Share Your Thoughts

Unconscionable! Shameless liars! Sinners!  A popular social networking site was abuzz with comments on adultery recently. As I read through the comment thread, I realized that I had become an unwitting witness to a section of society publically denigrating people they deemed to be unfaithful to their partners. Their comments reflected a mob mentality that serves a judgment on impulse rather than reason. I felt as if I was right in the middle of a scene from the old Bollywood movie Roti where a group of villagers pelt stones at a woman accusing her of prostitution. The only difference here was that this mob did not pelt stones; rather they unleashed a verbal tirade on social media.

As I mulled over the issue, I wondered—is it healthy for a society to crystallize something as intimate and personal as moral righteousness into “one size fits all” and enforce it upon everyone? Do we as a society tend to sacrifice common sense for the sake of morality? As external observers, are we privy to all the details of why a relationship is the way it is? Without giving the “accused” an opportunity to tell his or her story, isn’t the verdict fundamentally flawed?

I believe it is one thing to be against adultery, another thing to presume that all those who have transgressed must have no conscience, no dignity and no self-worth. I certainly do NOT advocate insincerity to your partner. Adultery is neither a matter of pride nor a welcome change in the social ethos. But I would also not jump the gun to term someone a “sinner” just because he has deviated from widely accepted norms of right and wrong. It is very easy to condemn and scorn someone who has acted against your ideas of morality and, thereby, shaken the social fabric that comforts you. However, it takes prudence to step back and re-look at the issue objectively. Sometimes a different picture may emerge.

It is a well-known fact that many Indian marriages are not born out of love. A beautiful relationship such as marriage tends to lose its meaning when people jump into it without understanding its primal component—synchronicity of two souls. The basis of marriage should be the union of two souls, not an arrangement for two minds. But we often see marriages that are merely social arrangements out of need or convenience. The oft unspoken rationales for matrimony, especially in Indian society, include the fulfilment of social, cultural, physical, economic, or legal needs, the assuagement of family elders’ wishes or very simply the mounting pressure of aging. This means that a) one or both the partners may not have the right maturity and outlook to unify with another soul or b) souls lacking harmony at the mental or a deeper level may attempt unification through marriage. In either case, the disharmony creates an imbalance which can take away meaning from the relation and prevent it from achieving its true potential. This disharmony may eventually level out in some marriages but in the remaining, it is only a matter of time before the cracks appear.

Many accept this dysfunction as an inescapable reality of matrimony and remain muted to its toxicity. In such couples, the dysfunction manifests as a gradual fading of the passion and interest in their partner and concomitant loneliness. The idea of returning home to the partner or spending time with him no longer stirs excitement. In other couples where the dysfunction is not readily accepted, it becomes more and more evident in the form of frequent disagreements, fights, disappointments, criticism, and mutual resentment.

Whether muted or apparent, the dysfunction does create an undercurrent of gloom and discontentment. Meeker souls often choose to suffer silently and divert their attention to other areas of life such as children, friends, or career to seek acceptance and meaning. And for ones more zealous to life, digression becomes a real possibility, either to fill-in the gaps or just for the thrill of feeling alive again.

Cynics would argue that divorce is always an option. I agree. But it is also true that the same society that condemns adultery is also not very accepting and encouraging of divorcees. Women especially, are taunted (directly or indirectly) and chastised for giving up on their marriage. They are constantly reminded of the stigma associated with divorce. This creates a toxic atmosphere of fear and despair that can sap vital life energy from a person who feels pressured to continue in the dysfunctional marriage rather than ruffle any feathers. If divorce is a matter of shame and adultery a sin, I humbly ask—isn’t this indirect repression as equal a matter of shame as divorce? Isn’t condemning someone to a life of useless arguments, blame, accusations, “silent treatments,” and unspoken despondency as sinful as adultery?

Any meaningful discussion on this issue is moot without understanding the root cause of these dysfunctional relationships. At the root of all ills that plague human relationships. including ego, jealousy, insecurity, and insincerity, lies a weakened human spirit. This weakening is a direct or indirect consequence of social and moral conditioning that forces individuals to act and react in a pre-programmed manner. That is why we see people marrying and staying in unhappy marriages for the wrong reasons. Such a malnourished seed cannot grow into a healthy tree. Love, respect, trust, and commitment, which are the true fundaments of a meaningful relationship, cannot grow out of guilt, inveiglement, coercion, or collective enforcement from the outside. In reality, even when the love has not blossomed from within, people go on pretending to love because the social conventions of marriage demand you must love your partner. Even when there is no commitment, they feign it because the marriage implies commitment.  These presumed “should” and “should-nots” affixed to marriage trap people in their own mind, creating immeasurable misery and suffering. The relationship becomes one of bondage, not of joy.

I believe that, to address this difficult issue, we must aim to empower individuals by investing significantly into their spiritual development. Often the primary focus is on developing one’s mental and intellectual ability to excel in the material world. This impetus tends to create individuals who may achieve material success but are often disconnected from their true self. This disconnect is the root of mental ills such as ego, anger, and possessiveness that undermine human relationships. If marriage is a spiritual union of two souls, how can we expect an individual, who is disconnected and fragmented from within, to build a meaningful relationship with another?

It is, therefore, important to encourage those preparing for matrimony to enquire into the significance of marriage beyond the mere fulfilment of a social and cultural duty. Rather than matching horoscopes and comparing caste, religion, education, or affluence levels, mutual harmony should be the most important criterion. To build that harmony, they must work to create a solid foundation through open and honest communication, and development of mutual respect based on a deep understanding of each other’s direction and purpose in life.

When a relation has fallen prey to dysfunction and one or both the partners have resorted to digression, it is essential that we refrain from taking sides and not focus our energy on criticism, reprehension, and mud-slinging. The best approach would be to allow the concerned couple to introspect and seek a mutually acceptable solution. After all, we cannot expect to cure a dysfunction that has arisen out of anomalies in the structural elements of our own society through a single panacea derived out of morality. It is the hallmark of an intelligent and tolerant society that it does not fixate on concepts of morality. There is a glowing example of such open-mindedness in Indian culture. For eons, Indians have worshipped the divine union of Krishna and a married woman Radha. But no one ever calls Radha an “adulterer” or Krishna a “sinner.” That’s because their love is considered so divine that it transcends the socially defined boundaries of moral behaviour. In fact, their union remains the timeless epitome of love. If we can worship Radha-Krishna with our heart and soul, then it behooves us to show restraint in dealing with the “sinners” among us.

Chetan writes on new dimensions of understanding in love, relationships, and human consciousness. This article is excerpted from his forthcoming book. He blogs at