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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Law on Live-in-relationship


SAHARA TIME

Law on Live-in-relationship 


The Maharashtra cabinet's move to legalize live-in relationships is raising more questions than answers


Pragya Bharati

THE Maharashtra cabinet with chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh in the chair has given its nod to amending section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to protect the pecuniary interests of the 'other woman'. As the CrPC comes under the concurrent list which is under the jurisdiction of the central government, the cabinet's proposal would be sent to the Centre for the President's assent.The Maharashtra cabinet's recommendation tothe Centre to enact a law to legalizelive-in relationships has opened up a Pandora's   box.The issue has got a mixedresponse and has created a controversy sorts. Purists  believe that legalizing live-in relationships would encourage permissiveness,but Gen X believes that such relationships should be given legal rights.The amendment would protect the interests of women involved in polygamous or live-in relationships. According to the proposed amendment, the definition of 'wife'under section 125 needs to be changed toinclude a woman who has been living with aman like his wife for a "reasonably long period." However, the state has not specified theterm 'reasonably long period' that a woman

INTERVIEW • INDIRA JAI SINGH, Supreme Court lawyer and activist

The intention of the bill is toprotect the rights of womenL ive-in arrangementshave been found to be more convenient for asection of society thatbelieves in sharing as long as it's not boring. Whether theMaharashtra government'sproposal to legalise live-in relationships gets the centralgovernment's nod or not, therewon't be any adverse effect on the makeshift relationships a law permits two adults to choose the way of their life. However, the recent amendmentsin some criminal laws seek to do justice to women who complain of high-handedness by men. The Domestic Violence Act (DVA) is one, granting protection to women who have been subjected to violence.

Sahara Time correspondent Soni Sinha spoke to Supreme Court lawyer and activist Indira Jal Singh on the recently introduced Live-in relationship Bill that has the Maharashtra government's approval.
Excerpts: Q. What is the implication of the Live-in relationship Bill in your opinion?
A. The intention of the bill is to protect the rights of women who are living with men under the impression that they are lawfully married to them. The problem arises because there is no law for the compulsory registration of marriages. As a result there is no independent way of finding out if a man is already married when he enters into another marriage. Such marriages are void, leaving the woman high and dry. In such situations, the woman needs to be given maintenance. The bill will achieve that purpose.
Q. Does it, in anyway, safeguard or jeopardize the institution of marriage and the family?
A. Apart from such women who have been married and hold the legal sanction of being the 'wife' of xyz in society, women who choose to live in 'relationships' should not be discriminated against only because they are not married and hence must receive maintenance. To deny them this right would mean discrimination.
Q. What is the main intention of bringing the bill when Section 125 of the CrPc under the Domestic Violence Bill already exists?
A. The government of Maharashtra has proposed to amend the definition of the word 'wife' under Section 125 of the CrPC to include a woman who was living with aman like his wife for a reasonably long period. The difficulty lies when the state does not specify the term - 'reasonably long period' in which a woman needs to stay with a man to be deemed a wife for the purposes of Section 125.
Q. Is it in anyway actually safeguarding the rights of the male?
A. No comment.
Q. What is the status of the children born out of sucha relationship, legally and socially speaking?
A. Children of void marriages are given inheritance rightsat present. However, childrenfrom live-in relationships may not have such rights. I do not think this is an issue of morality. People arrange their lives in many different ways and all these must be respected so long as they do not affect anyone else.

RANJANA KUMARI, women's rights activist: The new definition of a wife to be
defined under the proposed change in theCrPC would providesome financialprotection to them. The amendment would be more useful to women living in the rural areas. In villages and backward areas of the country, polygamy still exists but the law does not provide any rights to the second 'wife' rendering her extremely vulnerable. Indian cities have been witnessing a growing number of live-in relationships and the issue needs to be dealt with. The bill is going to provide protection to such vulnerable people.  

NAFISA ALI, social activist: No one who is close to a commitment of a lifetime and has children out of such relations, should encourage a change of VOICES OF WELCOME attitude after being in it for a period where he/she has sought any support from each other. If the Maharashtra government has come up with a law safeguarding this kind of relationship, then it should be respected as it is in the interest of such individuals. What problems it will create for a family or the institution of marriage remains to be seen as that is a separate issue.

ANUPAM KHER, actor: A discussion has started in the country about the status of women in society, thedignity of the institution of marriage, the rights of alegally wedded  wife, polygamy and so many other issues. Newspapers,TV channels and newswebsites are full of opinions about these issues. Butthese discussions only goto increase the TRP ratings.
Though the intent might be proper but the law can be misused. It is being opposed both by the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP has
decided to launch an agitation over the issue needs to stay with a man to be treated as
his wife. The proposal, based on the recommendations of the Justice MallimathCommittee, says that if a man and awoman are living together as husband
and wife for a reasonably long period,then the man shall be deemed to have
married the woman. As per section 125of the CrPC, the woman would even be
entitled to alimony. But women will not have the right to property.
A NIMHANS study gives credence tothe fact that these changes will indeed help inreducing crime and cruelty against women.M N Gilani, principal secretary (lawand judiciary), said that the amendment to section 125 of the CrPC would discourage
men from denying their marriage. As per the existing provisions, a
legally married woman who does not have employment or earnings, is entitled to maintenance. The Act also recognizes the right to maintenance of a child born outside wedlock. The state government has decided toamend the Act because women have been denied maintenance in certaincases in the past. There had been many instances of women getting cheated bytheir husbands on the pretext of being unmarried or being divorcees. In somecases, a man defends himself by saying that his marriage with the other woman is void as he has another living spouse. Gilani said that the purpose of the amendment is to do away with the

SABRINA LAL,rights activist:
People who are in a live-in relationshipare going to be in therelation anyway. The proposed amendment is only for the purposes of section 125 of the CrPC and is about the maintenancefor a woman when she is unable to maintain herself. Allother fears about its effects onsociety, families, the institution of marriage and on married life are baseless. It is only a step to remove the difficulties of the woman in a live-in relationship with a man or separating after such a relationship.

SHEEBA FEHMI, social activist:
All those who are against this law must understand that such changes are driven by circumstances. When the Supreme Court and the cabinet of Maharashtra have taken
a decision on it we should give it serious thought and should not shun it in the name of "Indian Culture". There must have been a serious necessity for such laws to protect women living under informal relationships. Secondly, culture is not the supreme value which needs to be protected at the cost of human and civil rights violations. Culture is invoked only in the case of women's empowerment and everything becomes 'positive progress' when a male is the beneficiary. Therefore, it is the right time. We must stop putting things in over simplified 'good' and 'bad' categories because there are gray areas as well, which affect our life and we need to act accordingly and Those who oppose this law must understand that the socio- economic cost of marriages has driven the younger generation to such a simple solution. Moreover, for those who go into such relationships only for the sake of fashion or adventurism, this law will definitely deter them and take the fizz out of it by making the male spouse as responsible as a 'legal husband'. It is right that this bill in its present form is at its nascent stage and needs refinement. It needs to define many issues such as 'considerable time' etc. It also needs to differentiate between the already married man having another companion in the form of a live-in relationship and a monogamous couple being in a neat live-in relationship. It also needs to clarify the complications over inheritance among children, succession and natural heir's status. It must streamline the status of female spouses amongst them. These anomalies may be looked after with some profound understanding of the situation. One should not oppose this law which is a need of the changing times, citing these snags. Do not throw out the baby along with the bath water.
                                                                             • Soni Sinha   



requirement of women to prove their marriage to claim maintenance. "If evidence
shows the woman lived with aman for a reasonably long period... she would be entitled to maintenance," the note says. G K Karanth, head of the departmentof sociology, Institute of Socio-Economic Change, says that thoughrigid prudishness over relationships isgradually easing, especially among theyounger generation, the element ofsanctity of a marriage still remains. He says: "We still believe inIndianness. What we are witnessing atpresent is just an  'event'in sociological  terms. The sudden openness to live-in relationships is superficial. People still respect the institution of marriage, advocate arranged marriage and confine sex to their homes. Tolerance has increasedbut acceptance  has a long way to go." Sindhu Kamat, an anthropologist,says: "We are miles away when it comes to aping the west over such issues.Caressing, cuddling or kissing with sexual overtures are very common in the west. It is still a far cry in India even in the metros." Though the intent might be proper but
the law can be misused. It is beingopposed both by the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya JanataParty (BJP). The BJP has decided to launch an agitation over the issue. Partyspokesperson Shaina NC expressed fearthat the law could be grossly misused. "According to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, there is no provision for a second wife for a Hindu. Hence, enabling the mistress to get the status of a legal wife, including a share in the property, inheritance and maintenance are contrary to the Act as well as Hindu customs," she said. Shaina says: "The proposed amendment has immense potential for misuse, both by men and women. There is a provisionfor maintenance in the DomesticViolence Act, which also recognizes live-in relationship as a family member.There is no need of any other Act." Apart from the political parties, thecommon people too have mixed reac- tions to the legalization of live-in relationships.Nikita Shah, a professional working in an MNC, feels that the governmentneed not bring in legislation to regulate live-in relationships. She says,"If two individuals have decided to havea relationship with the consent of each other and are living together without marriage, then they would have planned the way out in case the relationship fails. It is not for the state to decide." Anuj Bhattacharya, an entrepreneur, says that the period for which the couple live together should be defined to ensurethat it couldn't be misused. "A legislation should be brought if instances of it would serve little purpose," he says. Kolkata sociology professor Prasanta Barik's research shows that the chances of divorce are greater among married couples who had lived together first.
One of the significant reasons is that they live a life far lower than marriedcouples. In most of the cases they cannot upgrade their living style even after getting married which  increases  the risk ofa break up. "In fact, living together does not necessarily
lead to marriage. Most of them stay together without getting married.
One of the many reasons why men say they are reluctant to get married is because they can simply live with a woman and enjoy the same benefits without marrying her," he said. According to legal experts, the law can be misused. Women with uncertain motives can claim advantages under the proposed law even for "one-night stands" or "temporary relationships", with few options available for the legally- wedded wife or husband. The same goes for men facing turbulent marriages or fighting divorce cases who can now simply ignore these impediments and get on in life with the 'other woman',who will be accorded legal status. Manish Munshi, an advocate, saysthat the amendment goes contrary to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which hasno provision for a second wife. He says
that once live-in couples invoke the proposedamended law, it would mean anadmission on their part that there is a'second wife.'

Social activist Flavia Agnes, however,welcomes the government decision. According to her, men who used to denysuch a relationship on the ground thatthe marriage was never conducted asper Hindu rites, shall now have no escape route and would have to stopsuch practises. She said that the amendment wouldprotect the rights of these women who had limited protection under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005. As for thechildren out of such relationships, she said that they are already being recognised so it would not affect their status in any manner. It would be interesting to see how the legislation empowers those who are really in need of it. It would be more interesting to see how the judges would decide which woman deserves maintenance. With the new law, the lines of demarcation will run thin and it may be open to misuse. Already under fire, one can only wait and watch if it will be approved by the Centre to become a law or not.

With inputs from Alpana Ghosh in Kolkata and B Shekhar in Bangalore CED Documentation is for your personal reference and study only

                        
            Sahara Times, Magazine, 25 Oct 2008