In India, marriage is considered a sacramental institution and the same is based on the principles of responsibilities and tolerance. These principles have been followed throughout the generations and people have considered it their duty to follow the principles when they get married. However, as Indian society moved forward, people started looking for alternatives to marriage as the modern youth started considering the entire concept of marriage a burden. Over the years, a drastic change in the living pattern has been observed in the Indian society.
This paved the way for the emergence of the concept of Live-in Relationships in India. Live-in Relationships do not create any rights and responsibilities that are prevalent in case of a valid marriage. Neither the man or the woman is bound to have any kind of responsibilities towards each other. Since, this is a new concept in India, it has been heavily criticized and discussed as it lacked legality and acceptance by the society.
Live-in relationship, not acceptable- Punjab and Haryana High Court
The Punjab and Haryana High Court, in a recent judgment on 12th May 2021, dismissed a plea-protection filed by a young live-in couple that had moved the court after facing threats from the girl’s family, while noting that “if such protection as claimed is granted, the entire social fabric of the society would get disturbed.”
The 18-year-old woman along with her companion, who is aged 21, mentioned in their petition that the woman’s parents opposed their marriage and the family forced her to marry a man of their own choice. This made the couple elope and they were living together for the past one year. Having failed to secure protection from the police, they approached the court to resolve their grievances.
The bench of Justice Madaan, after hearing the matter, observed that the petitioners were seeking approval of their live-in relationship under the garb of filing the petition, which is socially and morally unacceptable. Hence, he dismissed the petition stating that no protection order in the petition can be passed.
The counsel for petitioner, Advocate J.S. Thakur said that the girl was 19 years old and the boy was 22 years old and both of them intended on marrying each other. However, due to some document, like the Aadhar card being in possession of the girl’s family, they could not get married. As the Supreme Court has already upheld the live-in relationship, the counsel of petitioners approached the High Court to seek protection of life and liberty till they get married.
In another Bench of the High Court headed by Justice Kshetarpal, noted that if protection to a runaway couple in a “live-in relationship” is granted, the “social fabric of the society would get disturbed.”
The High Court bench, while refusing to grant protection to the couple, observed that Petitioner 1 (girl) is barely 18 years old whereas Petitioner 2 (boy) is 21 years old. They have been residing together in a live-in relationship and are claiming for protection of their life and liberty from the girl’s relatives.
Legal Status of Live-In Relationships
The Court, by passing this order, questioned the entire well-based judicial trend of giving legal recognition to live-in relationships. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 defines 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.
Although the term “live-in” is not categorically defined in the Act, this provision widened the ambit of the courts to consider cases were domestic violence in relationships that are in the nature of marriage. The Courts interpreted the expression “relation in the nature if marriage” and presumed live-in relations to fall under this ambit. This gave women basic rights to protect themselves from the abuses of fraudulent relationships.
In the case of Kamini Devi v State of Uttar Pradesh, the Allahabad High Court granted protection to the couple who were living together stating that an arrangement between two consenting adults was not an offence and that nobody was allowed to interfere in their peaceful living which would violate their right to life that was guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. According to the division bench: When a boy and a girl have attained the age of majority and have decided to live together out of free will, nobody including their own parents have the right to interfere in their living conditions.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court’s discomfort with the young age of the petitioners run contrary to their own jurisprudence. In December 2020, in the case of Priyapreet Kaur v State of Punjab, the same court stated that the parents do not have the right to force their children to live a life based on their terms. In the said case, the petitioners were 18 and 19 years old. Even though the boy was not of legally marriageable age, the court held that the female petitioner, who was living with petitioner 2, was well within her right to decide for herself. The fact that both the petitioners, in the case, had attained the age of majority they had the right to live lives according to their own terms.
The order of 12th May 2021, is considered to be a huge step back from the progressive jurisprudence of the Indian Judiciary. This includes the Punjab and Haryana Court as well, that upheld the rights of young people to live their lives on their own terms.
The concept of live-in relationships and premarital sex is considered as an “attack on the centrality of marriage” by some sections of the society. It is quite evident that marriage is an important social institution in India, however one should always be open to the fact that there are several individuals who are not of the same opinions. Not granting protection to the couples who are living together is not only a violation of Article 21 but the requirement of marriage introduces a set of barriers for the same-sex couples who cannot get married legally even if they wanted to.