I was recently invited to speak at the fourth edition of the Pune International Literature Festival (PILF) on ‘Women, Relationships and Law: From Single to Singlehood.’ One of my co-panellists was Mrunalini Deshmukh, a top divorce lawyer who has successfully handled several celebrity divorce cases. She has also written a book, Breaking up: Your guide to getting divorced.
The author shared why she felt the need to write such a book. Often in her lengthy (and illustrious) career, she has come across badly handled cases where couples, especially women, remain in the dark about their rights and other important and relevant aspects of the divorce law of the country. As a fiction writer who writes on modern day relationships (including on the changing face of marriage, infidelity and divorce), I was intrigued to hear her thoughts based on her real-life experiences as a lawyer.
Our discussion also compelled me to consider how vulnerable women are when their marriage ends.
In our largely patriarchal setup, not only is such a woman judged and blamed by the society for being unable to save her marriage, but the safety and security that the institution of marriage offers is suddenly snatched away from her, leaving her devastated and broken in every way.
And to top it all, her lack of awareness about her rights worsens her situation. I personally know of many such cases.
However, I also know of women who are an inspiration to many in the way they’ve managed to overcome the challenges posed by their divorce. This is the story of one such woman, also a dear friend, who was divorced for the flimsiest of the reasons but refused to let it destroy her spirit and love of life. Although I knew her story, I interviewed her especially for this article.
Indu Khattar was married in 1984. Like any other young girl her age, she was excited and had dreams for her future. Her groom belonged to a well-to-do family from Rajasthan. It was an arranged marriage.
“On our wedding night,” she disclosed, “I innocently told him about my false tooth and all hell broke loose. He became furious and accused my parents and me of being liars. He said we had cheated him and his family and immediately asked for a divorce.”
“I was left speechless at his reaction. We were on our honeymoon and had so many plans but he booked our return tickets for the next day, that very night. Four humiliating months after my marriage, during which my family tried to reason with my husband, I was divorced.”
Related reading: A dreamy love story that became a real-life nightmare
The experience left a scar on Indu’s heart but she didn’t dwell on her misfortune for too long. Soon she picked up the threads of her life and started her own garment business. Her focussed approach and astute business sense stood her in good stead and she became financially secure, bought a house and even took care of her ailing dad who passed away a few years ago. But she never considered remarriage. She says she lost trust in the institution. Today she travels the world, has plenty of friends and doesn’t regret anything in life.
Indu says, “My broken teeth broke my marriage. But today I lead a very satisfied and happy life. My only advice to other couples would be, first, don’t be in a hurry to end your marriage, but if, unfortunately, you have to, end it respectfully.”
“Treat each other with the dignity both of you deserve as fellow humans.”
Her story is a lesson for all the women out there who feel that divorce is the end of the world. It may be painful and unfortunate, but it is definitely not the end. On the contrary, it’s a new beginning.
Team Bonobology spoke to divorce lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh
In my experience as a lawyer, I have come across some cases where the reasons for divorce were quite trivial. In one such case, the husband was a well-known technical person from Bollywood who had married a lady (who was my client) who was very pretty, but having spent her childhood and part of her youth in a small town, she was not very conversant with English, despite being a graduate. Her husband probably knew this before the wedding, as they belonged to the same caste and community.
He had a very hectic social life as part of the film industry, and on several occasions his wife had to accompany him. There were constant disputes between the husband and wife about her inability to converse with his friends and colleagues in English, which was causing him embarrassment in his social circle. She was otherwise a completely devoted wife and since he lived with his parents, she took good care of his parents and the house. His parents were very fond of her and very supportive. However, the husband was adamant and wanted a legal separation; therefore, he filed for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty. Among the reasons he cited, the major one was that his wife did not know how to speak English and was unable to socialise, causing him humiliation, which lowered his standing in his social and professional circle.
After he filed the petition, the wife came to me and we had a joint meeting with the husband and his lawyer to resolve the issues amicably. During those meetings he continued to remain adamant. Since the husband’s family was wealthy, I suggested that he could enrol his wife in a good finishing school and English classes. The wife was willing to comply. However, the husband “was not interested in spending any more time or investing in his wife.” After much negotiation, the lady and her parents were convinced that there was no future for the relationship and finally agreed to divorce by mutual consent. She received alimony, since she was not well qualified academically or professionally.
Mrs. Mrunalini Deshmukh is a renowned lawyer practicing over a decade and a half with special expertise in Family Law. She has to her credit several conferences and events where she has addressed national and international audience on various subjects of her expertise. She has authored a book on Divorce ‘Breaking-Up Your Step-by- Step Guide to Getting Divorced’ published by Penguin Publications.