Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Women Not Allowed.
That’s the slogan that most women have heard for centuries. Women Not Allowed. In voting, dargahs, male clubs, temples, sports, in schools, the army, the list goes on. But we’ve fought them all and recently with women entering the 400 year old male bastion of Shani Shingnapur temple, we’ve finally been able to let the world know that women cannot be banned from any place. 

But what happens in our own society? Aren’t we banning women from certain auspicious things in our own way?

Recently I was part of a group that was discussing a sixteen day puja where every day the woman following the puja had to give a certain amount of fruits to different women every day. I mentioned a young mother’s name and immediately I was shot down by a friend who said, “No! No she’s a widow. It doesn’t make sense to give to her. It won’t count.”

I was shocked. She was a widow for no fault of hers. I asked why it was so inauspicious to give fruits to her.

“Because a puja is about culture and giving and receiving blessings. What blessings would a widow be able to give?” Widows were meant to stick together and do pujas. Not mingle freely with married women. They were a bit of a curse.

The conversation went on to have a heated discussion where I vehemently opposed this thought but no matter what I could not change the other person’s view point.

Many weeks later I was invited by a friend for a religious function. I was surrounded by couples and their children and I was the only divorced woman there. This was the first time I was invited for an auspicious occasion. I brought a big present and greeted my friend happily.

But I overheard, “What is she doing here? Isn’t she divorced? What blessings is she going to give the girl? To live her life independently and not think about the welfare of her husband or family?”

I finally understood why I haven’t been invited for so many other occasions. It wasn’t because I didn’t believe in the rituals of India (most of which I don’t) it was because a divorced woman or a widow wasn’t really welcome in a group of happily married couples. I was and the widow was – 

In a country where tradition, rituals, customs, sanskars hold such an important value that they overtake logic, reasoning and feeling, how can women ever be allowed into sacred territories. The Varanasi widows weren’t even allowed to play Holi.

There is something suspicious about divorced women and widows. It’s like in the olden times when a woman wasn’t allowed in the kitchen because of her menstruation. She was simply not holy then. 

We’ve chosen not to be holy today by not sticking to a marriage or not remarrying after the death of a husband. But then if your husband has died, you’re already besmirched with a tag that the woman is unlucky! So for her to even date, find happiness, remarry and be invited to an auspicious occasion would take a herculean task of overthrowing old patriarchy, deep rooted chauvinist notions and already formulated stone clad judgements on her character. God forbid she doesn’t wear white and actually dresses up, has a drink and a smoke once in a while, it won’t be the men who will be shocked, it will be other educated, liberated women!

As a divorced woman, in this evolving society there are a few people who understand your choices. Just a few. But then to be a successful, independent, arrogant, funny, woman who is living life on her own terms is frowned upon. She is kept away from the husband at all costs.

Recently I needed to call a man to help him with a business proposal that I thought would be good for him. I stated to his wife, “Can you please ask him from my side? I don’t have any husband’s numbers.”

She replied, “Good good. Don’t keep only.”

So I realised that until we divorced women and widows state it, women will not be allowed anywhere. There are only 5 ways we can break the inauspicious curse:
1.     To all wives out there – no matter how handsome and successful your man is, we don’t want him unless he wants us. And we will never make the first move. We have too much self-respect to do so.
2.     All women are equal. Just because you have a husband and family doesn’t mean that we’re lesser than you. Give, invite, welcome, accept, understand and love each woman equally and you’ll get that back from a dynamic woman as well.
3.     Don’t look at women from your high seated perspective. One day you might be one of them.
4.     If you don’t want the blessings of love, nurturing, experience, abundance, security, intelligence, dignity, honour, and respect to your home, child or function, don’t invite a widow or divorced woman. Because that’s what she will bless you with!
5.     Please keep your views to yourself so you don’t pass it onto your children who will be laughed at for being regressive and old fashioned if they do the same tomorrow.

Hopefully we won’t need to resort to high voltage activists to change the thinking of women in our society. Hopefully the realisation shall come from within.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Effect of Divorce on Men

It takes a lot to make a commitment in the first place. You’ve found the person of your dreams and you hope that you’ll grow old with them. So when the marriage crumbles and the fabric of this dream of togetherness starts unravelling there are two people who are left bruised and battered. We rarely see it from the husband’s point of view. Here are a few things that are going through a man’s mind when he’s getting a divorce:

1.     What do I do with my Children? - There are many men who are concerned about their children and not being able to wake up in the same house as them. They want to provide for their offspring but they also want time and love from their children. Harish Mukherjee* is in a bitter court battle against his wife who walked out on him with his two kids. She’s only allowing access to them if he hands over the property in which he is living and a fat alimony to look after the children. But Harish can’t give that because he’ll be out on the streets. So he hasn’t seen his kids. He realises that this will affect the children at a deeper level later in the future but he is helpless. For other men they feel that their children will pick sides and before they can do that, the man has moved away so that he doesn’t get hurt. For others they suddenly need to find time for children because it’s not easy to meet them every day. This leaves a sense of imbalance in their life.

2.     What happens to my Finances and Property? – When the man was living with his wife and children, he was looking after one house. But when a divorce happens, he needs to look after two houses, his own where he has shifted if he’s not gone back to staying with his parents and the one where his wife and children are still staying. A wife may also demand property in the settlement and it could cause a massive ego tussle since the man has worked hard to have savings and buy property and he believes his wife wants to snatch that away from him. There is a deep insecurity about how he will save again.

3.     How did I lose my authority? – Most boys grow up to believe that they’ll be the “man of the house.” Hence they have a lot of power and authority at home, especially if it’s a joint family. So when the woman leaves it’s a huge blow to their ego. Divorce Lawyer Swaty Singh Malik says most men who come to her say, “How can she leave me? I can leave her!” Suddenly when they’ve lost the power at home, men find it difficult to concentrate on other aspects in their life and may try to find that power and dominance over others in other spheres, says senior psychologist Gitali Chatterji at Inner Space.

4.     Who will love me again? – As soon as he’s got a divorce, a man may feel free and liberated and date many women. But it isn’t easy for a man to be alone. After a while he realises that his mind set has changed from what it was when he was in his twenties. He is now so used to having a wife and a family that he begins to crave it. Gautam Iyer refused to give his wife a divorce for many years believing that she will get back to him. After he was convinced that she will never return, he promptly signed the legal paper, got on a marriage website and married the first girl he dated.

5.     Why are people judging me? – Most divorces end in ugly battles with the woman filing a 498A or a Domestic Violence case against the husband. And most times it is true. But in the rare cases when it’s not true, the man is automatically judged by his friends, society and the children’s school where gossip flows freely and he is condemned unless proven innocent. Lawyer Swaty Singh Malik says she has handled many cases where the man has just given away crores to the wife to have peace of mind. She said women can use children and the media to get back at the husband and people will be sympathetic towards her. In not so extreme cases, a couple does lose friends. During the course of a marriage, couples begin to meet collectively. When a divorce happens friends choose sides and suddenly a man’s social circle diminishes. For a man who is shy, reserved and has made friends through his wife’s friends, he finds himself alone and friendless.

It’s not easy for men to get a divorce. And even though they may not show it, they are heartbroken and insecure too. Most men should know that there are support groups who can help them in this difficult time. You must also reach out to your family and friends and talk to them, instead of bottling up your emotions. A good lawyer can also advise you on the correct steps to take. And most importantly don’t shy away from seeing a counsellor in your city who can help you deal with the issues at a core level. 

*(names changed to protect identity)

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