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Last Updated: Friday, 11 April, 2003, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Indian couples redefine marriage

By Rajyasri Rao
BBC correspondent in Delhi

Young couples in middle-class India are increasingly speaking up for the need for partners to find more space in their marriages.

But the trend is not being seen as a sign of the institution of marriage being in trouble.

Rather, it is being seen as a new expression of closeness.

Traditionally, the Indian woman has been expected to fit into her husband's family and home after marriage.

Indian marriages - the 'coming together of two families'
But in the last few decades more and more women in India have begun pursuing careers and expect their husbands to also make adjustments after marriage.

"Being an only child, I have always been used to having a room of my own. So sharing a room with my husband when we married three years ago was the first time I was sharing a room with anybody!" 32-year-old research analyst, Ishita Coutinho says.

"But since we don't have enough rooms at the moment for me to have one to myself, I have made sure that I still have other things that define who I am - and that they remain separate from my life with my husband."

Separate lives

Ishita says these include small things like keeping in touch with a circle of old friends who are not so close to her husband.

She also respects her husband's desire to go out with his own friends from when he was single.

Neither of them see this as a problem and say they don't feel "sore" or left out.

This trend of urban couples looking for space, or creating space, in their life together may well be their return to the old Indian model
Patricia Uberoi
Health consultant Maneeta Sawhney says there is a "modern togetherness" in her marriage defined by the two of them leading somewhat separate lives.

"I have often had my mother exclaiming with surprise when I tell her about the way me and my husband find time to be together after having made sure that we have remained true to our different professions and different interests," Maneeta says.

"My favourite example is of the kitchen: My husband is a banker and works long hours but makes it a point to join me in the kitchen when I'm cooking or warming up food.

"My mother finds it ironic that we end up sharing time in the kitchen of all places after having spent almost the entire day away from each other in different jobs in different parts of the city and often meeting up with separate groups of friends.

"But I tell her - both things are equally true. Our need to keep separate and independent work lives and sometimes also social lives - while wanting of course to be together at the end of our work days."

Keeping to tradition

A leading Indian sociologist, Patricia Uberoi, says the trend for couples to spend more of each day apart does not really signal a break from the past.

"To me it defines a return to the traditional Indian marriage rather than a break from it."

Patricia Uberoi says that Indian marriages, unlike those in the west, do not concentrate so much on the importance of the relationship between husband and wife.

She says Indian marriages are more about the coming together of families - which in many ways eases the tension on the two people who have married each other.

"So this trend of urban couples looking for space, or creating space, in their life together may well be their return to the old Indian model.

"There, the couple are not bound to work out a marriage solely on the basis of time they spend alone together but rather on the basis of their ability to be together despite, or because of, spending a great deal of time away from each other with different sets of people in different settings."

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