ByShephali Bhatt

“DIVORCE IS FFFFFINAL,” wrote Shasvathi Siva on her Facebook timeline three days ago. It was a celebration in upper case. The 27-year-old entrepreneur from Mumbai wanted to highlight her excitement and relief.

“I’m throwing a divorce party to thank friends who stood by me during these hard times. I had a fabulous bachelorette party. It is only fair to celebrate ..In a country where marriage is often considered sacred and even quintessential for a woman, and divorce gets looked at as a sign of failure, Siva was going against the tide by celebrating her separation.

To understand why that is a big deal, we need to look at India’s divorce rate — which stood at 1% in 2017, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. While the absolute number of divorces has gone up from 1 in 1,000 to 13 in 1,000 over the last decade  ..

Nobody was talking or writing on the subject.” There was plenty of legal help but nothing to cope with the emotional aftermath of a divorce. “Then there was this thing about my future partner.

Am I only supposed to look at older, divorced or widowed men?” She started looking for help online, and found an international support group on Facebook called Worthy Women & Divorce — a safe space for women contemplating divorce, wanting to discuss the legal status of their separation or seeking comfort.

“They normalised it for me,” says Siva, who then created a support group called I am Happily Divorced for those looking for help in India. “I’ve seen dismal faces around me during court proceedings. Even if I can help five people through this traumatic ..

The platform had 617,021 posts hashtagged “divorce” at the last count. As a side note, Instagram has over 140 million wedding pictures.

That’s not all. Over 110,000 Facebook users from India openly state their relationship as “divorced”. Though women comprise only a fifth of this figure, they surpass men by a considerable margin while expressing interest in the concept of a “divorce party” or liking pages around the “happily divorced” theme.

Dating app Truly Madly has seen a 200% increase in the number of profiles stating their divorced, widowed, or single-parent status upfront. “In 2016, 3% of our user base would have such statuses. Two years hence, that number has gone up to 8%,” says Snehil Khanor, Truly ..

The Ahmedabad-based journalist created a spoken-word poetry video in which she expressed her desire to help her mother get a divorce and start life afresh.

Sonaiya hails from the small town of Jamkhambhaliya in Gujarat’s Devbhoomi Dwarka district. Divorce is unheard of in her part of the world. Her poem — Second Innings — didn’t go down well with most of her extended family members. “But the response I got from friends, who had no clue about this part of my life, was overwhelming.

So many of them shared similar stories from their households and offered legal and emotional support.” (Disclaimer: Sonaiya works as a journalist with the Times Group, the publisher of ET Magazine.) Inspiration from others is a common thread among these stories. And talking, it seems, was the first step towards normalising divorce for many.

Last month, comedian Kaneez Surka did a set where she talked about how her divorce pushed her to pursue comedy as a full-fledged career eight years . It was a hobby until then. “When you’re single, people make you feel like you’re not a full person. As soon as you’re married, all your actions are validated. When you get divorced, they make you feel invalid again,” she says. To counter that, she focused on rising in her field of work. Instead of hiding her divorced status, she chose to speak about it in media interactions and often used it as material for standup comedy

“I don’t like to harp on my divorce like that is the only thing that defines me. But it was a turning point in my life and I think that is a great story to tell,” says the 35-year-old who grew up in South Africa before moving to Mumbai a decade ago. The more Surka talked about her divorce, the lesser it shamed her.

Neha Vyas channels her thoughts through poetry. The Mumbai-based theatre artist recites her verses around her divorce at open mic events. She is now working on a short film that talks about how it is okay to walk out of a bad marriage. “Taking charge of your own happiness is far more important than destigmatising divorce,” she says

In October 2017, Chaitali Shinde, a 42-yearold instructional designer took to Facebook to list out all the insensitive comments that were dished out to her since her divorce.
To make things interesting, she added cheeky remarks directed at those people. Shinde’s post has become a ready reckoner for friends and strangers going through similar circumstances. “They tell me they’ve copied it onto their notepads and whenever someone says something stupid, they paste it in response.”
Writing about uncomfortable emotions also helped Vani Kabir deal with her divorce six years ago. The 33-year-old from Gurgaon has a website with over 100,000 followers.
Women from across the world share stories of unhappy marriages or torrid divorces with her. “When people say some of my posts suggest I’m still not over my divorce, I tell them I also write for those who are still reeling from theirs and need healing.”

Even when you have healed, society continues to pull you down, says Kabir who works as a senior creative director at Shop Advertising. You have to stand up and fight.
“When I had to change my son’s school, the administration asked me several questions just because I am a single mother. Will I be able to pay the fee in time?

Will I be able to attend every parent-teacher meeting? I realised I will have to put my foot down instead of letting them walk all over me.”She told the school authorities she will admit her son only if they cooperate with a single mother and not the other way around. Eventually, the school came around. “Kabir,” she mentions in passing, “is my son’s name.”

After her divorce, she was not keen to revert to her maiden surname. “Kabir, then all of four-and-a-half-years-old, said that I could use his name,” she recounts.

The notion that only someone else can be your “better half” has to be rectified, says Pompy Gohain, a Kolkata-based HR professional. “A friend recently told me that my attitude towards life gave her the strength to come out of her second unhappy marriage.”

Despite what trends show on social networking sites, talking about divorces openly is confined to certain pockets. There is hardly any creative work from India that fights the stigma around divorce head-on. Why? “Maybe because marketers think the audience size is too small,” says Babita Baruah, managing partner of GTB India, a WPP group company. She reasons that this type of communication won’t be meant for divorcees but for those who didn’t take a step to get out of unhappy marriages because of familial or societal pressure. “And that’s a huge number.”

Baruah went through a divorce in 2010 and remarried only a few years ago. A lot has changed in the last nine years, she says.

“For four years after my divorce, I would avoid conversations around my marital status.” Now, she runs a support group called DivorceConsult for women who may require legal assistance. Every little effort counts, she adds.