An Outdated Institution?

  • Alka Gurha
  • India
  • Nov 19, 2012



In a national daily the noted film director, producer and scriptwriter Vikram Bhatt said, “Marriage is a defunct and  outdated institution. Marriage is socially encouraged and legally accepted, and this makes the compulsion to stay in a marriage more important than being happy in a marriage.” According to him the rules of marriage have been set on unequal grounds. India has the lowest divorce rate of 1.1 per cent – the UK has about 42.6 per cent and the US and Sweden are at 55 per cent. It seems the more 'progressive' the society, the higher the divorce rate.  Bhatt quotes an inebriated friend, “In a marriage, one person’s got to dish out the bullshit and another person’s got to take it, because if none of them takes it, and both dish it out, then there is just a pile of bullshit in the middle.” 

I get a whiff of a Bollywood-esque, over-the-top reaction when Bhatt debunks the institution of marriage and labels it as ‘outdated’.  To my mind we need to look at marriage from an angle other than that of the ‘progressive’ Bhatt prism. Undoubtedly, finding a life partner and getting married is a matter of personal choice. I have several friends who have chosen to remain single – though their faith in the institution of marriage remains unaltered.

Marriage as a concept symbolises civilization. Since it was necessary to provide legal and acceptable norms for a sustainable society, the institution of marriage became the building block of societies all over the world. In the process, the world has become more populous, more prosperous and more educated than ever before. Over time, with the concept of contraception, coupled with a sense of individuality, people began to ponder over the functionality of marriage

Is marriage just a piece of paper? In the world of surrogate and single mothers, do we need fathers at all? Many ‘progressive’ societies are debating such 'choices', when, ironically, their social fabric is rotting. In the US, the President, on the eve of the results, hugged his wife and said, “We are one big American family and we will face things together.” In the same ‘progressive’ nation, same sex couples are fighting to legalise their marriage, to make life long commitments. Perhaps togetherness and commitment are the key words. Marriage is all about facing the tumults of life together. 

Needless to mention, the divorce rate is higher in ‘progressive’ societies because women are becoming independent – financially and otherwise. As a result, several urban couples, wary of commitment, are opting to cohabit, minus the ‘piece of paper’. However studies have shown that cohabiters break-up at a higher rate than married couples. Also, children born out of such arrangements face legal dilemmas and insecure futures. In general, children raised in happy married households are more likely to enjoy stable marriages as adults.  To quote Nobel Laureate George Akerlof, "Men settle down when they get married: If they fail to get married, they fail to settle down." There may be some who are enjoying their new found independence and abhor the yokes that a marriage entails. But who can deny that yokes also provide security.

Being a part of a modern, progressive milieu, I wonder why Bhatt believes that the rules of marriage are set on unequal grounds. Unless one endorses the khaps, I fail to understand why he feels that women have to abandon their names and their future for the sake of husband and children. Ask Kareena Khan Kapoor! She was happily living together with her partner – so what prompted her to get married and accept 'subordination'

Bhatt had an ‘Aha' moment when his inebriated friend dispensed pearls of wisdom. Forget marriage, any meaningful relationship is all about tolerating ‘bullshit’. In sober terms, it essentially means providing emotional support when the partner is having an emotional outburst. On bad days giving ‘bullshit’ can be cathartic. But who will take the ‘bull shit’ unconditionally? Other than an understanding spouse or a loving mother, I can’t think of anyone else.

 Psychologists say that those who think that marriage is a ‘defunct or outdated institution’ are those who have had dreadful personal experiences with marriage. Perhaps the inability to take responsibility for incompatibility compels people to look at an external locus of control. Yes, it makes sense to move on if two people are incompatible, and the relationship is beyond repair. However, to junk the institution only because some marriages have failed, is presumptuous. Debunk marriage as an institution and we may be on a slippery slope of a legal pandemonium, unhappy society, and many lonely individuals.


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