Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Live in, live out

So, there was this snippet of news that caught my eye. National Women’s Council Chair Girija Vyas declared that

Neither the live-in relationship is acceptable nor it is needed in India, NCW Chairperson Girija Vyas told reporters here. She alleged the live-in relationship of the West was against human values and the country does not need it. According to her, the NCW has asked Maharashtra government to stop its move to give legal sanctity to live-in relationship.

My knee jerk reaction was to obviously think this is all ludicrous. Why should a single person, decide the fate of millions of women that do want a live-in relationship? They are adults and have every right to make their own choices, don’t they? How do two consenting adults that choose to live together go against human values? Which human values, exactly? This is what grates me about Indian society in general. Our inability to give choices. Our refusal to evolve, socially speaking.

I don’t see anything wrong with live-in relationships at all. Perhaps it’s because I have been living in the “West” for so long or perhaps because BigGeek and I moved in together (and yes, our parents knew) before we were married. It was something that we, two people above 18 years of age decided to do. And accept whatever (undesirable) consequences too.

Late last year, it seems, Maharashtra decided to pass a legislation that will legalise live-in relationships. In that, the definition of “wife” would be changed to include a woman who has lived with a man for several years without marriage. So, this would obviously include polygamous relationships. And that is something I don’t like. A live-in relationship is not a marriage. It is a relationship that takes place in-lieu of marriage (as a long-term) or before marriage (as short-term). They cannot and should not be treated as equal. Marriage is a contract of sorts. A live-in relationship is not. A marriage confers upon the two people entering it, some legal protection; live-in relationships do not and should not. Of course it also is harder getting out of marriage than it is out of a live-in relationship.

So, I think Girija Vyas is a bit confused about all this. She is confusing legally changing the definition of “wife”, with social sanction of live-in relationships. They are two different issues altogether. Apples and oranges. Legalising something does not necessarily make it socially acceptable. For example, it is illegal to marry off 13 year olds. But in some parts of Rajasthan, it is a very socially acceptable thing to do and is regularly done.

Live-in relationships have their place. Consenting adults that get into them (whether it is monogamous or polygamous) know exactly what it entails. This relationship is not bound or shacked by the marriage laws and yes, to some, it can be liberating. What is the point in trying to transform it, legally, into a marriage?


Priya said...

True. The husband and I lived in before marriage too - more for economic reasons than romantic! - and our parents knew too.

What really resonated with me in your post was that line about "our inability to give options". That's very true. Not only are options *not* given, there is no *respect* for those that others make. Too many times I have gone blue in the face explaining how its Ok for someone else to live their lives the way they want. The prevaling thinking seems to be that ..."if *I* don't do that in my life, then it *must* be wrong"... There is just such a rush to judge everybody - and usually negatively.

I fail to convince people everytime btw. Instead I have to contend with snide remarks about "How americanized I have become". *sigh*

Sorry about hogging all this space.


zenga said...

I agree with your opinion that Indian society has had its share of hiccups in 'keeping up with the times', and people like Girija Vyas make it a little more arduous.
One aspect which I don't completely agree with is the distinction that you make between live-in relationships and marriage. I think that it is us as a society that has tagged on the extra baggage of a legal contract to the concept of marriage, but as far as relationships are concerned, I don't see the difference at all. If you choose to live with somebody within or outside the current auspices of a 'marriage', does your commitment to that relationship change because in the one case, there is no contract, no 'saat phere' as we would have them in India ? I would like to think not. In my opinion, legalizing a long standing live in relationship as marriage is a step in the right direction, because the way I see it, it gives the option of better legal protection to the parties involved in that relationship should things head southwards at some point. Imagine the case where a couple, who have never been married as per the current definition of the term, have children and decide to separate at some point. How do you decide custody ? How do you enforce child support payments if there is a case for such an eventuality ? On the one hand, the individuals concerned can resolve this amicably among themselves, but on the other hand, if indeed there was some injustice involved, you want to at least provide a recourse to law to set this right.
Tough question to answer!

DotThoughts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DotThoughts said...

priya: I hear you!

zenga: Hmm.. What if oe does want a relationship that is not shackled by law? If live-in relationships are, then what recourse do people have? There is a system that offers legal protections and other rights to a couple. All you have to do is convert your relationship to that system. About that hypothetical couple who is not married and has kids and want to seperate, modify the law so that a man (or woman) does not shirk from his parental reposnibilites. If you ask BigGeek, he will prolly say abolish marriage altogether.

p.s. I edietd this comment because I thought I got carried away while expressing my view point! lo siento!

zenga said...

Exactly - and my question is, why cannot this conversion be a mere statement from the individuals involved that says 'hey, we've been together this long that for all purposes, please consider us married'. No contract, no legal garbage, just a declaration. Common law marriages are almost like this. See, I am in total agreement that no personal relationship should be bound by legal shackles, because people get into them of their own accord, but given that people can be stupid and there is injustice in this world, a society that tries to build in safeguards for any sort of relationship is probably doing the right thing.

Sue said...

Hey I wrote about this last year or was it the year before.

It's time it was socially acceptable. It's hard enough finding a flat to rent when you're a girl on your own, but try renting it with your boyfriend!

ra said...

It's also a question of division of assets in the eventuality of a break up. Why should the law apply to one type of relationship and not the other, or privilege one type of living together (marriage) over another, why should one have to marry in order to get those protections...There is also of course the reverse view, that you pointed out, you may be living in to escape the law.

Legalising live in relationships or giving the partners some rights does not impinge on the rights of married couples, and in theory at least, the law is supoposed to protect everyone. On the other hand, depending on what rights cohabiting couples get, the relationship, for all practical purposes could start looking very like marriage-and then one might ask, why not marry. I haven't made up my mind on this, but I think, as a first step, live in relationships should be granted some protections (applicable only after a certain period of cohabitation) and one should be able to opt in or out of availing of these. The law is a blunt instrument and can never deal perfectly with the intricate nuances of human life :( and it has to make room for competing interests.

DotThoughts said...

zenga: because, they are two systems. some people would like the financial/legal protection for their relationships, others don't. people have to voluntarily "say" - "OK. We want legal/finalcial protection for our relationship" That is easily acquired by get married leagally. And I for one, don't think the law exists to save people from their own stupidity :) I think people need to learn to be responsible for their own actions.

Sue: yup! send me the link, na. I think the issue here that I have a problem with is the "automatic-ness". That a relationship automatilcaay gets the status of marriage, whether the two parties want it or not.

Ra: Thanks for leaving a comment but I think you missed my point. My point, as I have said above, is that, the law infringes upon the rights of a couple to cohabit outside legal/finacial protection. I don't like the fact that the relationship after a certain timeframe is automatically granted a mariage status. That's like the tenancy laws.. after a certain time frame, the landlord cannot evict a tenant without considerable headache. Or like your automatic renewals the (lesser) magazine companies do. After a year, your subscription will eb automatically renewed whether I want it or not. The question is, do I want the legal protection? If I do, there is already a great system in palce. If I don't, let me be.

Priya said...

I think the "legal" aspect of most live-in relationships kicks in after a fixed number of years to safeguard the interests of both parties. One assumes that after a numbr of years together, patners would accumulate assets together. But often homes/ cars / other material possessions can be in one person's name and should the relation then break up, the other partner is left with literally nothing.

In Texas (where common law marriages seem more common for some reason) someone once told me that common law means that in the event of something terrible happening, she doesn't have to worry about her kids being sent into foster care or CPS - her common law husband can legally be responsible for them.

Why not get married then, and just make it official, eh ? That seems to be a question best left unasked !



DotThoughts said...

exactly priya - if you want the legal protection, just get married :)

ra said...

I did get that point that's why I thought allowing people the choice of opting for some protections might be a possibility. And was just thinking aloud about some of the different sides to the issue. Try as one might it's hard to escape the "long arm" these days. I think cohabiting couples are themselves divided on this. Some want civil protections but not marriage because they don't think it's that great a system-some think the civil partnership available to gays in the UK is more equitable than marriage...what I am trying to get at is that there can be various legal options available that don't have to be the same as marriage and if one wishes to be "outside" of the law, one should be able to ignore all the options.

On a personal note, having lived in ourselves, we saw some relatives eyebrows go so high into their hair that you couldn't see them!

Sue said...

Here you go: http://sunayanaroy.blogspot.com/2006/03/living-in-social-sin-or-non-confirmist.html

Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

Ya, couldn't agree more! What each person does with their life is their own business...
But if you want legal protection, make your relationship legal first! More than anything, to make sure these rights are not abused!Just like anything else...

If someone wants citizenship-rights of a country, would they argue that they've lived there for 20 years, hence be allowed to vote?

DotThoughts said...

great analogy gnd!

Marina D'Souza said...

Hmm interesting.