Live In Relationships in Indian Societal Context
Live in relationship is a new concept in India. Though the ‘unmarried couple’ status existed, it was not popular and the term ‘Live in relationship’ was not given to it. With changing times and attitude of the people these relations have come to the main stream of the society. The number of such relations are increasing gradually and this has compelled the Apex court of India to take the matter gravely. The recent developments in the issue has provided the ground to discuss the pertinence and the effects of such relationships on Indian society.
India is a country where Marriage is treated as a sacramental bonding between two people. The concept of husband, wife and family is still given utmost importance in many communities of the country. Cohabitation had been a taboo since British rule. However, this no longer holds good in metro cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi, but is not so often found in rural and Semi-urban areas with more conservative values. Though it is not illegal in India, majority considers it to be aberrant and is looked down upon. With the population over 1 billion, less than 2% of the people may be in Live in relationships. Not only it lacks the public backing, the Indian communal setup makes it difficult to adopt any legislation regarding the issue.
There are some sensitive points to be discussed about the relevance of Live in relationships in Indian public life.
Speaking about the culture of India, it is well known that Majority of the Indians are conventional in the way they lead their life. Encouraging an unconventional concept like Live in relationship would certainly create a stir in the society leading to multiple disturbances. Also it harms the long cherished values of institutions like marriage and family. It may lead to situations where such practices may prove to be dangerous to the status and rights of women which is already being neglected from centuries. Most importantly young girls are in a danger of being misused by crooked men where the girls end up being victims of lust and ruin their lives on false beliefs.
In a recent Judgment of D Patchaiammal v. Velusamy the Supreme Court held that not all live in relationships will amount to a relationship in the nature of marriage to get the benefit of the Prevention of women from domestic violence Act of 2005. The Women in such relationships are ‘not’ entitled for any maintenance unless the following conditions are fulfilled such as:
(1) The couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses,
(2) They must be of legal age to marry,
(3) They must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage including being unmarried, (4) they must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time.
Here again the questions arise, what is a significant period of time? What is the gauge to measure the proximity of a live in relationship with that of marriage? These conditions make it more difficult to a woman favoring the man.
With these there are some intrinsic advantages to married couples like marriage certificate issued by a competent legal authority such as the registrar of marriages is not only a mere legal document but it is the most important piece of document when it comes handy to all sort of legal issues. The live in couples don't possess such legal documents & if they have to seek any legal help anytime regarding each other they won't get any. The live in relationship only save their time & money, incase they fail to continue this relationship anytime in their life & they can simply walk out of each other's life just without going through any legal formalities which is required in case of legally married couples, who have to go through the complete judicial process that is provided in the matrimonial law according to which they got married. In that case they get their legal rights of custody of child, settlement of their properties & place of residence too decided accordingly. The live in relationship doesn't provide any legal right to claim all these, incase they give birth to a child; then the future of the child is also in jeopardy if the relationship doesn’t last long.
On the other hand, the Live in relationships are on a steady growth and a certain section of people in India are readily endorsing and practicing it.
On 23rd march 2010 a three judge bench of Supreme court comprising the then Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Deepak Verma and B.S. Chauhan observed that a man and woman living together without marriage cannot be construed as an offence and held that living together is a Right to Life and Liberty as a Fundamental Right (Article 21).
The apex court said there was no law which prohibits live-in relationship or pre-marital sex. The apex court made this observation while reserving its judgement on a special leave petition filed by noted south Indian actor Kushboo seeking to quash 22 criminal cases filed against her after she allegedly endorsed pre-maritial sex in interviews to various magazines in 2005.
In Payal Katara v. Superintendent of Nari Niketan it has been established that anyone, man or woman, could live together even without getting married if they wished. Further, the Apex court has reiterated that the children born out of such relations are legitimate and have property rights of their parents under Section 16 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 but not right to ancestral property.
All these developments are indeed welcoming and pragmatic in approach. India is a fast developing nation and growth of such relations are very normal. Live in relations provide the individuals with ample time before getting into marriage and to concentrate on career and personal growth. Freedom, respect to individuality, uncomplicated separations are few of the advantages of being in a Live in relationship.
Different countries have different stand on Live in relationships. For example in Bangladesh cohabitation after divorce is frequently punished by the salishi system of informal courts, especially in rural areas. In Indonesia, an Islamic penal code proposed in 2005 would have made cohabitation punishable by up to two years in prison. Also Cohabitation is illegal according to sharia law in countries where it has been practiced. On the other side in many developed countries like USA (23% in 2003), Denmark, Norway, Sweden (above 50%), and Australia (22%) etc Live in relationships are very commonly practiced, accepted and are not considered to be Illegal.
Though this is a new concept and the Indian social setting is entirely different to that of developed and other developing countries, the existence of Live in relationships has definitely made a mark in the modern Indian public life and the changes are widely visible. It’s high time that the State considers it seriously and takes necessary steps to control and decide issues on this matter by not giving any room to conflicts and controversies in the days to come.
1. D.Velusamy Vs. D.Patchaiammal on 21 October, 2010 http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/1521881/
The author can be reached at: Bdoddahatti@legalserviceindia.com