The Punjab and Haryana High Court has stated unequivocally that a “live-in relationship is morally and socially unacceptable.”
Rejecting a petition filed by a runaway couple from Punjab’s Tarn Taran district seeking defence of their life and liberty, Justice H S Madaan issued these orders. In this situation, the couple was in a “live-in” relationship.
Gulza Kumari and Gurwinder Singh, the petitioner couple, had filed the petition claiming that they are currently living together and intend to marry soon. They were concerned about the girl’s parents putting their lives in danger.
“As a matter of fact, the petitioners in the garb of filing the present petition are seeking seal of approval on their live-in relationship, which is morally and socially not acceptable and no protection order in the petition can be passed. The petition stands dismissed accordingly,” wrote Justive Madaan in his order which was released last week. “The entire social fabric of the society would get disturbed”, he added.
The order has a number of issues, the most serious of which is an ambiguous and highly subjective concept of “social fabric.” The court seemed to be bothered by the petitioners’ youth. “Petitioner no.1 (the girl) is barely [emphasis added] 18 years old, whereas petitioner no.2 (the boy) is 21 years old,” the document stated. Through issuing this order, the court has departed from a new but well-established judicial practice of legalising live-in relationships.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 describes a domestic relationship as, “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.” This allowed courts to recognise domestic violence in relationships that were not necessarily marital but had the characteristics of marriage.
According to lawyers and activists, such directives are in direct violation of Supreme Court precedent, which recognises live-in relationships, additionally, they even jeopardise the lives of a couple who is threatened by their families.
The problem before the judge, according to Rohit Sud, former secretary of the Punjab and Haryana high court bar association, was to determine the danger to the couple’s life and liberty, not to decide on the legality of their relationship. “Another important issue, in this case, is what the couple would do if they do not have enough resources to approach the higher court for security and would be forced to live in constant fear of their relatives who are against their relationship,” Sud added.
On the merits, another HC lawyer, advocate H S Bath, claimed that the order is unconstitutional because the couple had requested security of their life and liberty but had not requested a certificate of their partnership. “Their relationship may be immoral,” Bath continued, “but the court’s job was to see the legal point, not the morality.”
Given that both the parties were of legal age to make their own choices, many are shocked to see the court give a ruling citing morality and social acceptance. This seems like a step backward considering the same court had previously held in the case of Priyapreet Kaur and others v. State of Punjab and Others, that parents could not compel their children to live life on their terms. The petitioners in that case were 18 and 19 years old. Even though the boy was not legally marriageable age, the court ruled:
“[The female petitioner] is well within her right to decide for herself what is good for her and what is not. She has decided to take a step to be in a live-in-relationship with petitioner No.2 who is also major, though may not be of a marriageable age. Be that as it may, the fact remains that both the petitioners in the present case are major and have a right to live their life on their own terms.”
Though Indian courts have granted protection to inter-caste and inter-faith married couples in the past, it is less common for couples in live-in relationships to receive the same protection. This must be changed. Article 21 is violated not only when people are unable to cohabit with their partners, but the requirement of marriage often creates a barrier for same-sex couples who are cannot get married even if they want to.