According to Merriam-Webster, “Platonic relationships are those characterized by friendship and lacking romantic or sexual aspects, in contrast with romantic relationships.” In these relationships, individuals manifest feelings of platonic love, affection and care for each other. Throughout this writeup, I will be referring to the individuals in platonic relationships who share the same household for a reasonable amount of time. Those individuals who are committed and look after each other like family members despite not being related by blood, marriage or romantic involvement. I will be making a case for the legal recognition and social acceptance as a “family” for the individuals who possess a relationship of care irrespective of their number, age, gender and sexual orientation.
We can see that there are broadly three classifications of relationships that may result in family or family-like structures.
- Marriage: Marriage is considered to be a sacred institution in our society. The traditional family structure is viewed through the lens of marriage. Married couples gain social acceptance, conjugal rights and other spousal benefits associated with tax, hospitalisation, property acquisition and pension. Subject to the personal laws of every religion, they also get the right over their spouse’s property if they die intestate, meaning dying without instating a will.
- Romantic involvement and Sexual relationship: Although the notion of unmarried couples living together is not widely accepted in Indian society, live-in relationships are on the rise. However, through various judicial pronouncements, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, subject to certain conditions, has recognised live-in relationships and deliberated on the nature and the rights arising from the same.
In Badri Prasad v. Director of Consolidation, the court held that a 50-year long live-in relationship was legitimate. As the couple lived together for a considerable time, there was a strong presumption of wedlock. The law favoured the legitimacy of their relationship and suggested that if any third party wished to object to this, a heavy burden of proof would lie on them.
In Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma, while dealing with the subject matter of legal recognition of live-in relationships, the court referred to the Section 2(f) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2015 (”Act”) that defines the term ‘domestic relationship’ as “a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in a shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family.” The court held that live-in relationships are included in the phrase ‘relationship in nature of marriage. However, not all live-in relationships receive marriage-akin recognition. Tests like duration of the period of relationship, shared household, pooling of resources and financial arrangements, domestic arrangements, sexual relationship, children, companionship, socialisation in public like that of spouses and intention, the conduct of parties were laid down in the case that was to be considered while determining the nature of the live-in relationship.
- Companionship: It is apparent that marriage and live-in relationships receive legal recognition in various forms. However, we see no provisions to recognise the relationship of care between platonic companions. Except for the tests of sexual relationship, children and socialising like spouses, platonic companions are capable of fulfilling all the other conditions that would establish their commitment towards the relationship resulting in a dynamic like that of family members.
We granted recognition for unmarried men and women to live together because we wanted to protect their individual choices. Then why haven’t we been given the social acceptance and legal recognition for the personal choice of the very same men and women to live together as platonic companions? We decriminalised the sexual activity between consenting homosexual adults to move towards a more inclusive society. Then why don’t we legally recognise and include the platonic relationships of care between individuals of all sexual orientations in our perception of the family? Why can’t we identify and build our notions of “family” based on care, affection, support, commitment and love alone? Why do we need bonds that are centred around sexual relationships? Like, no individual should face discrimination because of their personal preferences in choosing sexual partners. Similarly, no individual should also have to face raised eyebrows for choosing to live with the partners of their choice without sexual involvement.
- Need for their Legal Recognition: There still are stereotypes that invite unnecessary public scrutiny of relationships between the opposite sexes in our society. Society is not even entirely prepared to accept a “guy-girl friendship,” let alone the thought of them living together and sharing a common household. Providing legal recognition to platonic relationships will pave the way for the possibility of the view that companionship might exist beyond romantic involvement and sexual relationships.
Owing to societal pressure, often people impose self-restraint on their right to personal choice. For instance, a senior citizen wishes to have a companion in his life to share his feelings and get rid of loneliness. But he might not be looking for romantic involvement. Already pressured by the societal definitions of the “right age to marry,” he would find himself in a fix. This judgement on the part of society would increase if the same man decided to live with his companion without the sanctity of marriage. Why should he be deprived of his right to choose just because society doesn’t approve?
We live in a country with a huge diversity of religions, languages, cultures, standards of living, resulting in differences in opinions, personal preferences, perceptions and attitudes. However, we are a democracy, where each one of these is respected. We live in the 21st century, where we keep on adapting to changes, unconventional viewpoints and pathbreaking ideas. Now is also the time that we broaden our definition of “family” and include the non-traditional structures and arrangements of the same. Family is a concept close to the hearts of all of us. Just the way we proudly declare the love for our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and spouses, live-in partners, our platonic relationships of care should also be accepted and recognised without scrutiny and judgement.
Author(s) Name: Akshata Gaikaiwari (ILS Law College, Pune)