Last year I visited India. In Gurgaon, I stayed with my paternal grandparents who have been married for 57 years. Then in Delhi I stopped by father’s sister’s house; she’s been married to her first husband for 25 years. Her husband has also been married only once. After that I headed over to Mumbai to visit my mother’s brother and his wife – who have also been married only once, to each other, for 29 years.
Across this ancient land I saw societies bound together by tradition: it was simply expected that marriage is a once in a lifetime affair. The poor work hard in the fields but come home to their families, the middle-class toil in their 9am to 5pm jobs but come home to their spouses, and the rich are fairly similar (the excesses of Hollywood culture where marriages can last only a few months aren’t as evident).
One of India’s famous actors is Amitabh Bachchan, who appeared in The Great Gatsby as well as many local hits. Despite his obvious charms and way with the ladies, he’s not unusual in being married to one woman since 1973.
But times are changing. Although India has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world of about 1.1% this rate is slowly rising, and more so in the major cities than in the rural areas. According to marriage counsellor Geetanjali Sharma speaking in 2011, “There’s been a 100% increase in divorce rates in the past five years alone”.
There is a difference between the Anglosphere and India. In Australia there are 2.3 divorces per 1000 population with a divorce to marriage ratio of 43%. And in the US the ratio between number of divorces to marriages is 53% with 3.6 divorces per 1000 people. The estimate is that 40% to 50% of all first marriages and 60% of second marriages in the US will end in divorce.
These statistics should be interpreted with caution due to methodological problems involved in divorce demography, however there is generally consensus that divorces are increasing in both India and the Anglosphere (although in America it has actually decreased a little since the 1970s and early 1980s). Note the statistics may not actually tell us much about relationship instability since they might just reflect the fact that divorces are now easier and cheaper to get than in the past when proving fault was required.
However they do raise an interesting question: are divorce rates and family breakdown linked to cultural and religious factors? Obviously blaming everything bad on the West isn’t going to cut it: family violence or adultery leading to separation happened in India before globalisation too. Also, religion alone can’t be a deciding factor since Utah is the second most religious state in the US yet has a divorce rate slightly higher than the national average.
Krishna Nair, a 25 year old living in Melbourne, says she personally doesn’t know any Indian families that have been divorced. On the other hand, the split of between divorced and not divorced among the Australian families she knows is about even.
“I think the approach to marriage in India is different, especially where I’m from – Kerala, which is less cosmopolitan and modern than other big states in India”, she says. “There appears to be a view that marriage is permanent, for better or worse, you either get lucky and find ongoing happiness or you’re less lucky and you face challenges”.
It’s true that Indian culture views marriage slightly differently, as can be seen in the practice of arranged marriages where parents play a major role in choosing a partner and it’s not exclusively a matter between bride and groom. For men marriage is a natural progression after settling down in a career (traditionally, this is so they’re able to provide for their wife and kids however increasingly women are breadwinners).
Some conservatives pin the blame on the influence of Western culture with its promiscuous sex and liberal attitudes to alternative lifestyles (like nudism). Others see rising divorces as a good thing because it signals women’s empowerment: whereas in the past social pressure and financial dependence saw troubled marriages persist now women can separate.
There are economic reasons for rising divorces too. Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe argues that the welfare state has made divorce more palatable since government assistance is now accessible in the event of separation. There’s consequently less reason to value marriage and family because they are not needed since one can fall back on public assistance. Hoppe suggests that “since the onset of the democratic-republican age, all indicators of ‘family dysfunction’ have exhibited a systematic upward tendency: the number of children has declined, the size of the endogenous population has stagnated or even fallen, and the rates of divorce, illegitimacy, single parenting, singledom and abortion have risen”.
Greater freedom has allowed couples to end bad relationships. But it does highlight the importance of choosing a partner wisely to avoid heartbreak.
Originally published in Indian Link newspaper (October 2014).
As we all know from shows like Crime Scene Investigation, the practice of criminal law has been glamorised. There are good guys, bad guys and shades of grey. The work can exciting and sometimes dangerous (there have been reports of clients attacking their lawyers).
Crime is a persistent phenomenon and shows no signs of abating. The moral quandaries of defence work are also ongoing. How should society judge a lawyer who will defend someone accused of heinous crimes? What about when their client actually pleads guilty and confesses but the lawyer helps them get a lenient sentence through their superior presentation skills?
Opinion polls consistently show lawyers ranking relatively low in the public eye. Roy Morgan’s survey of the public’s image of professions shows lawyers coming in behind nurses, doctors, pharmacists and even ministers of religion (who have taken a beating in recent years due to the ongoing revelation of child abuse claims).
Lawyers have ethical obligations enshrined in the Legal Profession Act 2004. The Law Institute of Victoria also publishes guidelines on topics ranging from conflict of interest to the ethical use of social media.
Recently I spoke to criminal lawyer Tony Danos about what it’s like in a career that involves interacting with a range of diverse clientele, many of whom may have a personal background that includes poverty, mental illness and prior crimes of a significant nature.
Danos sees the ethical quandaries of practicing criminal law in terms of his duty to clients to represent their interests fearlessly while balancing his obligations to the court of professional candour and honesty. Danos can’t mislead the court but he can present the strongest possible case for his client within the rules.
Given that he’s been practicing since the 1980s, Danos says he’s used to the rough and tumble personalities and difficult emotional issues frequently encountered in his work. One of his most difficult cases was Tony Angel, who was charged with culpable driving. Angel drove through a train crossing and became involved in a collision that killed his wife and daughter. One would think that the parents of Angel’s deceased wife would hate him, yet this was not the case. The parents of Angel’s deceased wife stood by Danos’ client at court suggesting there was no clear ‘bad guy’ in this case despite Angel being charged by police.
How does he justify acting for morally reprehensible people? The answer is that everyone deserves a fair trial regardless of the crime they are accused of. “At the end of the day guilt is something established by a court and it’s not for me to pre-judge someone" he says. "Everyone deserves procedural fairness and a right to be heard.”
Even those criminals that plead guilty sometimes have mitigating circumstances that deserve court attention. Child abusers have sometimes been abused themselves. Husband killers might be wives who have been physically and emotionally assaulted over a period of many years and finally snap. This doesn’t make their actions justified but Danos agrees that it’s his job to elicit empathy for the circumstances of his client and find something good about them to convey to a judge.
This might seem strange for those who have never come face-to-face with the criminal law and have led a life free of sin, however consider the following: some of the world’s greatest statesmen have defended people that they could ordinarily have expected to dislike very much. There are some things in life that are worth fighting for and a fair trial is one of them.
Thus, John Adams – who would go on to become the second president of the United States – defended the British soldiers charged with the Boston Massacre despite being an outspoken supporter of the American independence struggle against British rule. Six of the soldiers were acquitted and two were convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter. At a time when the soldiers had struggled to find someone willing to represent them, Adams stepped up to the plate.
Consider also the situation when someone technically breaks the law, but is justified in their actions. Mahatma Gandhi broke several British laws during his civil disobedience actions but was – in hindsight – undoubtedly morally justified in doing so due to the level of oppression exercised by British against the Indian people.
It’s true that there’s real evil in the world. There are serial killers who are beyond redemption and have no mitigating circumstances. How can it be said that lawyers ought to defend such people? And perhaps even help them walk free on a technicality? Simply put, our justice system is premised on the assumption that it’s better to let 100 guilty people walk free than put 1 innocent person in jail.
You never know when you’ll make a mistake because of whatever you were going through at that stage in your life. And that’s when you’ll need to call a criminal lawyer for competent and effective legal representation.