Living in is about leaving two people alone. Now the government and society are trying to have a say in that, too.” Advertising professional Natasha Singh (31) is clearly not too enthused about the Maharashtra government’s recent proposal to recognise live-in relationships and give a woman involved in such a relationship (“for a reasonable period of time”) legal rights similar to those enjoyed by a wife.
While this is, overall, seen as a positive step that will safeguard the rights of many women in such relationships, there is another point of view from urban professionals who say, we can look after ourselves, thank you.
“If someone wanted to be a wife and enjoy her rights, she would just get married instead of living in. The whole purpose of living in is that you are free; that, at the back of your head, you know you’re not answerable to each other’s families,” explains Natasha Singh.
Singh lived in for a year with Biki Duggal, her boyfriend of seven years, before giving in to her parents’ wishes and getting married. “Neither Biki and I were crazy about marriage. I’d have rather lived in with him but it finally turned out to be an intermediate step between dating and marriage,” she says.
Says Duggal, an entrepreneur, “Many live-ins, like ours, end up in marriage only because of parental pressure. In any case, we were as good as married for practical purposes and doing things for each other that I’ve seen my parents do.”
Singh and her husband define the new-age live-in relationship — one that is not an anti-marriage statement but to the contrary, a probation period of sorts with an exit option but no expiry date, that usually culminates in marriage.
And for some, like Malishka Choudhary* and Ved Khanna*, just a convenient arrangement. The couple had been dating for several years in Pune before they moved to Mumbai to further their careers. Long work hours and hectic commutes made it impossible to meet on weekdays, and a few hours every weekend just didn’t cut it for them. “We always had to meet in public places because we had roommates at our respective flats,” remembers Choudhary. So, they decided, “It was just practical to rent one space rather than two, and live together. Besides, we both knew marriage was on the anvil at some point in the future,” recalls Choudhary. She and Khanna got married ten years ago.
The couple lived in for two years in an Andheri flat, without, surprisingly, disapproving frowns from conservative neighbours. “We just got lucky, maybe because many single professionals lived in the building. But our parents still don’t know that we lived in at one point, though they were aware of our relationship. This was possible only because we lived away from both sets of parents,” she concedes.
Singh and Duggal, too, say one of the reasons they decided to live in was that they had to pay just one set of bills. Duggal agrees that in cases where the man is already married and living in with another woman’, the government’s proposal makes sense. But he believes that in cases like theirs, the state government’s move to equate the live-in partner with a wife is “weird, because if people wanted the benefits of a marriage, they would just get married.” His reasoning: “A live-in is about two people, whereas a marriage is about two families. If something goes wrong when you’re living in, you can extricate yourself without too many people getting affected. If a marriage fails, it’s a mess,” he says, speaking from experience — he was in an earlier live-in relationship before he met Singh.
With a lot more at stake in marriage, he believes, “For the next generation, live-in relationships are going to become a generic reality.”
A reality that may or may not end in marriage. Manshi Ashar, an activist in Himachal Pradesh who lives in with her partner, Prakash (surname withheld), says she’s not hoping for it to lead to wedlock. “I choose to live in because I have rejected the institution of marriage. I believe that a marriage is between two people and if you want to end it, you should be able to do it without having to justify it to the state. I don’t ever want to come under the scanner of the law, so I choose to live with my companion without marriage,” she says. However, Ashar is equally clear that there is another side to the argument. “Legal recognition will help women fight men who use them or refuse to take responsibility for them, especially if they are dependent on them,” she says.