It could have been a baarat like any other in North India. Dhol-taashe were playing at full blast, crackers were being set off every now and then, relatives lined the streets as passersby stopped to take a look. But instead of a sheepish groom on horseback, a confident, smiling and relieved woman in a simple salwar suit strode out of a house, a suitcase in tow, into the safe arms of her loved ones, which also included the family dog.
The scene doing the rounds on social media since Friday was from a “separation baarat” hosted by Ranchi resident Prem Gupta earlier this week for his daughter, who chose to walk out of a marriage marked by cheating and harassment. Sharing the video on Facebook, Gupta wrote, “When your daughter’s marriage is done with great pomp and show and if the spouse and family turns out to be wrong or does wrong things, then you should bring your daughter back to your home with respect and honour because daughters are very precious.”
The wedding of his daughter Sakshi had been solemnised in April 2022. The groom, an engineer at a government unit, seemed like a suitable match but what Sakshi learned after the marriage was that her husband was already married. After trying to make things work for months, Sakshi confided in her father about her predicament. The latter decided that there was only one way now — out. In an interview, Gupta said, “I am not upset with what happened with my daughter, because you can’t make a relationship that was never formed, work.” In the same interview, he shared his daughter’s thoughts on her return: “Papa, aaj main jail se rihaa ho gayi! (Father, I have finally walked out of the jail)”. In a world that is obsessed with fairy tale romances culminating in happily-ever-after weddings, and a culture where marriages are considered sacrosanct, Gupta’s decision to support his daughter in ending her marriage needs to be lauded. The fact that Gupta decided to share the occasion on social media makes an important statement: That divorce is not the end of the road, rather it can be the start of a promising beginning for a great life ahead. And that it is nothing to be ashamed of.
While celebrating divorces and breakups is not entirely uncommon in the younger generation, the gesture, coming from a parent, that too from a relatively smaller town in India, is refreshing, not to mention, touching. That instead of worrying about relatives’ taunts, he decided to make them a part of the separation baaraat is a masterstroke.
In South Asian culture, we tend to assign the duty of “making a marriage work” squarely on the woman. Women are expected to either help their husbands come round, or turn a blind eye to their wayward ways, focusing instead on their “marital duties”. We still pride ourselves on the fact that we have some of the lowest divorce rates, without introspecting if the so-called successful marriages are actually working, if the people in it are really happy with each other. Despite strict anti-dowry harassment laws, dowry deaths are still prevalent. According to a study published in April 2022, around the time that Sakshi got married, domestic violence cases in India increased 53 per cent between 2001 and 2018. It’s time for us to acknowledge that not everything is right with our “Great Indian Wedding”, and to realise that it’s not the end of the world for a woman if her marriage does not work out. A person is always more important than an institution, and it’s okay to prioritise one’s own well-being over the fake sense of accomplishment that “all is well” in the wedding paradise. Phrases like “ek baar beti ki doli uthe to uski arthi hi ghar waapis aani chahiye (a married woman should only return in a hearse to her maiden home)” belong in the dustbin. We need to tell our girls that our homes and hearts will always be open for them, and that they can come back home whenever they feel like.
In a culture where marriage is often celebrated as an achievement, and the “failure” to find a suitable groom considered a shortcoming, let the act of walking out of a bad marriage be celebrated just as much, if not more. Like Gupta said, “our daughters are very precious”. Let this be our guiding principle, and a daily reminder.