Live in relationships- legal or illegal in India?

Relationship is an umbrella term. It means different things under different circumstances, it can be with different people, it can be formal or casual, it can be with places and things. Understanding relationships is difficult, there are layers to it. Some have depth, some are shallow, some are complicated, some are easy and simple. Indian people seem to have the relationship criteria sorted out. Parents- you’re supposed to live with them. Friends who drink and smoke- you’re not supposed to have. Marriage should be at an appropriate age. Love interest before marriage- this term does not exist in Indian society. 

But the society tends to be dynamic. Change is inevitable, nobody can stop it. The winds of modernization along with acceptance are bound to catch up with everybody. People change the way they think and start looking at new things, start considering things that were once “taboo” as normal and general in nature. Live-in relationship means when two partners who are interested in each other romantically live together without marriage. It’s as simple as that. People who love each other live together as per their wishes and arrangement without performing marriage. 

Some people understand this and have no problem with it. Many people disapprove of this. Societies don’t allow bachelors to live in their buildings, filing of police complaints, harassment, being judged even by their own parents and various other types of things are normal to the people living together. Indian society is very unpredictable. Knowing what gets accepted and what gets rejected is almost impossible. There are certain factors though which can accelerate or de-track this process, Indian courts or the judicial system plays a very important role in this. Recent judgment for decriminalizing of section 377 led to general acceptance for lgbtqi+ people. The courts have had a mixed opinion regarding live-in relationships as of now.

On May 12, 2021, the Punjab and Haryana High Court observed that: if such protection as claimed is granted, the entire social fabric of the society would get disturbed.” While it was refusing to grant protection to a young couple that had moved the court in fear of threats received from the girl’s family. 

 The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 defines a domestic relationship as “two persons who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in a shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family.” This opened the doors for courts to consider that domestic violence in relationships should be considered in relations that need not be marital but in the nature of marriage.

In Kamini Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh, W.P. (C) 11108/2020, the Allahabad High Court granted protection to a couple in a live-in relationship, saying that such an arrangement between consenting adults will not be considered as an offense and that nobody would be permitted to interfere in their peaceful living as the right to life was a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. According to the division bench’s judgment, in this case, it is settled law “…that where a boy and a girl are major and they are living with their free will, then, nobody including their parents, has authority to interfere with their living together.

The Supreme Court had, as early as in 2006, held, in its judgment in the case of Lata Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh ((2006) 5 SCC 475), that a woman if she were a major, was free to marry anyone she likes or live with anyone she likes.” This case was a major one in setting a precedent for the generations to come.

In 2010, the apex court observed, in the matter of S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal (AIR 2010 SC 3196), that morality and criminality could not be co-extensive. Its judgment sagely observed:

“… The acceptance of premarital sex and live-in relationships is viewed by some as an attack on the centrality of marriage. While there can be no doubt that in India, marriage is an important social institution, we must also keep our minds open to the fact that there are certain individuals or groups who do not hold the same view. To be sure, there are some indigenous groups within our country wherein sexual relations outside the marital setting are accepted as a normal occurrence. Even in the societal mainstream, there are a significant number of people who see nothing wrong in engaging in premarital sex. Notions of social morality are inherently subjective and the criminal law cannot be used as a means to unduly interfere with the domain of personal autonomy”

Live-in relationships are socially and morally not acceptable, the Punjab and Haryana High Court recently observed while declining to grant protection to a couple seeking protection of their life. The petitioner couple — a 19-year-old woman from Uttar Pradesh and a 22-year-old man from Punjab — had moved the High Court seeking directions to Punjab Police to protect their life and liberty from the woman’s family

Justice S Vaidhyanathan observed in his order, “The present generation must understand that marriage is not a contract, but a sacramental one. Of course, the word ‘sacrament’ has no meaning after coming into effect of the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which approves live-in-relationship. Husbands and wives must realize that ‘ego’ and ‘intolerance’ are like footwear and should be left out of their house when they enter the home, else, the child/children will have to face a miserable life.

Reading the judgments and statements made by the judges in the courts it is difficult to ascertain that whether they support live in relationships fully or are in total defiance. The current situation is that the views which can be seen in the judgments seem to come, more out of a personal context rather than logical thinking and general acceptance of a societal norm for the upcoming generation. If the support is not unanimous some couples will enjoy the benefits while others have to suffer. Now, this is where the personal thinking and understanding of people need to change and that includes everybody. As far as their legal or illegal status is defined, not considering the society’s view regarding this, consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want to do as long as it comes under the purview of the law. 

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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