Sunaina Saraf married the love of her life at the age of 20. But 16 years later, she realized their relationship to be “incompatible with different values and very little common ground”.
“Instead of staying in the marriage, I thought it was time to move on,” Saraf said of her divorce.
In recent times, women in conservative Nepali society have been able to put aside social stigmas attached with the “break-ups” of their marriages. Urbanization coupled with modernization along with female empowerment have strengthened women to take bold and radical steps which were once considered taboo in Nepali society.
Financial security and job opportunities have enabled women to “take decisions” and “move forward” rather than staying in an “unwanted relationship”.
The latest figures from Kathmandu District Court indicate a rise in the number of divorce cases.
A total of 640 cases were registered in 2062/63 BS, while the number has jumped to 1,039 in 2065/66 BS and almost doubled to 1,203 in 2066/67 BS. According to Bharat Lamsal, registrar at the court, 80% of the cases are filed by women.
“This shows that women don’t want to be suppressed anymore,” he said. “They now know of their rights,” he further elaborated.
Mamata Karmacharya opted for divorce after 15 years of marriage.
“He was never devoted toward the family nor showed responsibility toward our children,” she said of her then husband.
And after years of separation alongside continuous meddling from her family, the now 44-year-old decided to lead her own way.
“I thought I could be independent to raise my children and have my own identity,” said she who is a mother of two daughters, aged 22 and 24.
Bala Ram Acharya, sociology lecturer and former department head of sociology at Nepal Humanities Campus, sees the rising trend of divorce among women, especially in urban areas, as a “new trend” within Nepali society, which depicts “a relationship between divorce and social cultural change”.
Acharya, in his research “Sociological Analysis of Divorce: A case study from Pokhara, Nepal,” concludes that divorce should be looked upon as a multidimensional approach with reference to contemporary socio-cultural patterns.
The major reasons for divorce, as cited in his research are economic hardships, sexual maladjustments, unequal social, economic and educational status and the wife being barren, among others.
The first written legal code of Nepal, known as the Muluki Ain 1910 BS, permitted a man to leave his wife by a method of sinko-kati chuttinu, meaning breaking a small stick by the husband indicating a legal recognition as divorce.
However, Chapter 12 of ‘On Husband and Wife’ in the Naya Muluki Ain, New Legal Code 2020 BS, grants divorce on the following basis: (i) The wife or the husband must have resided at separate locations for a period of at least three years; (ii) Either the wife or the husband must have engaged in a conspiracy against the life of the other, or have committed a crime of serious physical assault against the other causing grave injuries; (iii) The wife is found to have engaged in an extra-marital sexual affairs or to have eloped; (iv) The wife has made a confession in a competent court that she has had sexual relations with somebody else besides her husband (Muluki Ain, 10th amendment 2055).
The rules of court also allow women to directly file a case for divorce, whereas men have to appeal through their Village Development Committee or the Municipality. In September 2010, the Supreme Court issued a directive order to the Legislature-Parliament to rectify divorce laws that have been challenged as being discriminatory towards men.
However, senior lawyer Sudheer Shrestha, shared that in Nepal, where women are still considered the weaker sex, the law’s inclination toward women is reasonable. However, he pointed out that the social scene is changing and with that women are becoming aware of their rights.
In the last 25 years of his practice, Shrestha informed that he deals with six to seven divorce cases a year as compared to one or two every two years.
“Women are enlightened now,” he said. “They don’t want to be in a suppressed and an abusive relationship.
They are confident and independent enough to go to the court.”
Looking at the average age for divorce, according to Lamsal from the Kathmandu District Court, is between 20 and 35 years. According to Acharya, analyzing from a sociological perspective, this is the age when people are developing their careers and have high expectations.
Also, they lack crisis management skills and tend to take decisions abruptly.
“However, cases might be different,” he noted.
In Saraf’s case, her divorce was conducted with mutual understanding and “it was a relief” rather than being an unhappy one for both parties. After the separation, she kept herself busy with work that helped garner positive attitude and lead a normal life.
Sociologist Acharya observes that modern times have allowed women to become more liberal, since they have multiple opportunities to explore.
“Before people were bound by culture, religion and community,” he said. “They feared if they could sustain after divorce. But now it’s changing.” He further elaborated.
And in changing times, women like Saraf and Karmacharya have initiated ventures on their own to support their children. Both concurred that being a single parent is challenging, however, it isn’t impossible. Though Saraf has remarried, Karmacharya has sought to support her daughters on her own.
Nonetheless, sociologist Acharya quickly points out, that the other changing trend fueling the rate of divorce in modern times is foreign employment with lack of trust between the spouses acting as a major catalyst.
Also, “artificial divorce” pertains in Nepali society where people get separated to go abroad or gain residency permits by marrying foreign nationals.
“And in many ethnic communities, the customary divorce practice that takes place within the community without any legal formalities is unaccounted for”, he added.
Whatever the case may be, Acharya said that women seeking divorce should be independent or be willing to take those challenges since Nepali society still looks down upon divorcees.
Saraf, concurs but at the same time believes that women shouldn’t compromise their lives for the sake of living up to social norms.
“It’s [divorce] not a fashionable thing to do, but if the marriage isn’t working, you just have to move on and find something that makes you happy,” she said.
But what I think would be more interesting to discuss is the rights that women in the divorce process: how is property divided, how is custody awarded, etc. These are the things that would be of interest...for example, are there standards for Child Support or Alimony?