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India gets liberal with divorce

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
In India, marriages are solemnized as a well-guarded union. But the country has moved to unshackle divorce.
In India, marriages are solemnized as a well-guarded union. But the country has moved to unshackle divorce.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • India seeks to speed divorces
  • Previous law required divorce by consent except for cruelty and desertion
  • New law adds "irretrievable breakdown"
RELATED TOPICS
  • India
  • Marriage

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- Caste and religion are potential headings on matrimonial columns of Sunday newspapers. At times, matchmaking classifieds profile mystical birth-chart defects of the candidates.

In India, marriages are solemnized as a well-guarded union.

But the country has now moved to at least unshackle divorce.

Officials Friday announced measures to stem delays in seeking an early end to failed alliances.

India's federal cabinet approved "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" as a ground for couples to part ways, information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni told reporters.

Under original Hindu marriage laws, both estranged partners have to appear at court proceedings for settlement of their lawsuit for divorce by consent.

But it's not uncommon for a petitioner to skip tribunal dates deliberately in order to keep the case dragging in India's notoriously sluggish legal system, authorities acknowledge.

"This has been causing considerable hardship to the party in dire need of divorce," Soni said.

Officials believe the new legislation, now due for clearance by parliament, will eliminate harassment of either party in the case and abuse of the existing law on dissolving marriages.

There was no official data on divorces immediately available, but matchmakers say four in 100 marriages fail in India.

With the country transforming into a modern economic powerhouse, divorce is increasingly seen as an acceptable way out of unsatisfying relationships.

"Divorce doesn't seem to be biased any more. It's uniform among all castes, cities and income groups," said Vivek Pahwa, the head of SecondShaadi.com, a marriage bureau for second-timers.

Pahwa's portal aims at India's internet-using divorcees, widows and widowers. More than one-fourth of his clients, he says, are women, especially in jobs.

"It's reflection of financial independence," he said. He was referring to a growing number of Indian women joining the workforce who he says refuse to remain trapped in unwanted marriages.

Indian laws allow limited one-sided separation.

Cruelty and desertion can serve as a premise for seeking divorce without consent.

Separately, the country has harsh laws to protect women, such as in cases of physical torture over dowries.

But data shows a surge in crimes against women.

Police across India registered 195,856 crimes against women in 2008, up from 140,601 in 2003, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.