Breaking up is hard to do

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By Anthony Deyal

The most common reasons people give for getting divorced are lack of commitment, too much arguing, infidelity, marrying too young, unrealistic expectations, lack of equality in the relationship, lack of preparation for marriage, and abuse. Actually, the number one cause of divorce is marriage.

When I was a youngster, people of Indian descent got married “under bamboo” in Hindu ceremonies conducted by their own “pundits” or priests. When I went to one of the weddings that took place under a “galvanise” roof (known as “Zinc” in Jamaica, Guyana and other Caribbean countries), I round it strange and asked my Uncle Slug, “How come they say the wedding under bamboo and the roof is galvanise?” He smiled wickedly and replied, “Well the bamboo is for the wedding night and plenty does pass.” Despite the bamboo, whether in the ceremony or the consummation, these weddings were not considered “lawful” by the state because they did not go through the “legal” process of registration in the Warden’s Office. This resulted in the children being deemed “illegitimate”.

However, the marriages lasted a long time mainly because they were arranged between the parents of the bride and groom (as my father used to say, “Big money pass and plenty cow and land) and regardless of how much of a drinker, beater or womaniser the husband was, the woman’s parents insisted that she remain with her husband. My mother was first married off at twelve and when she was taken to her husband’s home found that the man already had a wife in residence. Initially, her parents refused to take her back and insisted she remain with the man regardless. Eventually, she was allowed to return. They then hurriedly married her off to my father when she was fourteen and she had me, an “illegitimate” male child, at the ripe and experienced old age of fifteen.

Perhaps this is why India has the lowest divorce rate in the world. While more than 70 percent of marriages are still arranged, the love life of Indians is not so traditional. According to Victoria Simpson in “World Atlas”, “People have affairs, have many wives or husbands, engage in cross-dressing, take on lovers for pleasure, and do what people do all over the world in romance. They just do not get divorced.” Devdutt Pattanaik, Indian writer and illustrator, commented, “The notion of divorce in India’s legal system is highly connected with religious beliefs, and this could be what is dissuading people in the country from seeking an actual legal parting of the ways.”

Despite the low divorce rate, some Indians who applied for divorces gave what some people (and divorce court judges) thought were bizarre reasons for suing their spouses.

One man, angry because his wife partied too much, claimed it was “mental cruelty”. The Judge did not agree. Another told the judge that his wife was aggressive and autocratic with an insatiable appetite for sex. The man blamed his wife for forcing him to have sex even when he was sick, and she even threatened to sleep with other men if he did not give in to her demands. He got his divorce because the wife did not turn up for the hearing, since she may have been too busy holding court elsewhere. Another Indian man applied for a divorce because his wife could not cook like his mother, another because his wife refused to prepare tea for his friends, and a woman sued because she thought her husband’s house was too small.

The one that takes the cake, roti and papadum is a recent case where a Muslim woman approached the Sharia court in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India just 18 months after her marriage seeking a divorce from her husband on the grounds that he does not fight with her and that his love was “suffocating.” She complained, “Whenever I make a mistake, he always forgives me for that. I wanted to argue with him. I do not need a life where the husband agrees to anything.” When the court rejected her request, she took it up with the village “panchayat” or group of elders who decided to leave it alone. The distraught husband said he loved his wife and always wanted to keep her happy, so the court decided the couple should resolve the matter mutually.

In most Caribbean countries, especially when I was growing up, a man who behaved like the Uttar Pradesh husband would be made fun of by both men and women for being a “tantie man” and “letting the woman rule him.” I have heard women say, and not just in Trinidad, but also in Jamaica, Guyana and even Barbados, “ If he don’t beat you, he don’t love you.” I remember the time Jackson’s wife saw him entering the home of a woman known to the village as someone who “does take away other people man”. When, a few hours later, he returned home, Jackson beat his wife pretty badly and shouted loudly enough for the whole neighbourhood to hear that he was doing it because if she loved him, she would have made noise and “get on bad” when she saw him going into the woman’s house.

When I told that story to a female friend of mine, she was upset and responded angrily, “I wouldn’t have just beaten him or cut off his (bamboo) when he was sleeping but I would have divorced him as well.” The problem is that it is never easy to take such drastic and difficult steps. Some women, who have children for different men, are sometimes forced not just to take mental and physical cruelty but to ignore the sexual abuse of their daughters by their live-in lovers.

Despite all the reasons many people remain in relationships, there are some who let nothing stand in their way. A Japanese woman left her husband because he did not like the Disney movie “Frozen” as much as she did. She put him out in the cold. A Kuwaiti woman filed for divorce a week after her marriage because her husband ate his peas with bread instead of a fork. She considered it such a shocking sight that she got the fork out of the relationship. A British woman filed because her husband wanted her to dress as a Klingon (from Star-Trek). She got the Spock out. The one that I feel may soon come out of India and affect the rest of us is the case of a woman who got a divorce from her husband because after his wedding he refused to change his relationship status on Facebook to “married”.

*Tony Deyal was last seen repeating the reason a man, who prefers to remain anonymous, gave for getting a divorce, “I married Miss Right. I just didn’t know her first name was Always.”

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