Sunday, November 09, 2008

Legalising live-in relationships

No, I am not doing that mandatory post on Obama. Many others have done it. You can read those. I personally do not care what happens to Obama. I am going to wait and watch how this reflects on US-India relations. In the meantime, read this article on the Times of India, on legalising live-in relationships. It contributes very little to the debate, being as it is, a report. But what gets my goat is the refusal of either the media or the people involved (husbands, wives, lawyers or the general public) to recognise that the live-in girlfriend need not necessarily be the "other woman." She may as well be the only woman in the man's life.

One comment by an aggrieved wife goes thus.

“If those who are living together want the same rights as married couples, there’s an easy answer: Let them get married. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. And has anyone spared a thought for the wife,’’ says Riddhima, a 36-year-old whose husband left her two years ago and has since moved in with a colleague.

Right! Of course. I agree that she has been wronged and have every right to feel that way. But, how is it fair that she blame the girlfriend? Also, what difference does it make to her status as wife? She is still the legally wedded wife. She still has a right over her husband's property, and alimony in case of divorce. Why is she so against the girlfriend having the same rights? To say, "let them get married" is ridiculous. Any number of people stay out of wedlock for many reasons. It is the unwillingness to commit for some, the fear of responsibility for some, and maybe an ideological problem for others. Marriage is essentially a social contract. Personally, I think marriage is the way to go if the people are serious in the relationship. But, I do know some who consider marriage a waste of time, money and energy, especially the way it is done today. Are we going to penalise them for wanting to live their lives the way they deem fit? I think not. While social sanction cannot be forced, at least the law must take steps to ensure that cohabitation is treated on par with marriage. The Maharashtra government proposal is a step in the right direction.

Next, the question of children arises. There should be no legal difference between children born to married partners and those born to unmarried partners. The concept of an illegitimate child, in itself, is too archaic to be retained in the 21st century. After all , it is not the child's fault that the parents chose not to get married. How is fair to label a child as "illegitimate"? Adultery or not, the children must be given equal rights as children born within a marriage. The protests of the "wronged woman" are, more often than not, a case of misplaced anger. They find themselves incapable of doing anything their cheating husbands and thus turn their anger on the "other woman." I find that grossly unfair. For all we know, the other woman is a victim too.

Finally, one argument against the proposal was made by a noted lawyer, Mahesh Jethmalani. He asks,

But the amendment has its critics, as noted lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani says, “It is like allowing bigamy for married men. Is the government trying to recommend polygamy?”(...)“Only a small number of couples live in, so what is the urgency for such a proposal?’’ asks Jethmalani.

Wait a second. Only a small number are live-in couples. So, there is no need for a law. By that logic, only a small number of people commit murder. So, there is no need for a law there either right? Since when is law governed by the will or need of the majority? Do minorities of all hues and shades not have a right to a decent law? Even if only 1% of India's total population lives in, they still must have a law to ensure that their rights are protected. The law of the majority is simply regressive in this case. That such an argument is coming from a noted lawyer is shocking. I can only hope that the debate is conducted the right way, taking into account the fact that an increasing number of young, never-married, couples are choosing to live-in without marriage. We need comprehensive guidelines for them. Even if they are minuscule portion of India's population.


Imp's Mom said...

this law is in the right step. What should also be done is speedy trials. Just the fact that a wife/partner has a right to alimony does not necessarily mean that she will receive it. The cases are dragged on for years, and 90% of the time, the women walk out thanks to the time factor. I did too and I know of many women who choose to walk out, and move on with their life.

Cris said...

I respect the law and your arguments but I tend to point fingers at a girl friend who moves in with a married man. Yes the married man as well. I cant see any sense of righteousness in a girl/woman who starts a relationship with a married man. I am not talking about divorced/separated people here. And this is not gender based - same goes for the married man and the men who go after married women.
I cant come to terms with the idea of an outsider becoming the cause of breaking up a family (unless it was already broken, legally or otherwise)

Seema said...

Agree to your take on this. However on Ridhima's case it is a different scenario. Why would a wife give her rights to another female. Her husband's girlfriend can have all the rights once he is divorced and then living with her if at all India comes up with a law on de-facto marriages or common law living relationships. Otherwise it would result in polygamy as Mahesh Jethamalani pointed out. I don't agree to his argument on the numbers though.

Excellent blog..Wandered into your blog via Cris's post on feminism.