Note: This post is about the Bengali TV serial Ishti Kutum. If you are not a follower of the show, please follow the posts on category archives for context.
One part of the story of Ishti Kutum is a rather simple, one of the most repetitive in popular culture – Man, wife and the other woman.
Such plots are often food for comedy, like in a David Dhawan or Govinda movie namely Gharwali Baharwali, Sajan Chale Sasural, Sandwich. But more often they are food for over the top melodramatic tear jerkers, where in the end one of the characters is sure to get a cancer or die in an accident while trying to save the life of the other. Or one of them would make a draconian sacrifice create misunderstanding summoning buckets and buckets of tears and finally leave the scene, Anil Kapur Sridevi starer Judaai comes to mind. When Ishti Kutum started, the most common prediction among audience was that Mun (Kamalika Majumdar) would get pregnant, die during delivery and give the child & husband to Baha, it was the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai effect of course.
It is very rare in popular culture, TV or films, that a nondramatic, logical and pragmatic alternative have been shown. In real life there is no drama. In real life when a sensible honest upright man falls in love outside his marriage and finds himself caught between two women, what does he do?
The answer brings us to the word ‘DIVORCE.’ One of the simplest solutions to many complex situations, yet one of the most dreaded word in India. A couple and its family would use every eye wash possible to keep the grand show of successful marriage, staring emotional and physical infidelity, marital rape and bitterness, running.
How does a typical Indian middle class joint family deal with a divorce?
With paranoia, hypocrisy double standards and melodrama. As exposed through the story of Ishti Kutum – the Mukherjee family is shattered on hearing the DIVORCE word from Archi.
As a society, we believe in preserving the marriage at the cost of individual happiness, of not one but everybody involved. Evidently, compared to modern progressive societies across the world, Indian marriages have a higher success rate. Success here means longevity. There is no statistics on happy marriages, because happiness quotient is immaterial. But if each one of us would take a look at our families, extended families and neighborhood the truth would stare into our eyes.
Many, if not most marriages are an eye wash. The couple is not happy with each other, they have no love and respect, there is no fun and spice in their sex life. Often, the man would have a woman outside the marriage, his wife would be aware of but would pretend otherwise as long as he doesn’t ignore the duties of a husband – earn, spend and save for wife and kids, take them to vacations, buy them presents etc.
As a society, we are extremely comfortable with a man having two women and we call them Souten (in Hindi) or Shotin (in Bengali). There is no English equivalent for this word. Words like ‘kept’, ‘mistress’ or ‘paramour’ is not the same as ‘souten‘. These words merely define the state of a relationship, but ‘souten‘ reflects a culture, a very horrid one at that. ‘Souten‘ defines our comfort with the idea that a husband could have another woman and its all about a wife’s travails in dealing with that. We have hundreds of films and TV serials made on the concept of ‘souten’. Just recently another mega serial has been launched by ETV Bangla called ‘Shotin Kanta’ (The thorny Shotin, shotin being the name given to a husband’s other woman). The tagline of the show reads, “sangsarer bhanga garaye dui sotin er galpo” (The story of two soutens through the rise and fall of a family) the two girls being of Hindu and Muslim religion as seen on the posters.
Archisman Mukherjee is a man of honour, he would not live a life riding two boats, the day he first realized he is in love with Baha, there was no looking back for him. He knew at once that he’d have to end his relationship with Mun and start a new life with Baha, who happens to be his first legally wedded wife, from a marriage he initially didn’t accept owing to his insane stubbornness and despise.
So finally, Archi announced to the Mukherjee family that his relationship with Mun, his socially wedded but legally invalid wife, was not working and so a divorce is inevitable. He mentioned that while she has got involved with another man, he too has his own reasons behind this divorce, that none of them were to be blamed and that the decision was mutual.
On hearing this, the family head, Archi’s jethumoni insisted the estranged daughter-in-law be persuaded by Archi and be brought back. “Did you try to stop her?” He asked. “You are the husband, if your wife made a ‘mistake’ it’s your duty as a husband to correct her” he preached even as personal liberty and freedom of choice fled out of the window. When Archi firmly replied that he has not and shall not pursue her, because a relationship once broken cannot be mend by force, and even if it is restored temporarily, it might disintegrate any time, Jethumoni insisted that as a guardian and head of the family he would speak with Mun in this matter. Archi firmly said “no, you won’t” and Jethumoni got furious, “Do you think you are alone? You have no family or roots? Do you think you are self invoked.” While Jethumoni went on lamenting about how this break would affect the structure of their joint family and how Mun has failed the love showered upon her, Archi tried to defend Mun, “Please don’t misunderstand Mun, try to understand her problem” he said. Jethumoni got further furious and called it ‘a sign of insanity‘ on Mun’s part that she has fallen out of a relationship after seven years. Indirectly, it was meant to be a remark about Archi’s sensibilities because in truth, Archi and not Mun have fallen out of this seven year old relationship.
This was insensitive. Jethumoni had become so paranoid about saving the marriage that he refused to understand the seriousness of the matter. Archi’s statement ‘our relationship is not working‘ was aggressively dismissed by him as a ‘western dialogue.’ With all his worldly wisdom, he have not learned that relationships are so delicate and so personal that nobody except the two people involved should make any judgmental remarks upon it.
Divorce is still considered a western import in our society. The Great Indian Family considers it a matter of right to interfere in their adult children’s most personal matters, marriage and relationships. Not only do they interfere they do so with self righteousness, like its not a marriage they are saving, but the mankind. Family patriarch in every household is far from realizing the simple truth that sometimes, relationships don’t work, and at such times, instead of lingering with a dead relationship it is best to make a sharp surgical cut and restart life.
Broken marriage mean different thing for family’s sons and daughters:
Ironically, the patriarch of Mukherjee family who is so concerned about Archi’s broken marriage and its effect on his family, have never uttered a single word regarding his own daughter’s estranged marriage. Rupanjana, Archi’s sister was married to a man from a high family but on the first night itself the guy told her about his incestuous relationship with a maternal cousin sister, and that this marriage was just for the show. Since then, Rupu had walked out of that marriage and returned home. It has been more than a year she is living at her parent’s home with feelings of anger, rejection and hopelessness.
She believes that her estranged husband was a man beyond her league, it was an unequal marriage to begin with which her parents fail to gaze, she blames them for not being able to judge his true intentions behind agreeing for this marriage, which was perhaps creating a facade and pursue an illicit relationship behind it. She gets no sympathy from her parents either as they have easily assumed that the marriage didn’t work because she couldn’t ‘adjust.’ Rupu’s bitter behaviour towards her family members further strengthens this assumption.
In more than one year of separation, Rupu’s family made no move towards either restoring the relationships or putting a formal end to it by proceeding with divorce so that the girl can start a new life. The family patriarch is sitting upon his daughter’s future, where she is neither married, nor divorcee, nor single, feeling comfortable as long as the dreaded DIVORCE word is kept away. Do whatever just do not awaken the Divorce Devil.
When his Europe returned son, Rupu’s elder brother asked them why they were not initiating a divorce proceeding for Rupu, the father snapped back, “You may have come from the foreign land, but we don’t live in a foreign country, here these talks make us uncomfortable.”
Presumably, if the daughter is deserted by a man she must accept her fate and make no noise about it and be dumped in a corner of the house. But if the daughter-in-law of the family walked out, because the couple mutually felt the relationship was not working, the family must turn the world upside down to keep them together. Son’s marriage is a concern, because he is part of the Mukherjee lineage. The daughter’s marriage, good or bad, either way is of no consequences to this family because she would never be part of the lineage, she won’t beget a family heir.
Discomfort with divorce is seen in the other home of Ishti Kutum story, the Majumdars. The relationship of Mun’s parents, Dibbojyoti Majumdar and Anushree Majumdar is at the verge of being irretrievably broken. The couple fight all the time, verbally abuse each other, disrespect each others family but their marriage is rock solid. Eighteen years ago, Dibbo went to the tribal village Palashboni and established relationship with Kanka. He cheated on his wife, impregnated Kanka, and returned back to city wife. The man spent the rest of his life in guilt of having cheated both women, but never had the courage to confess his misdeeds. His wife knew everything, when Dibbo didn’t return from Palashboni for months, she herself went there and dragged him back. For the rest of her life she accused him of his irresponsibility, infidelity but never thought of walking out on a husband who cheated her. Theirs is a happy marriage by certain social parameters.
The legal position of both of Archi’s marriages, legal requirement of divorce and validity of Tribal marriage:
Archi’s family failed to dissuade Archi from the decision of divorce. Though there was no urgency from his side, this divorce is important for Mun. As far as Archi is concerned he is clear that he doesn’t need a divorce from this marriage with Mun, because it is invalid right from the start and Baha is his only legally wedded wife. But just like for Archi his wedding with Baha is a truth, for Mun her wedding with Archi is also one of her greatest truth. Her marriage was conducted both by socially following all rituals as well as registered. She cannot suddenly walk out of this marriage and pretend like it never happened. She needs a closure on this truth, and only a formal legal piece of paper would be able to give her that.
Another reason the divorce is important to Mun is because she wants to be known as the one to leave her husband, rather than the one whose husband dumped her for a poor young tribal girl. Her greatest loss, as she perceives it, is not so much of the pain that Archi fell out of love after 7 years of their relationship but that her paramour is Baha, of all the people, the uncultured uncivilized village girl. She would never let ‘her’ world know that it was not her but Archi who fell in love with a new person outside this marriage. So she created the false story of Dhrubo Sen, an imaginary man she is in a relationship with and thus the urgency for divorce.
The date for divorce petition to appear in Court is 26th of December. But before the story goes on to show this divorce, as a responsible TV series, one which represents the tribal movement as seen through young Baha’s life, the story of Ishti Kutum must make the legal position of both marriages clear for the audience who do not know the laws.
City people routinely take advantage of villagers ignorance and insecurity. They participate in matrimonial ceremony with unsuspecting tribal girls in the village only to reject them as invalid customs and push those girls into darkness, poverty, sex trade. Lack of knowledge and finance prevents them from accessing justice and so they remain invisible, like Kanka and Baha did for so many years unaware of Baha’s right in her father’s property.
For the benefit of those who are still confused about the legal position of a marriage done as per tribal customs, the following law must be reiterated:
- As per law, any marriage solemnized as per tribal customs is 100% valid. Let no one from the upper class and upper caste claim that the tribal village customs and practices are in any way inferior. The law gives full respect and recognition to customary marriages as per Section 7 of Hindu Marriage Act as long as such customs are not against the constitution.
- Consent is an important part of marriage, any marriage performed agaisnt the consent of boy or girl is invalid. As the story of IK goes, at the heat of the moment, Baha had claimed that Archi had agreed to marry her and Archi went silent, he didn’t deny. After that he performed all rituals of marriage without resistance. Thus it was a valid marriage with proper consent of both.
- Registration of marriage is still not mandatory across the country, and in places where it is mandatory, non-registration doesn’t make the marriage invalid, it only imposes a fine on the parties.
- According to Section 7 of Hindu Marriage Act, Archi and Baha’s marriage is the one and only legally valid marriage. Per Section 11 read with Section 5 cl. 1 the second marriage with Mun is void ab initio (invalid from the start).
Where a marriage doesn’t exist, there is no requirement of a divorce. However if Archi and Baha’s marriage is kept hidden from courts, then a divorce decree to end Archi-Mun’s marriage is desirable, just to avoid later legal complications. The knowledge about first marriage would put Arch in trouble as he would be guilty of Bigamy. But still Archi have already made several attempts to tell Advocate Argho Sen everything about his marriage with Baha but Mun always interrupted and stopped him from revealing the truth.
Archi’s future action in this regard is going to be very significant and I am very keen on it.