TUMULTUOUS JUDGMENTS IN LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIPS

INTRODUCTION

Industrial and Technological breakthroughs have transformed every nook and corner of our lives in today’s fast-growing sphere. Globalization has influenced almost every constituent of our social life, which includes family, relationships, and marriage. Marriage is a legally recognized way of a couple’s relationship. Marriage is regarded as an important social institution in our society, and it is considered forbidden to live together without marrying. But recently we have been seeing many instances where people are living together without being married, or which is known as a live-in relationship, and this change has come with a lot of obstacles on the way due to deep-rooted socio-political norms in the country.

WHAT IS A LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIP?

A live-in relationship is a form of cohabitation, in which unwedded duo live conjointly to know if they would be compatible enough to live together once married. It provides them the opportunity to get to know one another and make well-informed decisions for future well-being and happiness.[1] The trend of this kind of relationship is rising in popularity, especially among metro cities of the country. In the west, it is a non-marital partnership that exists under several names such as, informal weddings, marriage by habit, considered marriages, and so on. The live-in relationship can be classified into three forms: the first is domestic cohabitation among unmarried heterosexual couples. The second form is unmarried same-sex partners, and the third one is adulterous relationships.

LEGALITY OF LIVE-IN RELATIONSHIPS

Live-in relationships, notably in nations where divorce is frowned upon and stigmatized, such as India, allow for separation without the intrusion of the state. Premarital sex, on the other hand, is frowned upon in Indian society. As a result, couples cohabiting before marriage are frequently viewed as culturally improper, and immoral to society norms. While some people have publicly adopted the notion of live-in relationships, it resumes being frowned upon by conservatives.

 Live-in relationships have grown commonplace and have been sanctioned by the Supreme Court. Personal autonomy resulting from the right to exist granted under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, rather than conceptions of societal morality, must be considered in live-in relationships.[2] This inalienable basic right gives birth to the right to marry or live with another person, as well as the freedom to do with someone of one’s own free will provided that the couples are fulfilling the basic conditions such as legally valid age, free consent, and soundness of mind. Also, as mentioned in the popular judgment of S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal, it was clearly stated that live-in relationships come under the purview of ‘the right to life’ under Article 21 of the constitution.[3]  There is no particular law for the same, but at the same time, no law prohibits an individual to have this kind of cohabit relationship.

In the judgment of Badri Prasad v. Dy. Director of Consolidation, the Supreme Court for the first time determined that live-in partnerships are legal. It was also discovered that if a couple lives, in conjunction, for a considerable period and identifies themselves as husband and wife to the society, they are regarded legally married.[4] The Supreme Court also declared that live-in relationships were now recognized by the law and were protected by the 2005 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.

But, even after judgments approving the legality of live-in relationships, why are we facing varied and tumultuous judgments in the High Courts of the country?

During the past few years, we have been seeing many stark and varied judgments in the case of live-in relationships. There seems to be dispute whether to consider law or social morality. For instance, in the recent case of the High Court of Rajasthan granted protection to the couple, on the ground that denying the same would amount to a violation of social morality and the individual freedom that a person owns. On the other side, in Gurwinder Singh & Anr v. The State of Punjab & Ores, the Punjab and Haryana HC denied that the couple should not be granted police protection, and declared that live-in relationships are socially and morally unacceptable, and should be not be encouraged.[5] Also, The Apex Court declared that, while live-in relationships are considered immoral, they are not illegal. In response to a question from the court about whether a live-in couple could be granted police protection to protect their life and liberty, the court denied on the following grounds: (a) The court reasoned that such a relationship cannot exist if either of the parties is already married because that would be a violation of statutory norms; (b) such a relationship would be considered an illicit and unholy, which would be harmful to the social fabric of the country; (c) protection granted through court order would amount to the court approving the commission of offenses.

It should be understood that criminal law should not be used to unnecessarily hamper the sphere of personal autonomy. The court must strive to protect the fundamental rights of an individual. Society expects a pragmatic approach from the judiciary as compared to pedantic which has been in light. Moreover, it has been shown that the judiciary often relies on historical precedents while citing the judgments in case of live-in relationships, it should be amended because relying on them will only impede the socio-political growth that this country needs the most at this time. The law holds that everyone’s life and liberty are valuable and must be safeguarded, regardless of one’s personal beliefs.

CONCLUSION

Due to the unavailability of vibrant laws for the live-in relationships, and social and cultural stigmas embedded in our society, there seem to have different interpretations by the judges in somewhat similar circumstances. The Indian judiciary is unwilling to recognize all live-in relationships. Only stable and sufficiently long-term relationships between the parties are eligible for the 2005 Domestic Violence Act’s protection. But, at the same time, evidently, it is not opposed to the concept of live-in relationships, which are particularly prevalent in cities. The judicial system needs to be well aware that the law must evolve to meet the changing needs of society.

Author(s) Name: Abha Singhal (Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala)

References:

[1] TIMESOFINDIA.COM, ‘Marriage vs. live-in relationship: Two different approaches to exploring love and companionship’, Entertainment Times < https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/relationships/love-sex/marriage-vs-live-in-relationship-two-different-approaches-to-exploring-love-and-companionship/articleshow/71582056.cms> Accessed 16th November 2021

[2] Jitendra Sarin, ‘Live-in relationships part of life: Allahabad high court’, The Hindustan Times < https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/lucknow-news/livein-relationships-part-of-life-allahabad-high-court-101635449449557.html> Accessed 16th November 2021

[3] S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal, (2010) 5 SCC 600.

[4] Badri Prasad v. Dy. Director of Consolidation, (1978) 3 SCC 1557

[5] PTI, ‘Live-in-relationships morally, socially unacceptable — Punjab and Haryana HC’ 18th May 2021, The Print <https://theprint.in/judiciary/live-in-relationships-morally-socially-unacceptable-punjab-and-haryana-hc/660560/> Accessed 8th November 2021

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