Live-in relationships: Deemed to be marriage?

This article is written by Yuvina Goyal. Yuvina is a third-year student of BSc. LLB at NUJS Kolkata.

 

The Indian society is deeply rooted on traditional values and customary practices and the idea of live-in relationships is one which still has not come out of its closed shell and has not gained an active recognition by a very large section of the society. Marriage in our society is considered to be the basic foundation of the society and governing all heterosexual relations since time immemorial.

In such a context, the concept of live-in relationship seems to challenge the basic tenets of marriage as a sacrosanct institution.  It is still considered to be a taboo in India for two adults to enter into a relationship without the sacrament of marriage and it has social stigma attached to it. The growing trend of borrowing the Western culture and values have harnessed the growth of materialistic relations like these. The most important stake holder of such a relationship is the children born out of these relations. Whence, legitimacy of such children, their right to inheritance, maintenance, welfare, education etc. are some pertinent spheres to be taken into consideration.

The concept of live-in relationships has not yet been granted a legal status or recognition in the Indian legal system. But it is slowly emerging and there are various legal reforms in this direction. One such is that of the Malimath Commission which was set up by the Supreme Court for reforms in Criminal Justice system of India. The Committee which later submitted the report mentioned that-“The definition of the word ‘wife ‘in Section 125 should be amended so as to include a woman who was living with the man as his wife for a reasonably long period, during the subsistence of the first marriage.”[1]This will thereby, entitle a female live-in partner the lawful right to claim alimony   as well. The same idea has further been reiterated by a report from the National Commission for Women in 2008.

On a similar note, even the Supreme Court of India has recognised the living together of two major unmarried heterogeneous couples in the case Lata Singh v. State of U.P [2] (with the exception of Adultery). A similar approach was taken in the case Khushboo v. Kaniammal[3] where 22 criminal petitioners were filed against a south-indian actress following her comments in a magazine during a survey on premarital sex and she endorsed the concept of live-in relationships. The court cited the example of Radha and Krishna to substantiate its judgement. Furthermore, the Supreme Court in the landmark case Tulsa v. Durgaditya., held that,” when a man and a woman have cohabited for a long period of time they will be considered to be married unless there is an evidence to the contrary[4].This judgment is evidence to the fact that the court has taken an approach in favour of treating live-in relations as marriage. However, on a perverse end, the Delhi High Court in its decision in  Alok Kumar v State case, while dealing with the validity of live in relationship held that ,“Live-in relationship’ is a walk-in and walk-out relationship. There are no strings attached to this relationship, neither this relationship creates any legal bond between the parties. It is a contract of living together which is renewed every day by the parties and can be terminated by either of the parties without consent of the other party and one party can walk out at will at any time.”

Having discussed the legality pertaining to live-in relationships it is quite evident that the position of law in this subject is still unclear and a lot of confusion prevails. This is also the case with regards to the legitimacy of children born out of such relations. The severity is more so because of the vulnerable position that have in the socio-economic sphere. In the present scenario, live-in relationship is not only a socially condemned practice but it has also been criticized legally. The legislature and the judiciary has remained silent on this matter considering the stigma attached to it and in one way shows their reluctance to accept the shift to such volatile and unstable relations in place of a sacramental union of marriage. It is an instrument used to curb the adaption to the western culture and a tool to act as a deterrent so that people do not commit themselves into such union. The sufferers are the innocent children who are born into the world with no clear legal status or security and continue to lead their life with emotional and mental instability. Hence, there is a need to develop laws for the protection of these innocent ones whose security is the state’s responsibility.

 

[1] Malimath Comittee Report, 2003

[2] AIR 2006 SC 2522

[3] .AIR 2010 SC 3196

[4] 2008 SC 1193

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