While live-in relationships lack legal recognition, they are not criminalised and hence, courts cannot impose their perception of morality on adults in such relationships, the Delhi High Court has observed.
Stating that adults were free to make such a choice unless it is illegal, a single-judge bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma, in an order on September 13, said, “Live-in relationship between two consenting married adults, who are married to different partners, has not been made criminal or legislated against…This Court holds that the parties herein have the right to determine their own choices, life, and actions, but at the same time, should remain conscious of the repercussion it invites from their partners and its effect on their marriage.”
It further said such relationships may mean different things to different people and the “Courts of law cannot impose their own perception of morality on individuals who are adults and make free adult choices if such choices are not illegal or an offence under the present framework of law”.
The court said that it would be dangerous to attach “criminality to acts that have not been legislated against on the basis of perceived morality”.
Justice Sharma observed that essentially a live-in relationship denotes a cohabitation arrangement where two individuals choose to live together in a domestic setting, but in the absence of a formal marriage and that under Indian laws, this concept “remains undefined and lacks specific legal recognition”.
The HC made the observations while hearing a man’s plea seeking quashing of FIR for the offences under Sections 376 (rape), 506(criminal intimidation), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman), among others and all proceedings emanating from it.
The complainant claimed that the man had established physical relations with her on false pretext of marriage, projecting himself as an unmarried man. When, on a later occasion, the woman got to know that the man was already married, he again assured her that he would obtain a divorce from his wife and get married to her, the complainant further said. The man claimed that the woman drafted a “live-in relationship agreement” and had forged his signatures on it.
The court concluded that the woman voluntarily entered into a live-in relationship with the man, allegedly believing him to be unmarried initially, as stated in their agreement. However, she continued the relationship, aware of both parties’ marital status, indicating her consent to maintain the relationship despite legal obstacles to marriage without divorce, the court said.
On the said agreement itself, the HC said that it did not mention a promise of marriage by the man.
“This Court observes that a critical aspect of this case is the complainant’s marital status; she was not legally divorced from her previous partner. Given this, it becomes evident that the petitioner could not have entered into a legal marriage with her. Consequently, there was no valid basis for the complainant to entertain the notion of promise of a marriage from the petitioner, as she, by virtue of her existing marriage, was ineligible to marry the present petitioner,” the court said.
The HC said that with respect to allegations of mischief, outraging the modesty of a woman and criminal intimidation in the FIR, there was nothing on record to suggest it.
It further said that the trial court had, in April this year, framed charges only under Section 376 (rape) of IPC against the man.
“Thus, in view of the foregoing discussion, the FIR for offences punishable under Sections 376/323/506/509/427 of IPC and all consequential proceedings emanating therefrom are quashed,” Justice Sharma said.
The court also observed that protection and remedies available under Section 376 of the IPC cannot be extended to a “victim who was not legally entitled to marry the person with whom she was in a sexual relationship with”. The HC said that the man and woman entered into a sexual relationship even though they were both ineligible to lawfully marry each other.
“They willingly engaged in a sexual union under the pretext of a live-in relationship. However, having made the choice to enter into such a relationship, they cannot now seek the protection of the law,” the court added.
The HC, however, also opined that while immorality on the part of the woman was argued at length before the HC, the same standard applies to the male partner, “and no distinction should be made based on gender, as doing so would perpetuate misogynistic thinking”.