Divorce: Process and Correlates a Cross-Cultural Study

By Ranga Rao, A. B. S. V.; Sekhar, K. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview

Divorce: Process and Correlates a Cross-Cultural Study


Ranga Rao, A. B. S. V., Sekhar, K., Journal of Comparative Family Studies


Numerous studies in the sociological literature in the west have examined and analysed the phenomenon of divorce and its implications (Goode, 1956; Bohannon, 1970; Bumpass and Sweet, 1972; Becker, 1977; Levinger, 1979; Mott and Moore, 1979; Hetherington, 1979; Kitson, 1982: Kitson and Sussman, 1982; Teachman, 1982; Kitson et al., 1983; Glenn and Supanic, 1984; Weiss, 1984; Wright, 1985; Glick, 1986; Price and Me Kenry 1988; White and Booth, 1991; Amato and Booth, 1991 and Amato, 1994).

In India, considerable research on divorce has been documented, albeit on lesser scale compared to the west (Kuppuswamy, 1957; Fonseca, 1966. Mehta, 1975; Kundu and Ghosh, 1977; Pothen, 1986; Choudhary, 1988; Kumari, 1989; Desai, 1991 and Badiger and Krishnaswamy, 1999). The main reasons for the limited number of empirical studies on divorce in India, are the lower divorce rates, and lack of adequate data (Amato, 1994). As the studies, despite offering vital insights into the subject, circumscribed their scope to the demographic and causative factors of divorce, the "pre-divorce" stage, which is a crucial determinant of "divorce process", has not received adequate attention. Every family system, at all times had been relying on some kind of in-built mechanism that allows individuals to survive the pressures and exigencies of the system, among which 'divorce' is one. Divorce is "... the legal dissolution of a socially and legally recognised marital relationship that alters the obligations and privileges of the two persons involved. It is also a major life transition that has far-reaching social, pathological, legal, personal, economic and parental consequences" (Price and McKenry. 1988).

Goode (1963) views divorce as a possible but disapproved solution for marital conflict in many societies and an index of social change. As a social phenomenon, divorce is not only one of the parameters of interpersonal strain in the marital relationship, but also reflects on the inadequacies and deficiencies in the functional aspects of the institution of marriage. Divorce does not represent societal decay; instead it is seen as an escape valve -- a way out of dysfunctional marriage (Price and Mc Kenry, 1988). Chester (1997) looks at it as an idealized view of marriage. A definite connection between high divorce rates and characteristics of social disorganisation has not been established (Leslie, 1979). Therefore, the interpretation of high divorce rate as a symptom of social disorganisation may not stand objective scrutiny.

Indian Situation:

In the Vedic society marriage was regarded as indissoluble by human endeavour. Among the Smritis (1) those of Narada and Parasara (2) hold that marriage could be ended on the ground of husband's impotency, while the later Dharmasastras (3) and Puranas (4) (200-1200 A.D.) forbade woman's claim for divorce even in the wake of desertion by her husband. The controversial and popular code of Manu (5), while repudiating the woman's right for divorce declared that a wife could remarry if the previous marriage was not consummated. The conditions, during the Buddhist period were more or less the same. During the medieval period, the steady decline of egalitarian and progressive ethos in the Indian society resulted in denial of leverage to women.

In the later centuries the British India Government, supported by enlightened Indians introduced several social reforms in the form of legislation that gave an impetus to the process of social change. The civil marriage act, 1872, which enforced monogamy is a milestone as far as laws meant to ensure social justice and equality were concerned. In addition to the special marriage act of 1926 individual states and presidencies enacted a number of laws from 1920 to 1952 to facilitate dissolution of marriages (Gupta, 1999). Kolhapur state enacted legislation in 1920s, validating the dissolution of marriage in the 1920's, Baroda state in 1942, Bombay in 1947 and Madras and Saurastrain 1949 and 1952 respectively (Choudhury, 1988). …

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