Indian Group Sees Link Between Text Messaging, Divorce

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - A huge increase in the use of mobile phones in India has prompted an unusual protest by a group claiming there is a correlation between the use of SMS text messaging and a rise in the country's divorce rates.

A lesser-known human rights group, the National Human Rights Council, has launched a campaign here against SMS, the short message service available on many mobile phones.

A group of less than 50 protestors staged a demonstration in the capital on Sunday, where they burned a mobile phone.

"SMS is against Indian etiquettes and culture and is the cause of numerous divorces in the recent past," Council President Subhash Gupta told reporters.

Another office-bearer said SMS had "diverted the youth of the country from Indian culture and they are now following the western trend of dating."

On Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights last Monday, some 25 million text messages went out in India on a single day, nine million of them in New Delhi alone.

Costing just a couple of cents, SMS messaging has become the craze among young Indians.

It has also opened up new opportunities for flirting and setting up dates with members of the opposite sex.

In a society where parents have traditionally chosen marriage partners for their children, this is something of a social revolution.

The tradition of "arranged marriages" has been in existence for several centuries.

Some commentators feel the concept is best for Indian society and argue that chances of the marriage ending in divorce are low.

"Indian society is structured according to a caste system and arranged marriages do not take place across caste," explained Hindu priest Swami Nityanand, who arranges marriages in New Delhi.

"Families follow strict discipline [and] the chances of divorce are neutralized as social commitments ensure that the marriage lasts," he said.

The statistics seem to bear out this view.

According to social scientist Shashi Srivastava, the divorce rate in India is only two percent. By contrast, nearly half of all first marriages in the U.S. are likely to end in divorce.

Srivastava said Tuesday that more than 90 percent of marriages are arranged, although "love marriages" are becoming more common, particularly in large centers.

"When a couple [is] choosing a partner for their son or daughter, a number of factors are taken into consideration," Srivastava said. "Caste of course is pre-eminent, but other considerations are beauty and physical flaws.

"Matrimonial ads can seem brutally frank in this regard, and a horoscope for the would-be partner is often called for," she added.

Professor Bharat Sharma of Nehru University in New Delhi said marriage was viewed very differently in India and the West.

"In America, it's based on an emotional tie to your spouse. In India it's viewed as much more that you are committed to the marriage, as an institution, and to the family," he said.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.