Marriage and Family in Changing Times

Prof. Rasal Singh

A division bench of the Kerala High Court, while hearing a divorce petition, has issued some sweeping observations regarding marriage, and its sacredness in the society. The entire order sheet of Justice A Muhamed Mustaque and Justice Sophie Thomas serves as a mirror to the society indulged neck-deep in materialism and (over) consumptive behaviour. While this consumerist culture may paint pictures of happy ‘mall going intellectual’ marriages and Benetton-wearing families, the reality is entirely opposite. The bench highlighted how the present generation apparently views marriage as an evil to be avoided for enjoying a free life without any liabilities or obligations. Thus, for the sake of reckless joy, social responsibility like marriage is either evaded or nuptial ties are broken for “flimsy” or “selfish” reasons. Further, this generation would expand the word ‘WIFE’ as ‘Worry Invited for Ever’ substituting the old concept of ‘Wise Investment for Ever’. Similar thinking prevails in girls’ minds about their husbands. Live-in relationships, which can be abandoned at any time, are on the rise. Although, the Court remarks were confined to the society of Kerala; however, the above trend is observed/ predominates pan India. It is no longer constrained to educated, urban, and affluent classes; even the uneducated/under-educated, rural, and poor sections of society are equally affected. Changing priorities and values are the root cause of this behaviour. The present generation, apathetic about the institution of marriage, is a victim of west-driven eclectic culture and is determined to muffle and destroy the institution of marriage. Undoubtedly, Court’s observation is an acknowledgment and expression of social deviance, a situation where marriage became less of the prevailing norm for adult in a relationship, and it’s replacement by Live-in in Gen Z is truly bothersome.
The court issued the order while dismissing the appeal filed by a 34-year-old man from Alappuzha, challenging the verdict of the family court rejecting divorce. The man sought to dissolve the marriage with his wife on the grounds of cruelty. According to him, their marital relationship was irretrievably broken and so he wanted a decree of divorce. He further claimed that his wife developed some behavioural abnormalities and picked up fights with him alleging that he had illicit relationships with other women. It is to be noted that the wife from whom this person seeks divorce; is also the mother of his three children. However, the court dismissed his plea for talaq citing that when the wife had reasonable grounds to suspect the fidelity of her husband, and if she questions him, or expresses her deep pain and sorrow before him, it cannot be termed as a behavioural abnormality, as it is a natural human response and not any kind of cruelty. The questions and concerns raised by the Court in the background of disposal of this petition are of tremendous relevance as they not only focus on changing contemporary scenarios, social relationships, and values of life, but at the same time call for deep reflection and reformations at the individual and societal level.
Marriage is the most pristine institution of mankind, on which the entire bedrock of society rests. It is a universally accepted institution that is rooted in all societies of diverse cultures. A social relationship that not only connects two individuals rather it is a union of two families and societies at large. Complementarity and interdependence are its core foundation. It is one of the ethical aspects of social life established by the people based on social norms and regulations. The creation of social arrays such as fraternity and kinship are also outcome of marriage. The resolve of two individuals to hold on together with each other is the speciality of the institution of marriage. Further, this union between two people serves as the necessary motivation and inspiration to nurture their family. If there is one cohesive, cementing force at the heart of traditional Indian society – a single, powerful strand that for centuries, has woven the tapestry of our rich, social fabric replete with diversity, into a whole – it is our family system. The family is perhaps the first learning centre of social traits. Even though the role of marriage in social life is highly appreciated, many people opt for divorce and disrupt their family linkage. If, the institution of marriage is in danger today, the family will also be in danger. The absence of family will in turn result in self-centred individuals who are a threat to society. Today the foundation of society seems to be shaking.
Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization are universal realities. Today’s world is witnessing domination of west-inspired consumerist culture in almost every sphere of human life. Rising consumerism and consumerist behaviour are affecting and distorting social life on a large scale. Indian society is not less affected by it. Free and blind consumption and ruthless abandonment after consumption are the essence of this culture. Selfishness and self-survival are its driving force and attainment goals. The storm of consumerism is hell-bent on uprooting the core values of life like collectivism, harmony, dedication, tolerance, and cooperation. ‘Use and throw’ is the life thread of this culture. Throw out what is of no longer in use, what is not relevant to your life, your world; Be it a thing, a person, a relationship, or any value. Self-obsessed hedonism is the impetus of consumerist culture.
Devaluation of marriage as a source of sexual pleasure or as a guarantee for free sex is the root cause of the problem. Further, it is important to understand that when a couple agrees to marriage, they choose a life together. This decision on marriage is no consent to sex. The notion that the marriage is a by-default consent to sex is ridiculous! Both men and women have the autonomy to refuse sex when they don’t want it, for whatever reason. An individual’s bodily integrity should be protected both inside and outside of marriage. Marriage is not a concession to human weakness, but a means for spiritual growth. Man and woman are soulmates who, through the institution of marriage, can direct the energy associated with their instincts and passion into the upliftment of their souls.
Today’s youth is gasping under the weight of exorbitant expectations and ambitions. So, either they don’t want to get married, or marry too late. The list of qualities and material attainments to be sought in a would-be bride/groom is both preposterous and excessive to an extent that the mind never settles for anything less. It often becomes too late when the checklist is matched. Also at t the ripe age, there is lack of flexibility and patience that is needed to adapt to circumstances and to understand each other. Fertility also declines with age. This further creates dissatisfaction and discontent, and the person becomes a victim of a mirage of his/ her inflated expectations and starts feeling stifled in the matrimonial life. Also, cinema has projected a false image of how a love/married life should be in the minds of common people, and when it doesn’t match their expectations, they feel depressed.Information networks and machines have also absorbed the essence of relationships and the sense of togetherness. Today, relations be it that of a husband-wife, father-son, mother-daughter, or for that matter even lovers despite residing under the same roof barely spend time together and behave as strangers, courtesy the infiltration of the social media. Riding on the shoulders of mobiles social media is gradually invading our family lives impeding our close and intimate moments and bonds with our near dear ones, there by tearing our families apart. Children and the elderly are the worst affected as they have been frequently neglected.
Live-in Relationship, which means living together as a couple without getting married, is a growing trend globally. Social Censure and lack of commitment are the biggest cons of such types of relationships. It is an easy way out to bid goodbye to a relationship in case of displeasure and discontent after a short period, without any social-legal hindrance. Due to the increasing trend of such relationships, the judiciary has given many landmark judgments to add a sense of responsibility to ‘live-in’ relationships. In the race to get modernized, we are somewhere forgetting our cultural values and have started considering them outdated. It is easy to walk-in and walk-out of the live-in relationship as compared to marriage, the latter is a more systematic way of living, compared to the former.
Over the years, the number of couples who want to break up with each other, children abandoned by their parents, and frustrated-hopeless divorcees in Indian society have increased alarmingly. Breaking the marital bond owing to selfish reasons without caring about one’s children and engaging in extramarital affairs has become the current trend. This further leads to the disintegration of social peace, security, order, and promotes corruption in society. Misrepresenting sacred and recognized institutions like marriage and family as handcuffs of female life is a favourite pastime of self-proclaimed feminists. They see it as a hindrance to women’s development. They regard marriage as a mere social settlement. The irresponsible freedom propounded and encouraged by them promotes social anarchy and disorder.
The institutions of marriage and family are the best achievements of the civilization. These institutions and their inherent traits such as sacrifice, loyalty, commitment, love, and dedication have always been a matter of character and pride, especially for India. It is a sacred and essential sacrament of Sanatan Sanskriti since Vedic times. Marriage and family have played a central role in the making of the ashram system. The institution of marriage makes society and the society plays critical role in protecting marriages. Marriage gives the society family and children which are the foundation of any society. Increased divorce rates and inclination toward Live-in is certainly a worrisome trend. Introspection and reformation is the need of the hour. It’s time now that people across the globe are more empathetic and liberal towards the concept of union of two people in marriage and start treating both the man and woman equally in this institution. With the social acceptance of equality of men and women in marriage, the divorce rates will decrease considerably, and the world will be one happy place to live in. Further, taking cognizance of the observations of the Kerala High Court, other institutions that accept and understand the importance of family in social life should come forward and work towards the promotion and protection of marriage and family as an institution. Both for it’s intrinsic good and it’s benefits to society, we need marriages. And just as important, we need informed discourse to make the public understand the imprtanceof marriage and family for the sustenance of human kind.
(The author is Dean, Students’ Welfare,
Central University of Jammu.)