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The Financial Express

Divorce and the 'bhadaima' economy

| Updated: May 16, 2021 13:34:05


Divorce and the 'bhadaima' economy

The shield of privacy never stops people from trying to know the 'hush-hush' matters of public figures. The case of divorce of Microsoft's Bill and Melinda Gates, and that of Amazon's Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos aroused more curiosity than a formal announcement could have stirred.

The reason for showing the interest is understandable: the rich couples were already in the limelight like England's late Princes Diana and Prince Charles in the 1990s. Money and glamour beget gossips about their estrangement from family.

Yet living in Bangladesh, it's hard to precisely capture thinking behind such decision-making the way the Westerners accept it as normal. The 'developed' West may neither subscribe to the Asian views of ending marriage.

"No one is known to me, but I still feel sad for this tragedy," wrote a young Bangladeshi woman in her Facebook post reading the breaking news that Bill Gates and Melinda Gates were parting ways.

Giving an academic tone to the social media debate, Akhtar Mahmood, a former World Bank official, quoted Nobel prize-winning economist Gary Becker who, in "The Economic Approach to Human Behavior" stated, "A married person terminates his/her marriage when the utility anticipated from being single or marrying someone else exceeds the loss in utility from separation."

Retired bureaucrat Faizul Latif Chowdhury hastened to elucidate the Bill-Melinda episode, noting, "The conditions of relationship a la Becker have collapsed, that is, the total net value of the relationship has turned negative over time."

Is marriage, or divorce, too, an act of laissez-faire economy?

A 75-year-old man married a woman in her 30s. Once a friend asked if he had lied about his age, the gentleman said he had mentioned his age to be 89, and the lady was very happy to marry him (hoping that she would soon inherit a lot of wealth)! Former finance minister M Syeduzzaman shared this story to add to the analysis.

In a book titled "Bangladesh: Reflections on the Water", James J Novak tried to explain how famines had shaped the psyche of the Bangalees. Maybe that's why, the emerging middle class fears financial insecurity and prefers solvency to moral precepts while choosing a groom.

Few Bangladeshis have been alarmed by the rise in divorce up to 30 per cent in recent years. Some may read the trend as a sign of social advancement alongside economic growth. Children from well-off families prove to be quick in cutting off strained relations following suit of the 'developed' nations.

Personality clash and 'breach of trust' are said to be major causes of marital disputes in the West that, however, are settled 'peacefully'. In Asian values, it's almost a taboo; if one has to break up with the spouse, s/he mostly exposes bitterness.

Now a silent but growing social crisis in Bangladesh, divorce and its consequences still misses the attention of many including policymakers.

While relatively empowered women are less hesitant in splitting up with husbands, the 'culprits' in most such cases are a section of men who could be dubbed bhadaima. It's the one who doesn't do anything mentionable but talks tall, evades responsibility and is dependent on others for subsistence.

Some of them do jobs or run small businesses but only casually and others are so ambitious and bohemian that they can't do anything. As husbands they exploit their wives, no matter whether the women work at home or serve outside.

In the event of divorce, it's the women, mothers in particular, who struggle throughout their life with children. The problem is more acute in villages than in urban slums, for rural women scarcely find opportunities to earn a living.

The men who love to grow as parasites not just create stigma for the women in wedlock by often leading them to separation; these creatures neither develop themselves nor are they patronised to become enterprising ones.

In the payroll funded by taxpayers, there are people of similar nature who barely act for making collective progress.

Indeed, we don't see a happy marriage between the country's public service delivery and taxpaying culture for attaining a welfare-oriented economy. Who would then say no citizens can be divorced from a functional state?

 

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