The holy vows and the unholy alimony


With divorce cases rising in India, women are slowly but surely beginning to make clinical decisions about their lives. For the first time, their voices are being heard in unequal relationships that they want to end. The ones that are not serving them the growth and the nurturing, women are slowly but surely taking steps to sever it.

As more women are beginning to question the gender role in marriages, which in its essence is a gendered institution, more marriages are also falling apart. The concept of women seeking more space in the home they see themselves living their entire lives in is an alien concept for many men.

In India, the majority of women leave their parents’ homes on getting married and sometimes move to different cities to start a family with their spouses. This shift isn’t easy on any person. It requires enormous amounts of adjustment. Many relationships take a hit in this shift.

Women who manage the differences are the ones who make the adjustments unquestioningly. Her success is weighed on how accepting she can be with the new ways of another home. Her enormous ability to give up all that she has learnt in her maternal home and seamlessly fit into her new surroundings is lauded and forms the basis for her successful marriage.

Suleman, a migrant worker, who has moved from Agartala to Bangalore, believes his 18-year-old wife is best suited to adjusting to life in his home. He wants her to help his mother and, over the years, manage the show. He adds that at a younger age, girls are more malleable and fitting into a new home is less difficult. So he opted to marry someone 10 years younger than him.

In larger cities in India, the gender roles are slightly different. In such places, when a marriage falls apart, the woman, if she happens to be a housewife, is often left with the panic of figuring out her place in society. There are concerns about alimony money that she may not get very easily from her ex-husband. The looming worry about the future of her children and herself only adds to her agony.

As I spoke to Suresh Kamat, who has been married for over 20 years, he was very bitter that he had to give money to his ex-wife. He said, “This is my hard-earned money and dividing this reduces the wealth that I relentlessly created for the family.”

On further conversation, he added that, he didn’t see the need for his wife to be included or to be kept in the loop about the financial decisions he took on behalf of the family.

He was repentant as he was caught cheating on his wife and said, “Why can’t she forgive me?”

When it comes to women and infidelity, however, the majority of entitled males are amused that forgiveness can even be discussed.It will surely be the end for him with her.

As Kamat explained about fidelity, “Dal and rice are a staple and they are our comfort foods, whereas an occasional biriyani is a sinful indulgence.”

On further probe, one understands that the wife is compared to the simplicity of home food. The indulgence of the man is supposed to be overlooked as a singular incident and not a recurring occurrence. It also reveals that the respect and equality that women deserve are not understood in their totality.

This also clearly indicates the misogyny that has been passed down for generations in society.

It does leave one wondering about progress and social evolution, and how society has also shaped the thought process of what a woman deserves as a gender. India ranked 135 out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2022.

It is also further found in a survey that men think that the greatest pain that they endure in a divorce is having to divide the wealth. They feel that the woman doesn’t deserve the compensation.

Acceptability is far easier for divorced men than for women, who are called a divorcée in society. So, women try to hold on as long as they can to the disrespect and the exclusion.

 What the system needs to ensure is a tighter law to help stay-at-home women be paid their fair share of the salary the working spouse earns.

With more conversations on gender equality, progress is inevitable. There will be many stay-at-home husbands too. In such cases, they must also be equally compensated for managing the unseen chores at home.

Housework still remains unpaid labour. According to the NSO›s Time Use Survey conducted during January–December 2019, it was found that 81.2% of females participated in unpaid domestic services for household members as compared to 26.1% of males.

In the eyes of society, it is expected that women must do it for love. No one ever wonders what will happen if the love fades. Should she or he continue, or how must the compensation be made with fairness to both parties?

Marriages are made in heaven, as is widely written in fairytale romances, but the reality is far more difficult when the rose-tinted glasses fall off.

Marriage is not a bed of roses. It is about maturity, adjustment, and being fair to one another. With separation and divorces going up in India, the country must gear up men to not mansplain to their friends and families about the ex-wife turned witch who took away the wealth that they created.

This reveals that deep down, men are still unwilling to view or understand that she deserves any of their wealth. Her years of unpaid labour are taken for granted. This is what his mother and grandmother did without much fuss.

According to this unspoken entitlement, the cycle must continue, and anything that shakes up the power dynamics in a marriage, which is mostly finances, leaves the man very angry, and he in turn feels cheated.

 Most think that women must not demand money and alimony. It is best when it is a minimal amount and his wealth isn’t restructured, which makes him lose his position within the family and friends. This makes him insecure.

The subject of alimony is a bitter pill that most don’t wish to discuss or digest. And as a woman, one needs to discuss this more openly and with all the courage and succinct knowledge of the laws that must serve her future purpose.

Mohua Chinappa is an author and a podcaster of a show called The Mohua Show.