Will Madhya Pradesh okay live-in relationship?

By Chandna C Arora

Bhopal: Would BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh be the first Indian state to give official sanction to live-in relationships? Amid unconfirmed rumours of RSS pressure to drop the proposal, the state Women & Child Welfare officials have filed the draft and it awaits government approval.

 Will Madhya Pradesh okay live-in relationship?When contacted, a secretary level officer, on condition of anonymity, informed Firstpost that there has been no official instruction to remove the live-in clause from the draft.

Senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member Kaptan Singh Solanki said, “The RSS does not interfere with state government’s procedural matters. However, it has a definite ideology that runs parallel with Indian traditions and values and so it does not approve of steps like giving sanction to live-in relationships. There are functionaries in BJP who align with that ideology. If they stand against such concepts it should not be construed as RSS pressure. On the other hand, we have to study for whom this law is being made. If we have to protect adivasi women and children, it could be necessary to bring in the sanction. The Madhya Pradesh government will wisely decide.”

Madhya Pradesh Women's Policy 2013-2017, or the MP Mahila Niti in its draft has included the legal rights of live-in partners. In India, presently there is no law defining live-in relationship. The Supreme Court in a current ruling has observed that a woman who has lived in a live-in relationship for a long period of time should enjoy the same rights that a married woman is entitled to.

The legalising of live-in relationships was first recommended by the MP State Women’s Commission to protect exploitation of women from the tribal and dalit-dominated belts of the state. Especially in tribes like Saharia where bride-price is a custom, a married woman has the right to ‘change her man’. The new man in her life pays back the bride-price to the husband and claims her as his own.

But this second relationship is not marriage. If she falls out with this new partner, she or any children from this alliance can have no claim to money, financial security, alimony, property, inheritance. While socially acceptable, it has no legal security attached. Not under tribal laws, nor under the state law. To change this, the government proposed to provide legal sanction to the live-in relationships and protection to children born of surrogacy. The policy that would be valid from 2013 till 2017, concentrates on 16 points of women empowerment including protection of women from crime and domestic violence.

The announcement of sanction to live-in status has however, stirred a hornets’ nest. The first to vociferously denounce the step on moral grounds was none other but Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s Minister for Women & Child welfare, Ranjana Baghel. In a public meeting Baghel called the idea, “immoral and one that would promote anarchy in society”.

Chairperson, MP Social Welfare Department, Sarita Deshpande, too, was “against the idea as it was reprehensible and against Indian traditions.” If the protective cover was improvised only and only for the tribal women of Madhya Pradesh, this controversy could have been avoided.

In connection with the general public, if adult individuals want to go for live-in, it is a very personal decision and the state has no authority to stop them. In 2010 the Hon’ble SC in the Khushboo case clearly wrote in his decision, “When two adult people want to live together what is the offence?”

If the sanction includes all citizens then there are multiple questions to be answered. According to Dr Asha Shukla, Head, Women’s Studies Department, Barkatullah University, Bhopal, “What does the government mean by official sanction (manyata)? Would the live-in alliance be registered? If yes, then how and where would it be registered? If it is registered, then what difference would it have from regular marriage? If not, then would the ‘recognition’ come into practice only when a woman goes a police station to register a case against a man?”

And finally Dr Asha Shukla quizzes, “By giving sanction to live-in relationships how does the MP government plan to empower women?” Leading criminal lawyer Ajay Gupta says, “Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, ‘a relationship in the nature of marriage’ is already recognized. The Act protects female partners from domestic violence and such partners can claim monetary and other reliefs from the courts under it.”

Ajay Gupta cited the case of how the Bench of Justice P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan said that “if a man as well as a lady are living under the same roof and living together for quite a few years, there will be presumption under Section 114 of the Evidence Act that they live as husband and wife and the children born to them will not be illegitimate”.

He adds, “Recently Supreme Court of India laid down that child born out of live-in relationship possess a right to inherit the properties left behind by one of the partners.” Karuna Sharma, MP Spokesperson, Women’s Wing, Congress, says, “While state government cannot actually give sanction to live-in as it is not illegal, and the country’s law already provides protection to women in such relationships, then is not the Women’s Policy of Madhya Pradesh, vide the quaint ‘recognition’, aiming only and only for another path to get dissatisfied women partners to register criminal cases against their men?”

Ajay Gupta too stresses the point, “The Indian society at large is facing problems resulting from faulty formations of well-meant IPC Sections such as the 498. While it has given succor and justice to many victims of domestic violence, it has also been misused as a threat and a club to effect and finally destroy numerous good marriages and families. By inclusion of any such point in the state Mahila Niti, this threat should not get magnified.”

When a grown-up man and women get into a live-in relationship they consciously opt out of marriage, and are fully aware of fact – that live-in lacks the social and legal sanctity of a marriage. In the year 2011, Delhi High Court quite wisely ruled, in the case of Arvind Yadav Vs Renu Sharma, an 18-year-old unmarried girl who chose to live in with a married man. The court protected their right but warned them that they will not be entitled to claim Maintenance and Alimony in case the alliance breaks, because to claim that they both must be unmarried.

A few important issues the government of MP needs to thrash before finalizing the live-in clause of the proposed Mahila Niti ; One, Would this sanction be only for tribal women and children, as under ‘special rights for tribal women/children/societies’, or for all the individuals of the state who opt for live-in? Two, what would be the form of sanction, for tribal population as well as general population – a formal registration or any other means of documentation? If it does cover the general population of the state, and provisions are made to safe-guard women against crime etc, are provisions being put in to keep the men safe from black-mail, exploitation, jail terms too?

As Ajay Gupta candidly states, “The MP government needs to make sure that while women should be always protected, laws should not be made only and only to crucify men.”

Updated Date: May 04, 2013 15:16:27 IST