like a perfect union of literary acclaim and Bollywood glitz.
He: a Booker Prize-winning author and one of India's most
acclaimed literary exports. She: a gorgeous model-turned-actress
turned cooking-show host. Little wonder then that this week's
announcement that Salman Rushdie and Padma Lakshmi are splitting
after just three years of marriage is front page news across
India, the country of their births if not their main residence.
perhaps, is just how rare divorce still is in India. Only
about one in 100 marriages here ends in divorce compared with
much higher percentages in the U.S. and in western European
countries such as France and Germany. But the divorce rate
is now rising in this country. In urban India it has doubled
over the past five years, despite the fact that failed marriages
remain a cause for shame in much of the country and that divorced
people, especially women, continue to face fierce social stigmatization
and often find it hard to remarry.
for the rise in the divorce rate is that educated Indian women
— or at least educated, middle-class women — now have the
option. "Women don't want to lie down and take it anymore,"
says Julie George, a Pune-based lawyer in matrimonial cases.
"There is a lot more independence, freedom. Women who
work are financially independent and aren't prepared to put
up with a husband who harasses them." While no one is
suggesting that Rushdie was harassing Lakshmi in any way (Indian
papers reported that she was seen partying with "another
man" recently), the couple is splitting, according to
Rushdie's spokeswoman "because of her desire to end their
only half the story. Lakshmi is hardly representative of the
average Indian woman. And while middle class, urban women
may be taking charge and sometimes just as likely to leave
their husbands as their husbands are to leave them, in India's
rural villages, it's still the men who initiate most divorces
— often leaving women and children with no financial and little
family support. "Poor women in villages are often just
abandoned," says George, who works for Streevani, a Pune-based
non-governmental organization that, according to its website,
is "committed to the empowerment of women in India".
"Some have no chance to remarry because according to
the rules of their caste they cannot, even though the man
class divorcees still find remarrying tough, though like so
much in India, that's changing quickly as well. Two weeks
ago Vivek Pahwa, CEO of the website company Pahwa KBS, launched
a matrimonial site that targets divorced Indians. Millions
of Indians already use matchmaking websites to search for
prospective mates. But existing sites tend to concentrate
on giving a cyber hand to parents looking for suitable matches
for their eligible sons and daughters, or for twentysomethings
after a would-be bride or groom. One big turn-off in any prospective
candidate: a previous marriage.
("shaadi" means marriage in Hindi and a number of
other south Asian languages) gets around this problem by targeting
the very people other sites find unpopular. "The idea
was to attack a niche that had not been done," says Pahwa.
"Divorce rates are going up in India and a lot of people
are getting divorced at a very young age — even 35 or so.
It's wrong to tell them that they can't get married again."
launching two weeks ago more than 1,000 people have created
profiles on the site. A brief survey of a few shows that most
people still list religion and caste details as well as whether
they are vegetarian or "non-veg" (as carnivores
in India are known) and whether they have kids or not. Though
some Indian commentators have suggested that divorcees are
less worried than other Indians about religion and caste when
searching for a mate, Pahwa says his gut feel is they may
"care as much — maybe even more, especially if they've
had a bad experience the first time."
estimates the total matrimonial website market in India at
between $15 million and $20 million a year. He hopes to grab
up to 5% of that, and is convinced that the market of divorced
Indians will keep growing. Just ask Salman Rushdie and Padma
in Time Magazine.
this article at