Upholding their right to life and liberty to choose their partners, a Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, in a welcome ruling, has ordered that the live-in couple be provided protection against harm that the two consenting adults feared from some disapproving family members. This directive was premised on there being no distinction in the danger perceived by pairs living in wedlock or out of it, keeping in mind the fact that cohabiting is not illegal. Rather, any threats issued to them by anyone — relatives, community, khap, etc — would amount to taking the law into one’s hands and be liable for punishment.
Significantly, this judgment is a welcome departure from two other recent orders by the same HC’s separate Benches that dismissed similar petitions by two other live-in couples. Their relationship was frowned upon as being socially and morally disruptive. This censorious view is, notably, divorced from the growing trend of young lovers opting to stay together and even have children without marriage — in both big and small towns. The fact that in a space of a few days, three cases of live-in couples have been heard in the HC is indicative of the emerging reality of the youth’s mindset. While many elders have also graciously embraced the progressive social change (it precludes the dowry scourge, for one), our region, notorious for ‘honour’ killings, apparently is still largely shackled by an outdated and convoluted sense of morality.
However, hope for better sense prevailing emanates from the string of legal rulings in favour of live-in relationships. Their legal sanctity derives from a provision in the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The spirit of the precedent set by the Supreme Court must be internalised by all law enforcers. Any departure from that would be a travesty of justice. In 2018, the apex court even quashed the archaic adultery law of 1860 as being unconstitutional, for it considers women as ‘chattel’ and ‘treats a husband as the sole master.’ Though adultery is no more a criminal offence, it remains a sufficient ground for divorce.