LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIP IN INDIA

LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIP IN INDIA

 Ninaad Deshmukh

 Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai

Our life has been ushered into the modern age with such pace that a lot of people haven’t even noticed the kinds of changes we have gone through. Be it our lifestyle, our methods to solve problems, our comfort places and the pop culture – they have all gone through tremendous change. It is fairly safe to say that our entire way of viewing and living life has completely changed.

Even a conservative country in India is going through this experience. Every day we come into contact with new ideas, concepts and identities that keep being discovered and forged into reality. Although the country is viewed as being on the path of holistic development, there are still a lot of traditional ideas that refuse to be accepted as part of history. In today’s fast paced and stressful life, people seldom have time to worry about peripheral obligations. Even important facets of human life, like relationships and family have come to be sidelined as we have begun entering a phase of fundamentally individualistic perspective on life.

As such, the concept of marriage has itself become a sort of a burden. As a consequence, a lot of people now prefer either casual hookups to satisfy sexual desires, or the concept of a live-in relationship to fill the romantic void in their life, for it is akin to the fundamental concept of marriage sans the typical marital obligations that supposedly drag individuals down. A live-in relationship, also known as cohabitation in some countries, is an arrangement when two people involved in a romantic and sexual relationship as partners for a long term or permanently, decide to live together without marriage.

The world has more or less accepted this as a natural phenomenon and moved on. But in a country like India, marriages are considered as one of the most important events of a person’s life, so much so that a marital union is considered a form of blessing by God’s grace. Hence, the traditional sanctity that is associated with marriage makes it a little difficult for a comparatively ‘crude’ concept of the likes of a live-in relationship – which is nowhere near the kind of formal and obligation-based union that marriage is – to be accepted into Indian society. Even though there is a significant bit of acceptance, the stands are still fairly conflicted.

As is the status quo, there is no specific legislation in India regulating the matter of live-in relationship. Therefore, the Supreme Court has taken liberty to elaborate on the concept through its judgments at different times and has also issued guidelines for the purpose of dealing with such relationships.

In the same context, there is no particular legal definition of a live-in relationship. But, the Supreme Court, in the case of Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma[1], stated that relationships in the nature of marriage have five distinct ways:

  • A domestic cohabitation between a major unmarried female and a major unmarried male. It is considered as the simplest kind of relationship between all.

 

  • A domestic cohabitation between that was entered mutually by a major unmarried woman and a married man;

 

  • A domestic cohabitation between that was entered mutually by a major unmarried man and a married woman;

 

  • A domestic cohabitation between that was entered unknowingly by a major unmarried woman, and a married man;

 

  • A domestic cohabitation between partners who are homosexual.

But even these classifications are only illustrative.

As for the legality of live-in relationships, in the case of Lata Singh v. State of U.P.[2], it was held by the Apex Court that a live-in relationship between two consenting adults of opposite sex, though perceived as immoral, does not amount to any offence under the law. In another important case Khushboo v. Kanaimmal and Another[3], the Supreme Court observed:

“Though the concept of live-in relationship is considered immoral by the society, but is definitely not illegal in the eyes of the law. Living together is a right to life and therefore it cannot be held illegal.”

But, being the conservative form of life that the majority in India embraces, the Court has often ended up considering long-standing relationships akin to a marriage itself. In S.P.S Balasubramanyam v. Suruttayan[4], the Supreme Court had said:

“If a man and woman are living under the same roof and cohabiting for some years, there will be a presumption under Section 114 of the Evidence Act that they live as husband and wife and the children born to them will not be illegitimate.”

Further, the Court interpreted the status and legislation to an extent that it shows conformity from Article 39(f) of the Constitution of India which sets out the obligation of the State to give the children adequate opportunity so that they develop in proper manner and further safeguard their interest.

As a result, live-in relationships also have certain marriage related laws applicable to them, at least to a limited extent. For example, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 was enforced to protect the women in India from abusive marital relationships. Shielding the female partner in a live-in relationship, section 2(f) of the act is applicable for protection to not only married women but women living in a ‘relationship in nature of marriage.’

Also, all the personal laws in India protect women by offering the right of maintenance to them. But, unfortunately, none of the religions specifically accepts and recognizes a live-in relationship. Hence, the Indian courts solved this problem by widening the scope of maintenance under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Now, essentially, Section 125 of the act offers a legal right to maintenance to the female partner both in and out of marriage.

On the same lines, Section 16 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 talks about inheritance rights of children and provides the legal status of legitimacy to an illegitimate child i.e. a child born out of marriage for the sole purpose of inheritance. Hence, the children born out of a live-in relationship are also granted inheritance rights.

It can thus be seen that, as far as the legal perspective is concerned, a live-in is not as problematic as it seems. The question of concern arises when the legal sphere mingles with the social one, with the court having to look into the traditional, religious, and at times even historical aspects of matters to deliver the most precise and accurate judgment. As far as the newer generations are concerned, there is certainty of more and more acceptance of this form of life, but it is time that the conservative lobby comes forward and accepts the difference in the time and social setting, and the need to bring in more open formats and norms of life. It is hence time to embrace the only constant that governs everything – change.

 

[1](2013) 15 SCC 755

[2]AIR 2006 SC 2522

[3]5 SCC 600 2010

[4]1994 SCC (1) 460

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