Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience.
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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
Breaking the Silence About Divorce
Shortly after the news about Sania Khan’s murder at the hands of her abusive ex-husband surfaced in my news feed, I began receiving personal text messages from Indian women living in different parts of the world. Like me, they had been through a divorce. Despite making their way through a messy divorce and settling into a new life, Sania Khan’s tragic story traumatized them as it unfolded.
I am not a therapist or a social worker. So why were these women contacting me? Because they had read my book, Rewriting My Happily Ever After – a memoir of divorce and discovery.
Why We Need To Tell Our Stories
I launched my book in October 2021, but wasn’t sure of the reception it would receive. In a celebrity worshiping culture, I was naive enough to publish my memoir in a year in which the life stories of powerful, famous women like Priyanka Chopra, Indra Nooyi. and Neena Gupta were published.
In fact, just a few months prior, an agent asked me – “you are not a celebrity, why should anyone read your book?”
Still, I optimistically persisted because I knew one thing – I was not the first or the only Indian woman to survive divorce.
After walking out of my unhappy marriage, an act that no one in my close family or friends circle had attempted, I was plagued with doubts. I had often wished there was a book with a true story of someone like me, a woman from India who had traveled this path of separation and divorce and come across on the other side, bruised but unbeaten, weary but confident that a better life awaited her.
Having found no such book, I sat down to write one. What I did not know then was that even with my limited visibility, my book would find its way into the hands of many women who needed to hear its message.
Of Shame and Silence
Going through a divorce is not just a major life event but one that leaves the people involved feeling unmoored and disconnected. While the fallout of the family split is expected to be difficult, what makes it worse, particularly in Indian and South Asian cultures, is the stigma associated with it.
As reported in HuffPost, two out of five South Asian women in the US are victims of domestic violence. While I don’t have the numbers for India, it is fair to presume that in most cases, women continue to live in bad marriages because of lack of support, fear of social isolation and the looming sword of “what will people say.”
In her bestselling book Atlas of the Heart, well-known shame researcher Brene Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging and connection”. In societies that don’t acknowledge or support divorce, women who walk out are made to feel ashamed using the classic trifecta of secrecy, silence and judgment that allows shame to thrive.
Instead of providing separated and divorced women with empathy and acceptance, people either clam up about the situation or assign blame, usually the woman, for not keeping the family together.
A year ago, a journalist doing a feature on divorce for Khabar magazine contacted me for an interview. I was happy to share my story as well as my plans for my upcoming book. The article appeared in print many months after our initial conversation. The reason? Most interviewees were reluctant to speak about their situation even under the cover of anonymity. In the twenty-first century, we are culturally still unable to speak freely about divorce!
The Price of Speaking Up
The burden of shame increases when we choose to stay silent. By sharing our stories, by being vulnerable, we can invite empathy, the antidote to shame. Yet, speaking up about your divorce is often seen as a ‘shameless’ act.
Sania Khan, the bold young woman was getting back on her feet after her divorce. She chose to destigmatize divorce among the South Asian community by sharing her experiences through her TikTok videos. Yet she paid the ultimate price for her outspokenness.
While organizations such as Sakhi, Raksha and Narika provide assistance to women in distress, each of us can do much more to normalize divorce in our social circles. Marital relationships break down for many reasons. Alienating the people (and children) involved in these situations not only causes them greater distress but further rips apart the fabric of our communities.
For families going through divorce, seeking professional help to rise from the trauma of toxic relationships and abuse is essential to build resilience. But we can all do our part by embracing individuals and families recovering from the aftermath of divorce by offering physical help, emotional support and a willing ear to listen to stories that need to be told and heard and shared.
Breaking the silence is the first step towards erasing the stigma of divorce. Let us all do our part. We need more voices to speak up. I have launched a podcast, Rewriting Your Happily Ever After, to continue conversations about divorce. Please contact me if you would like to share your divorce journey and do your part to break the silence.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of India Currents. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, individual or anyone or anything.