A man living in with a woman is not immune to charges of rape, the Delhi high court has ruled, saying such a relationship can’t be granted status of marriage.
"As far as the relief sought to keep live-in relationships outside the purview of Section 376 (rape) of the IPC is concerned, the same would amount to giving live-in relationships the status of matrimony…which the legislature has chosen not to do", the court said. Marital rape is not a crime in India.
The court threw out a public interest litigation (PIL) which demanded that complaints lodged by a live-in partner be registered as a case of cheating, and not rape.
Live-in relationships arrived late in India but are now fairly common, especially in urban areas among young working couples.
"All that we can observe is that a live-in-relationship constitutes a distinct class from marriage. It is also not as if the defence of consent would not be available in such cases to the accused," a bench of chief justice G Rohini and justice RS Endlaw said.
The domestic violence law identifies a live-in as a relationship in “the nature of matrimony”, allowing women to claim maintenance from the man.
The court, however, refused to meddle with the existing law which leaves a man open to facing rape charges carrying a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
In his PIL, Delhi resident Anil Dutt Sharma said records showed that in a majority of rape cases men were acquitted as women filed false cases.
"In more than 70% cases, the accused are found not guilty and other associated family members of the acquitted accused face humiliation in society," the PIL said.
It sought directions to the Centre and Delhi government to ensure that compensation was paid to men falsely accused of rape and action taken against those misusing the law.
It was not for the court to direct police whom to arrest, the bench said. Sharma said the police should not make an arrest merely on the basis of an allegation. They should first conduct a preliminary probe and wait for a medical report before proceeding, the PIL had said.