Marriages are doomed: Why not have a short-term contract instead?

If you want you can renew your vows every two, five or ten years after the tenure expires.

 |  Angiography  |  6-minute read |   14-09-2015
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So Konkona Sensharma and Ranvir Shorey are ending their marriage of five years. The acclaimed actors are going the splitsville way over irreconcilable differences - the commonest virus to kill the organism that's marital union.

India supposedly still has the lowest divorce rates in the world, with about one in 1,000 marriages collapsing, according to a 2011 study. However, the grand aggregate gives a misleading picture since India has split into a kaleidoscope of mini nations, with urban conglomerations behaving like parallel universes of social mores and expectations. Divorce rates in cities, particularly metropolises like New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, are sky-rocketing, along with the coffee shops and bistros and IT offices and smaller media groups, which are mushrooming at every nook and cranny.

With the exit option now present like a low-hanging fruit, shouldn't marriage itself undergo a radical reconfiguration? With a horde of in-between arrangements, such as live-in relationships, civil partnerships, open relationships, casual dating, hookups, extended courtships, long-distance and digital romance all operational under a single roof of heteronormative desire (coming to homoerotic desire in a bit), marriage, in its present "un-upgraded" state looks like a singular pterodactyl among a demography of cooler and evolutionarily more adapted creatures.

Moreover, marriage, that is still as exclusionary as it used to be in the past, with chunks of populace inadmissible under its hallowed premises because of their sexual orientation, or because their desires are outside the set boundaries prescribed by Manusmriti or Hadith, is like a woolly mammoth in the age of unprecedented global warming.

Because I cannot distribute my friends and acquaintances almost neatly and equally among the abovementioned categories (they are spawning categories as I write), a general observation (since my job, most of the time, is to be the "participant observer") is all I can offer. And a general suggestion. Naturally, this may get your goat. Or not.

Let's face it. Marriage is the same wine in a pricier bottle, with a lot many, a lot, lot many, more paper work. And expenditure. Since even children out of wedlock and single mothers are now not that much of a rarity, and if not less frowned upon, we are gradually approaching a state of sexual eclecticism. There's a furious jostling for space among older and newer mores of sexual behaviour, a phenomenon, which while interacting with the fellow axes of identity politics - the usual suspects such as class, caste, religion, language - is certainly impacting marriage. Its rate of occurrence, rate of dissolution, and some such credentials.

It's time that the social contract that is marriage undergoes an overhaul. Realities today are astronomically different from the time laws were written down to solemnise marriages. In India, a 19th century colonial law, with all its Victorian hangovers, exists, with versions according to your religion. The Hindu Marriage Act (1955), the Indian Christian Marriage Act (1872), Islamic Marriage law, Special Marriage Act (1954) - every legal provision, no matter how diverse in their respective composition and allowances, however, stands united in one thing. Every marriage is supposed to a happily ever after, with an assumed life-time validity.

Yes, divorce is easier than ever before, despite the slow poisoning by law. But marriage itself, the marital contract, comes bundled with a beautiful but utterly invalidated delusion - that of lifelong togetherness.

Also read: How sex via dating apps is drilling a hole in 'good' Indian culture

Earlier, couples used to part ways because they were miserable. Now, in the age of Tinder and other dating/hookup apps, they separate because they can be happier. There's a multiplex of desire out there - a veritable shopping mall of love and sex. In this cornucopia of sexual appetite, how can marriage, with its termite-eaten scaffold, hold the water?

It's leaking from everywhere. The M-seals of impulse and first-year romance are coming unstuck in no time. The holed cauldron that is marriage is getting weaker by the day, unable to hold steady the rapidly changing broth that is contemporary togetherness.

Instead of coming with a lifelong validity (which most of us know to be a lie anyway), why not divide it up into shorter time durations? Literally, like a phone or a job contract. Let marriage come with a five-year validity, or a ten-year one, and no more. At the end of it, if everything is working fine, or if the partners are willing to repair whatever's creaking and croaking badly, then you can "renew your vows". For another five, ten or twenty years.

Obviously, the option to exit anytime still remains an important gateway to self-reliance. But doesn't marriage with a time length seem much more in tune with the pace and time of our frenetic, velocity-obsessed materialistic lives? Isn't it geared better towards the individual, who doesn't have to dissolve his/her individuality at the sacrificial altar of marriage? And children, well, isn't it better for the young ones to see a timed contract run its course rather than be exposed to ugly spats and alimony wars that legal separation inevitably entails?

Needless to say, the "saat-janam-ke-bandhan" brigade, measuring life "chutkis of sindoor" instead of coffee spoons, will find this offensive, even though they earnestly believe marital rape is a myth. Probably, the Jesus-loving Catholics, who until recently were frowning upon divorce, would brand it blasphemous. The triple-talaq bandwagon, with their penchant for the Skype and text versions, would consider this modest proposal an assault on their prophetic traditions.

But think about it. Every time two consenting adults and two marital partners decide to renew their vows, re-enter the contract, it will be a matter of unbridled joy and celebrations. While anniversaries can be reminders of years of togetherness, the remarriage, to each other, will trump any anniversary whatsoever. Or they can be anniversary-cum-rewedding. What a gala!

And in case, bitterness has crept in and parting of ways has become unavoidable, the contract needn't be renewed. Financially and legally, the partners at least would have had the warning and time to get things in order. Fend for the children accordingly.

Foregrounding the contractual nature of marriage and letting it become a deal done in installments will only strengthen and empower us as sexually and politically empowered beings. Such an arrangement will not teach us to unlearn everything because we're now married. Our networks and communities of engagement will not be severed from us, as we reclaim our roles as self-aware citizens, less discriminating towards those who are single by choice. Patriarchy gets a body blow as women become equal partners in a contract, not cattle bought and sold in the flesh market of arranged marriages.

An unromanticised marriage is a better marriage. Not necessarily with less heartbreaks but certainly with more empowerment. And agency. The vows will ring truer when they say, "I do, for now". 

Writer

Angshukanta Chakraborty Angshukanta Chakraborty @angshukanta

Opinionator at DailyO. Because criticism is the opium of the classes.

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