate is largely because most people still live in villages, where divorce remains a taboo that can destroy a family's reputation and leave a woman an outcast for the rest of her life. The reality is that there has been a steady rise in divorce rates in Bangladesh in the recent years particularly in the urban areas. Nowadays, we live in nuclear set-ups, where, more often than not, both the wife and husband are stressed out. Their lifestyles entail high stress. Divorce is the result of social change, not the cause of it. According to a recent report published in this newspaper divorce cases has reached a record high in Dhaka this year. As much as three fourth of the divorce petitions are being filed by women.

The major causes of divorce are: domestic disharmony including quarrels between husband and wife, ill-treatment by husband and quarrel with in-laws, barrenness of wife, immoral conduct of wife, spouse’s inability to fulfill marital obligation due to disease and personal nature etc. Greater acceptance of divorce in the society has led to couples being more comfortable with the idea of divorce.  Time was when divorce was a dirty word here. The fear of social isolation, a sense of duty to extended families – who likely arranged the marriage in the first place – and financial dependence put nearly unbearable pressure on couples to stay together. But with rapid urbanisation and changing social mores the rigid boundaries governing traditional life are beginning to fall. Dating among twentysomethings is growing popular, love matches (as opposed to arranged marriages) don't provoke the family scandals they once did and divorce is no longer out of bounds.

Big cities like Dhaka or Chittagong have the advantage of anonymity by which divorced couples can manage to avoid the glares of judgmental family members and friends. People these days tend to have a comparatively more casual approach towards marriage and do not work as hard to save it in case of any problems in the relationship. DINKS couples (Double Income No Kids) are not worried about how the divorce may negatively impact the children's lives. Stress as well as lack of time for life partners is another important factor leading to increasing divorce rates. Women are now at par–to some extent– with men in financial terms and do not feel the need to depend on their husbands for their financial needs. Earlier too, there were people trapped in unhappy marriages, but divorce was a dirty word back then, and there was social stigma attached to it. Nowadays, divorces are commonplace and there's no social stigma around it, especially in urban centres. Gender roles have evolved tremendously and rapidly, and both the man and the woman increasingly want to inhabit a more egalitarian society. The joint family system of the past afforded more time to a husband and wife to iron out their issues and differences. The child was unaffected because he had others in the family to fall back on. Nowadays, we live in nuclear set-ups, where, more often than not, both the wife and husband are stressed out. Their lifestyles entail high stress. Divorce is the result of social change, not the cause of it. Extramarital relationships, drug abuse and alcoholism also result in many divorces.

The causes of divorce are not uniform between various social groups. Divorce is not spread evenly across the population. The changes which have influenced the rate of marital breakdown have not affected all the members of our society in the same way. There are differences in rate of marital breakdown in different social groups. Divorce rate varies with the social class as well as occupational status.

One of the major shortcomings here is that there is generally no organized counselling or mediation at times of need. There is lack of pre-marriage counselling. After marriage if there is any problem or tension, the counselling/mediation role, if any, is usually left to the immediate guardians/relatives of each side. The alternative is to go to the court. However, courts are generally there to settle disputes, not to provide counselling or mediation before the problem or dispute reaches the court.  Religious scholars, those of the fundamentalist hue are saying that increasing divorce rates is the result of more women being employed and educated and that this freedom is harming the women themselves. Well this writer naturally disagrees with that point of view. If women who want their freedom, empowerment and independence is frowned upon by these scholars their knowledge of Islam must be questioned. It can be easily seen with reference to a few Islamic laws about women and their rights in a marriage. For example, the freedom and the right to make a marriage contract and proposal. That means that the woman can refuse to sign pre-nups or put down any condition that she wants in a marriage contract. She can also put down what she wants from the man if the marriage dissolves which can also include a monthly maintenance fund i.e. alimony. She has the exclusive right to choose her own life partner and the marriage is null and void if she does not wish to marry. In Islam a woman has a right to earn her own money and can refuse to spend her money on maintaining the household. A man does not have any business in his wife’s money and it is his sole responsibility to support the household. A woman has freedom to hold property in her name or keep her name after marriage. She can annul the marriage for valid reasons.  It is a common misconception that a man can say ‘divorce’ three times and the marriage is over. There is no law or hint in any Islamic scripture that says that is true. It is not Islam that makes divorce or women empowerment a taboo, but closed minds of many of our citizens. And if you fear that the two (husband and wife) may not be able to keep the limits ordered by Allah there is no blame on either of them if she redeems herself (from marriage tie) Surah Al Baqarah.

Educated and financially dependent Bangladeshi women are aware about their rights and know the way to defend them. The consequences of divorce are not always bad. Staying in a bad marriage is worse than taking a divorce.

Marriage is not an easy task, and so one must take some time to get to know the other person. If marriage takes place after a very short time period of meeting and getting to know each other, some very crucial details about one another can be overlooked. Therefore, to reduce this risk, decisions should not be made in a hurry and more time should be spent in getting to know the person better. Showing tolerance towards each other is also very important. Patience is the key to any successful marriage.  Forced marriages and early marriages are a reality in Bangladesh and this needs to be stopped. Marriage is a big decision in one’s life, and should be taken, only when one is mature enough to handle all that comes with it. Compromise is very important, and without it no marriage can succeed. When a couple gets married, both of them entered into an agreement. This agreement is based on having care, love, protection, social as well as financial security, understanding, compromising among each other

 Couples should be able to sort out issues on their own, rather than having someone else cause problems in their lives. Basically, all the causes of divorce should be looked into and corrected. That is the only way, in which the divorce rate can come down.  The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stated that; it is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”

Friendship is necessary in every relationship whether it is a relationship of father, mother, husband or wife.  Friendship is a kind of relationship in which one feels at ease to share everything. When this element is erased in the relationship of marriage, dispute may arise.

The writer is the Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent