Is live-in really worth living in?

With the rising incidence of violence in live-in relationships, does this institution hold any water? Ayan Roy seeks answers

A man, upset with his live-in girlfriend, for refusing to marry him tried to kill her before slitting his own wrists in Pune. In another shocking incident, a man in Odisha killed a woman and their son after the woman tried to force him into getting married as they were in a live-in relationship. A third shocker saw a man beat to death his live-in partner’s three-year-old daughter with a rolling pin as the woman was not agreeing to marry him.

Live-in or live without?

All these recent news items leave readers shuddering at the brutality of these incidents, as well as harbouring negative emotions towards cohabitation or as it is popularly called, ‘live-in relationships’. But are the live-in relationships to blame or the individuals? Society puts so enormous emphasis on marriage and constantly judges unmarried couples living together. This social censure puts a lot of pressure on couples, with some preferring to fall in with the established norms rather than taking on the naysayers and not seeking acceptance.

Renowned social psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty says, “The living in scene is getting better in India as parents in metros close their eyes to this fact and let it happen. A sizeable minority has accepted the truism and their main concern is whether their ‘child’ is happy and comfortable in the relationship. Yet a significant majority still won’t compromise on rituals and the social sanctity of a marriage.”

Change is norm but not easily accepted

Dr Shetty believes that live-in relationships aren’t to be blamed for the crimes committed by people. He says, “Newer cohabitation rules will evolve in every era and they may clash with earlier cultural mores. The transition period is fraught with pains and fears and stigma. Social systems are dynamic and changing. Traditions that freeze become superstitions. But change and shifts are never smooth and peaceful. Turmoil is always a part of change. But still, in a globalised world no one has the time to blame live-in couples.”

Data doesn’t lie

A poll of 1.4 lakh netizens conducted in May 2018 by Inshorts, a news app, revealed that 80 per cent Indians in the age group of 18-35 years think that live-in relationships are still considered a taboo in Indian society while more than 47 per cent Indians are of the opinion that marriage is better when choosing between marriage and lifelong live-ins. Strangely, the same survey threw up the fact that more than 80 per cent Indians supported live-ins as a way of life. And out of these, 26 per cent millennials even said that they would choose lifelong live-ins as an option over marriage.

The survey also found that 86 per cent Indians believe that lust is not the sole reason behind live-ins and more than 45 per cent say that it is more of compatibility testing before marriage. The report further revealed that 45 per cent of the respondents felt that the judiciary supporting cohabitation won’t have any effect on the Indian society and it will continue to judge unmarried couples staying together. (The Supreme Court has declared that for a man and a woman in love to live together is part of the right to life and not a ‘criminal offence’. Therefore, live-in relationships are legal in India.)

The survey clearly shows confused and conflicted India that while moving ahead and being progressive is still aware of its surroundings and the reality and futility of the situation.

Ancient roots

The apex court in 2010, while stating that a man and woman living together without marriage cannot be construed as an offence, had given the example of Lord Krishna and Radha, who, according to mythology, are said to have lived together. The Vedas too permit cohabitation. The Vedas mention eight types of marriages, one of which is the Gandharva vivaaha, in which a man and a woman mutually consent to get married without rituals to solemnise the marriage or involving either of their families or society – it’s just word-of-mouth commitment similar to live-in relationships.
Dr Shetty seconds this notion of live-in relationships being prevalent in India from ancient times. “It has always been there in tribal families and in many parts of India. It was only Brahmanical influence and domination that gave rise to rituals, cost and an elaborate structure in marriage.”

…And yet we cry ‘sacrilege’

However, not having socio-religious or legal authority endorse their relationships does affect unmarried couples who have to face moral policing. They can’t find homes to rent with homeowners many times even seeking to see marriage certificates before giving out their apartments. And this is the case across India and not just small towns, but even metros.

Take the famous case of 80-year-old Devadas Kalasua and 76-year-old Magdu Bai. The couple had been in a live-in relationship for around 48 years and had children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren. But they tied knot at Pargiyapada village in Udaipur in March this year. Devadas was a married man when he eloped with Magdu Bai from a neighbouring village. He brought her home and Magdu Bai, Devadas and his wife, Champa Bai, lived in the same house for years.

Devadas and Magdu’s relationship didn’t have social sanction and so they didn’t get acceptance and this bothered the couple. The couple’s sons then decided to initiate the rituals. As Arjunlal, Devadas’s son who is a schoolteacher, had said in an interview, “My parents were yearning for social acceptance by their relatives and hence we decided to initiate all the proceedings to solemnise their wedding.”

Everyone wants to belong

Ultimately, it is all about belonging and only those who are independent, don’t care about societal approval and are ready to brave social censure go in for lifelong cohabitation.

Rahul Dev & Mugdha Godse
Rahul Dev & Mugdha Godse

Take the example of model-turned-actress Mugdha Godse. She is in a live-in relationship with actor Rahul Dev and is in no hurry to get married anytime soon. Mugdha has her family’s support and is not under pressure as long as the couple is happy in this relationship. The stunner had in an interview stated, “We have no plans of getting married soon… I believe in the institution of marriage. But every day when we get up I find we are just like being married only! Also I am so happy this way. So I don’t know when marriage will really happen, since things are no different than being married. Living together, sharing and caring for each other… I am literally enjoying this phase of my life.”

And so it is that while the debate over the sanctity of live-in relationships will continue, the onus is on couples to go into this relationship with their eyes open and work at making it a sterling example of success.

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