Thiruvananthapuram: Two decades ago, the state had a very modest divorce rate. But now, with the state capital being ranked the divorce capital of the country, and Kerala having the highest divorce rate in the country, family courts are flooded with divorce petitions.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, which came into force in 2006, has given women a legitimate ground for divorce they did not have before. But, like any law, it can be misused. According to Rakhi Ravikumar, a counsel who specialises in divorce petitions, a court will offer interim relief now only when it is convinced that the domestic violence plea is genuine.
“During 2005-2010, family courts would provide interim relief immediately. But now, with a majority of divorces cases adding domestic violence, it has become so common that the court thinks twice before granting them interim relief. Now, both men and women don’t have tolerance which leads to immediate breakup of the family,” Ravikumar said.
Currently, there are more than 5000 divorce cases pending before the Thiruvananthapuram family court, says lawyer S.Jayachandran, who specialises in family cases for the last 15 years.
According to the data provided by the State Government, southern Kerala has a high percentage of divorce cases. In 2011 there were 38,231 divorce cases filed across 18 family courts. This year, the number of family courts has shot up to 26. Last year 10, 243 cases were filed in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts, which accounts for almost one-third of the total cases.
“Unlike in earlier times, couples belonging to the current generation are not keen to make any adjustments. Both men and women are equally responsible for filing divorce cases,” says Jayachandran.
He says these days the petitioners file divorce cases in both the magistrate’s court as well as in the family court because the charge of domestic violence is more frequently added.
He says most family courts have an inadequate number of counsellors to deal with the rising number of petitioners filing for divorce under the Domestic Violence Act. The family court often has to send the parties to private counsellors who are not as good.
Another leading family court lawyer opined that Dr. Yamini Thankachy, wife of former Forest Minister K. B. Ganesh Kumar who had to step down from office due to domestic violence, would have never got assets worth crores of rupees if she and her husband had applied for compensation through the family court.
“Under normal circumstances, Dr Yamini would have been entitled to get only maintenance fee for her two children and if there is no home in her name, then the court can ask him to provide shelter. Also when the father is alive, the children would never get the property which is in his name,” said a leading lady family court lawyer.
Though more women are aware of the protection awarded them under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, many are still ignorant of it, says G. Rejitha, project coordinator at SAKHI.
“SAKHI had conducted several campaigns at panchayat level to create awareness among women about their rights. Though the government has been conducting camps at various levels, it is yet to reach the lower strata of society. All those who suffer from domestic violence should know that it is a crime, and that there is a law to support them,“ Rejitha said.
Extramarital relationships and alcoholism are cited as the major reasons for the rise in divorces.
An official at the family court told Deccan Chronicle that infidelity among men and women has become more common. “A former actor who used to act as a sidekick to super stars Mohanlal and Mam mootty during t h e 1980s and 1990s is engaged in a bitter divorce case. His wife's grievance is that he used to bring other women into their home,“ the court official said.
Kerala State Women's Development Corporation chairperson and former State Women's Commission member P. Kulsu said most couples are not mature enough to handle the ups and downs of marriage. She says there were no counselling centres earlier, but now though there are many more counsellors and centres, it doesn't seem to have helped. “It shows how society's thinking has changed to a worse scenario,“ Kulsu said.