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Status Of Single And Divorced Persons In India

An individual who remains single and never marries feels out of place, socially and culturally. Traditionally, single persons were supposed to be the responsibility of the extended family, and this tradition still continues. Remaining single is more acceptable for men than it is for women. When a woman is not married, it is assumed that there is something wrong with her; she may be very difficult to get along with, she may be uncompromising, and therefore she is single. Single men and women are not allowed to participate in religious festivities and marriage celebrations because it is considered unlucky, unholy, and inauspicious (Rao and Rao 1976). Traditionally, parents who could not find a suitable match for their daughters were ostracized and looked down on.

Divorce was not even a remote possibility or even thought of until recent times (Kakar 1998; Mullatti 1995). In India, there is a cultural, religious, and social stigma associated with divorce. Community disapproval is stronger for divorced women than it is for divorced men (Lessinger 2002).

Studies of divorced, separated, and deserted women show that a majority of them experience serious financial problems, and as a result, many of them are unable to provide food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and their children (Kumari 1989; Mullatti 1995; Pothen 1989).

After a divorce, Indian women also experience a multitude of problems in the social arena. Because there are very few divorced, separated, or single-parent families, minimal or little social support is available to them. Divorced Indian women encounter greater social barriers to dating and remarriage (Amato 1994; Mullatti 1995). Moreover, they are hesitant to make friends with men (either single or married) because the friendliness might be misinterpreted to mean that the woman is frivolous, immoral, and sexually permissive. As a matter of fact, a large proportion of divorced women reported problems with sexual harassment, in the workplace and on the social scene (Amato 1994; Mehta 1975; Pothen 1986). According to Paul Amato (1994), most Indians consider sexual relations outside of marriage as unacceptable for women, so most divorced women's sexual needs are unfulfilled unless she remarries, and remarriage for an Indian woman is relatively uncommon. It is, therefore, not surprising that a majority of Indian divorced women experience problems with loneliness (Choudhary 1988; Pothen 1986).

As a result of social stigmatization and familial ostracism, a majority of divorced women in India set up their own households and become self-sufficient (Choudhary 1988; Mehta 1975; Pothen 1989). Satya Leela (1991) found that one-fourth of separated and widowed mothers lived with relatives and only 5 percent were economically dependent on their families.

The doctrine of pativratya also makes it difficult for a woman to leave her husband; instead, an unhappily married woman is expected to accept her destiny—a notion strongly supported by the Hindu concept of predestination (Amato 1994). Amato further added that a divorcee with children generally was forced to make demands upon other male kin within the joint family, and this may interfere with a man's primary role obligation, that is, the economic support of his own spouse, children, and perhaps elderly parents. Hence, a woman without a husband (with the exception of a widowed mother) cannot be accommodated over the long term within the framework of the joint family structure without considerable compromise and tension.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsIndia - Caste System, Family Life And Family Values, Mate Selection And Marriage, Dowry System, Status Of Single And Divorced Persons In India