Co-habitation Has Demerits, Can Be Made More Acceptable

Of late, the Supreme Court opined while hearing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) moved by south Indian actress Khushboo, that a man and woman living together without marriage cannot be construed as an offence. Legally correct though, it renews debate over the very concept of co-habitation – live-in relationship and premarital sex – and also on their endorsement or announcement in public by someone, for Khushboo approached the court for quashing of a bunch of cases against her, all registered for allegedly endorsing premarital sex in interviews to various magazines.

Well, the chief ideological conflict seem in the society on the topic of co-habitation is because of its different legal and social status. Its status is legally same as that of homosexuality: one has the right to freedom and privacy, and any kind of relationship between consenting adults (polygamy and polyandry excluded) has to be accepted as long as it doesn’t interfere with lives of others. Most Indians cannot envisage a relation between a man and woman outside marriage and are not impressed by this logic of law, thus continuing to perceive co-habitation as an act of immorality, which they think is against Indian values.

My take is that co-habitation in the context of Indian values and social cost of such relation today are two different things altogether and have to be seen separately.

The notion that live-in relationship and pre-marital sex are against Indian values is not exactly accurate, society’s apprehensions about them might not be thoroughly baseless, though. Take for instance Krishna and Radha, they, as mythology has it, had a deep bond of relation of love without entering into the institution of marriage. Their relation could be termed as a type of co-habitation of that period. The most notable thing here is that this relation was accepted in that period, by that society; and that periodic relation is accepted today, by today’s very society which disdains live-in relationship and pre-marital sex among modern couples. Obviously, they are adopting double standard on the topic.

Same is true of pre-marital or pre-partial sex. I hear, in certain rural, tribal areas of our country, there exists an old tradition of fairs at which young, marriageable boys and girls congregate and stay for a fixed period, say 2-3 days, and choose their partner and even have sex. If they find the partner compatible, they marry, otherwise, they have to wait for next year for another fair. The broader point is that pre-marital sex has been there in some areas for long and has been acceptable in some societies.

The aforementioned explanation of live-in relationship and pre-marital sex is not to suggest that co-habitation is a goody-goody thing, or, doesn’t have a social cost, or, should be promoted, that kind of things. It has both merits and demerits; in fact, more demerits and fewer merits. To begin with, co-habitation is an act of escapism from the responsibility of a spouse and children and a family of one’s own, definitely not something to be written home about.

Secondly, adopting co-habitation for the sake of having a partner outside marriage for in so doing law is not infringed, or, preferring it over marriage simply because in the event of failure of relationship it doesn’t involve the costs associated with divorce are not just the ‘height of complacency’ but outright acts of criminality, to my mind.

The most recent thing about live-in relationship and pre-marital sex is that it’s not only confined to working professionals but is widely seen in college students, as well. In the course of my college days, I found that a good number of my classmates and seniors and juniors preferred private accommodation over hostels and they shared them with mate of opposite sex, living just as a married couple would, of course, without their parents knowing it. Such relations are purely driven by sexual desires of immature people just entering adulthood, sometime even resulting in unwanted pregnancy or serious heartbreak at tender age capable of causing psychological and emotional problems for a life time.

Live-in relationship has three strong arguments on its side. One, it allows compatibility test; two, it avoids domestic violence; and last, it allows financial stability before moving into marriage. The first two are not always true. The institution of marriage is founded on mutual understanding and adjustment. The very fact that people who opt for co-habitation do so for testing compatibility of partners shows that they lack initiative towards understanding and adjustment. It makes the compatibility test of little use, thus less often resulting in marriage. As for abuse of partner, domestic violation law now covers co-habitation, manifesting that a partner is vulnerable to abuse even in relation outside marriage.

In spite of all these demerits, it can hardly be ignored that people go for co-habitation with knowledge of both its negatives and positives, and move out of it, if they do, without hurting and harming anyone but themselves, and sometimes, not even themselves.

Right to freedom and privacy, which is the biggest merit of co-habitation, cannot be restricted merely because society deems the relation immoral, or that some people use it for vested interest. There’re people who might have philosophical opposition to institution of marriage but would like to have a partner, with the same commitment to live together in this relation as a couple has in marriage. And they may regard preference to live-in relationship as strictly personal matter. Neither law nor society has a moral right to question them.

Some people are not against co-habitation but its endorsement or announcement in public. It’s a flawed concept. Everybody has the right to agree with or protest against anything in public. The contention that the endorsement of controversial things in public could adversely affect the young minds is an exaggeration. Does endorsement of homosexuality has resulted in heterosexual turning into homosexuals; does social acceptance of love-marriages pose a threat to the institution of arranged marriage? No.

Such things might, no doubt, have a bearing on young people’s outlook and thoughts in general, but the way they act and decisions they take are dictated by their personal circumstances, personality, desires, needs, familial life, financial status, and not by audio-visual impulses.

As for announcement of co-habitation publically, you cannot expect someone not to talk in public about the relation he has with his partner. It’s as if he is in right as long as he doesn’t speak about it and the moment he opens his mouth, he becomes wrong. It’s not something to be felt shameful about, or something that could inflict any hazard on society.

I think government needs to come out with some law to tame those who go into co-habitation to get advantages like having second partner, avoiding costs of divorce, moving in and out of co-habitation merely for fulfilling sexual desires etc. It will serve to better image and enhance acceptability of the relation in society.

Saurabh Dharmesh

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