Live-in relationships among urban, educated, upper-middle class young people began as a so-called declaration of independence, of a chosen elite condemning the ‘shackles’ of institutionalised set-up that is marriage and family which is the very corner stone of Indian society. Now, with the Maharashtra Government recommending legalising live-in relationsh-ips it has almost done away with the institution of marriage.
The Maharashtra Government in an attempt to appear liberal and ‘modern’ has questioned the sacrosanct relationship of marriage. The bigger question in all this debate is individual choice vs. state laws. Have we reached a stage where whims and fancies of each individual are going to govern us? What happened to the norms set by civil society? Customs and usages are sources of law, but here the proposed law is questioning the existence of the custom of marriage that has existed since time immemorial and which keeps the social fabric together.
The Maharashtra Government is seeking to claim modernisation and claiming improvement of status of women. Entire civil society militates against this “ultra-modern theme” What is it that we seek to achieve with a law that questions the very foundation of society and acts as a catalyst for the disintegration of the family and the social structure? With our younger generation getting the choice not to marry and entering into as many live-ins as desired by them, the family structure will surely disintegrate and lead to a promiscuous, unstructured and amorphous culture.
That aside, this will lead to various complications in law and status of the live in partner qua the wife. With the proposed amendment in Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, any women living with a man for a reasonable time shall be entitled to ask for maintenance from the man u/s 125 of CrPC. With a ‘second woman’ being given an equal status as a wife, it will complicate matters of inheritance and devolution of property.
These questions will arise because a child born out of this relationship will be a legitimate child and have the same rights as a child born from marriage. With regard to devolution of property, the amendment creates utter chaos as it treats the property of the ‘partners’ as a community property but such a concept does not exist in a marriage, hence how will the property be divided, is a vital question that has been left unanswered by the Government. In addition, there is no specified period for which the man and woman should be living together before the women can claim maintenance or the status of a “live-in”.
There are some arguments presented by the supporters of the amendment. One of them being that it’s for the progression of women and will secure the pecuniary interest of the ‘other woman’. However, in this utopian situation we have forgotten that there maybe an existing wife also, who will suffer because of this proposed amendment. Therefore, promoting the interest of one woman against the other is antithetical to women and not for their benefit. Several people believe that the Supreme Court in its decision in the case of Tulsa & Ors. V. Durghatiya & Ors. has given a legal sanction to live-in relationships. However this is incorrect and the judgment elucidates that there is a presumption in favour of marriage if a man and woman have lived together for a long time.
In my view, the only reason the pro-choicers choose “live-in” as a way of life is on the assumption of “no strings” tied. If live-in is legalised, it has all the ingredients of marriage. Then why not marriage; a secure, defined, stable way of life for a family rather than a temporary, temporal, transient & unstable relationship. In conclusion all that can be said is that a ‘no-strings attached’ relationship is not the need of the hour but what is required is a mechanism to further strengthen the weakening family and social structure of society.
The writer is a senior advocate with the Supreme Court of India