In India, marriage is an institution as far as Hindu marriage system is concerned. It is a contract in respect of Muslim marriages. It has been accorded a sense of gravity and sanctity by the holy scriptures of Hindu religion. Before 1955, there was no law governing divorce in the broad contours of Hindu law. This also emphasizes the fact that though marriages are made in heaven, they are respected to be sacrosanct on earth. The basic philosophy behind the marriage institution is that adjustment is the key for success of every marriage. Two persons coming from diverse backgrounds suddenly start living together as husband and wife after tying the nuptial knots. This philosophy of adjustment was based on the thinking that since nobody is perfect in this world, every person should accept the weaknesses of others and try to find a way out to move ahead in life. That is how one finds the odd couples living in tandem with each-other's company throughout the married life. During the last thousands of years, this thought process has yielded results in no uncertain terms. However, during the last few decades in particular, the institution of marriage is going through rough passage. This tendency is more prominently visible amongst women due to various reasons.

The past scenario:

From the beginning of the institution of marriage, the brides were supposed to move on to the house of groom's house by tradition. In a way, she was uprooted forcefully from one conducive and familiar environment in the name of marriage, and then was placed into a totally unknown and unfamiliar environment evoking fear and uncertainty in the heart of the bride. She was all apprehensive about the treatment she was going to meet in her new home where her in-laws, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, etc. lived together as a joint family. The new bride was expected to adjust with the whims and fancies of every new member of her new home. Factually, she had to make more adjustments than her counterpart, her husband. In the process, many a married women were forced to live a tragic and listless life devoid of any enthusiasm in life. They were asked to be docile and mute spectator in order to maintain family traditions and the social customs. She was also expected to adjust to the foibles and weaknesses of her husband whom she thought of saviour and protector. In the majority of such marriages, the women had to bear the brunt of this pious institution which resulted in initiating a silent revolt against the marriage and the institution of marriage itself. One major catalyst for this gradual disenchantment was, undoubtedly, the spirit of male chauvinism which often took upperhand at the time when the wives needed support of their husbands.

The women as wives had to bear this ignominy and agony for various reasons. First, after marriage, their own parents used to forsake them for all practical purposes. It was the societal norm that after marriage, the house of in-laws was the real home for their daughters-cum-wives. It was customary to say that after marriage, the wife's dead body shall be allowed to leave her husband's home. That implied that she was constrained to live in the prevailing conditions of her husband's home throughout her life till the end. She was robbed of the comforting idea of moral support of her parents and family in the long run practically.

The next important reason was the negligible rate of literacy amongst the women which incapacitated them mentally to think about greener pastures. This was possibly the most significant aspect of their pitiable condition as wives. Thirdly, there was total absence of divorce laws within the ambit of Hindu law till 1955, when the Hindu Marriage and Divorce Act was passed in the first decade of India's independence. This Act paved the way for divorce for the women, in particular, who were living under the thraldom of their husbands and their in-laws family. Lastly, as has been discussed above, they found no support system emanating from their biological parents who nurtured them in the best possible manner.

The journey ahead:

During the late nineteenth century and onwards, the focus was shifted to girls' education and several schools and colleges were opened throughout the country for this purpose. A number of social reformers, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Savitri Bai Phule, Annie Besant and others were largely instrumental in spreading the message of girl education through their powerful writings and speeches. The government also belatedly responded to their clarion call and enacted several legislations to this effect. Armed with proper education instilled the much-needed confidence into women to stand up against the social injustices prevailing at that time. Secondly, the Constitution of free India accorded the status of equality to women in practically all aspects of life. The Directive Principles of State Policy, Articles 14, 15 of the Fundamental Rights, and several other provisions contained in the Constitution gave wings to the fancies of women to fly in the open sky. Besides, several laws were also passed by the successive governments to ensure women's rights to protect them from social predicaments and many unpalatable traditions. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and the Sexual Harassment of women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 are some examples in this regard. All these and changing scenario worldwide has enormously impacted the women's thinking process and their attitudes towards society in general.

The modern perspective

In the twentieth century and onwards, a sea-change has dawned in the mindset of women including wives due to the impact of higher educational background and also the economic independence as a fall-out of more and more opportunities coming their way. They appear to be more confident and self-reliant than before. They feel equal with menfolk and are not ready to be cowed down by the unwanted societal norms. This has deeply affected their perception about marriage also. The age-old scars of existing marriage system could not be diluted by the passage of time. As a consequence, the following developments have come to the surface which needs elaboration:

  1. The modern marriages are taking place quite late agewise. This is because of completion of education at the highest level. The girls especially feel that if they are having good educational background, they will become more eligible for jobs which will give them economic independence. Neither the boys or the girls are in hurry to go for marriage early. Thus, the marriages are taking place at the mature age.
  2. Many girls want to go for a compatibility check before marriage for the sake of future security. For this, they are espousing the phenomenon of live-in relationship where both the girl and the boy resort to living together for no certain time. If they find after some time, that they are compatible to each-other, the marriage is the next step. Otherwise, both are separated. This phenomenon is becoming popular among youths rapidly. However, in a number of cases, this experiment does not succeed because of different reasons, giving a feeling of loss and dejection. Even after living in each-other's company for more than a decade, the couple chooses to bid adieu forever. This exposes the vulnerability of this new phenomenon and the thought process also.
  3. Taking a cue from the unsuccessful marriages, either at home or in the neighborhood, many a young girls are shying away from the institution of marriage. They prefer to remain single till they find the suitable boy at any period of time. Such women apparently look contented and happy in their own way.
  4. The success rate of marriages taking place is very low. Even in cases where both the spouses know each-other fairly low, early divorce is being sought on flimsy grounds. On analysing the causes of such stark steps, it is generally found that ego plays a vital role behind divorce proceedings. The modern girls are not ready to play a second fiddle to their male counterparts. They are equal with menfolk as per the laws of the land and the Indian Constitution. Gone are the days when the wives used to follow the diktats of their husbands with bowed heads. Until the men don't change their mindset, this problem of separation and divorce will enhance in the future.


Thus, it is clear from above discussion that the fissures are fast appearing in the existing marriage system which needs urgent reforms. However, the new experiments are also not succeeding in the way it was expected to be. The real problem lies not in the formats of marriage but in our attitude and the way of thinking. The boys must start treating the girls as not inferior to them in any sense. They enjoy equal status legally and constitutionally in our country. Once they start respecting each-other as equal and partners in life's journey, a loving bond will automatically develop between them. Moreover, they will have to inculcate the feeling of adjustment towards mutual weaknesses and distractions with a view that nobody is perfect on earth. So we have to bear with the shortcomings of our partners. Marriage institution has proved its worth in the past and there is need to sustain this institution. It gives sustenance to life and adds flavour and meaning to otherwise humdrum routine which we undergo in the name of life.

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