Live-in Relationships In Indian Context

Posted by Vivek Namdev
March 4, 2017

NOTE: This post has been self-published by the author. Anyone can write on Youth Ki Awaaz.

 “This paper specifically tries to look at various aspects of Live-in Relationships as a concept and practice in India and various connotations attached to it in terms of legal acceptance and the societal sanctions. It moreover focuses on diverse opinions regarding cohabitation and its historical linkages from the past in a marriage centric society like India. In spite of all the progress that it we have made, India still remains a conservative society where as a result it has diverse issues in contradiction towards opening up the societal barriers and paving a new way towards a modern India in a real sense by retaining its uniqueness and the same time ensuring individual freedom of choice and liberty in all realms.”



Human-being as the most advanced species on this Earth has gone through a number of different phases since its evolution in due course of time. Evolution and adaptation have led human societies to undergo a steady changes from simpler structure of relations into the more rigid and complex one through the passage of time. Humans as social being always shared some sort of bonding, relationships, partnerships to carry forward their generations and moreover to gain emotional support, caring and nurturing through their partners. The concept of marriages, love relationships etc.has contributed into this for a long. The deviations which came in the way and type of bonding among different genders have always shaken up the fundamental or orthodox roots of any society across the world.

One such type of bonding came up was Live-In relationships which technically can be referred to as cohabitation further it mean, people living together in an emotionally and /or physically intimate relationship without getting married.  Basically, these forms of relationships are becoming a radical trend in urban societies which has even posed a threat to human society’s long cherished institution of marriage.  Live-in relationships are on increasing rates in western European countries, USA and also on a steady increase in West Asian countries and in India too. It has become a culture in itself which appears to be an ‘evil-good’ and has brought along benefits and problems in an equal scale. It is more of an idea promoting individual liberty over the collective liberty.


The origination of such concept of relationships has many reasons in certain contexts where it can be understood as-


1) The younger generation, who constitute a majority of such live-in couples, are essentially revolutionary with respect to societal norms and traditions. So, they want to choose their way of living life and choosing partners.

2) People take it as a representation of western culture and as a forward and progressive thought behaviour which justifies the open mindedness, distinctiveness and class of the people following it.

3) An opposition to the institution of marriage and seeing little difference between the commitment to live together and the obligation to lead marriage.

4) A non-requirement of legal commitment for a long period of time, as it is easier to establish and dissolve without the legal costs often associated with a divorce.

5) Living-in is also a way to avoid divorce which can be a way for polygamists and polyandries to avoid breaking the law and at the same time enjoying multiple relationships with different partners under no legal check.

6) It has also emerged as symbol of new found economic freedom. This is true for women as they get empowered and don’t have to rely completely on male partners for financial support.

7) It has also served as a means of last option for many who are unable to legally marry, for example: same sex, interracial or inter-religious marriages that are either not legal or permitted.


8) Busy life and continuous growing dis-trust between the married couples in their relationships and an obligation of running a family, procreating and bearing responsibility has alienated individual from the concept of marriage has led to such increasing rates of live-in relationships.

(Raj S. Vivek, 2013-14)


It has opened a new set of debate within Indian context because of the traditional Indian culture and norms which doesn’t allow the society members to show deviation from the path which is set through generations or violate the moral structure of the society. It has actually co-fronted the three major aspects-traditional Indian culture, liberty of an individual and the legal system i.e. Judiciary in India. There are varying opinions regarding live-in relationships within Indian manifold and people possess different set of opinions on the same. Indian society has been a society which has seen marriage as the legal sanction for hetero genders (majorly a male & female) to reside together and involve in sexual bonding etc. So, live -in relationship is a kind of new discourse which is emerging in the metropolitan cities in India majorly. People are finding it as a best suitable means of having a virtual married life that too without following complex rituals, obligations and social responsibility.


On the other side the live-in relationships in India is seen as something which a common man is not supposed to choose rather it is something which is more to do with the class system in India where the politicians, Bollywood stars, big landlords or business class can choose to have such relations without anybody’s interference or opposition whereas the middle class or the rural people are restricted to obey all the moral, legal orders set by government and the society in which one lives at large. So, it is basically referred to as an elite affair to have live-in relationships rather a common public affair.

But, apart from all this there lies a thought in Indian society in general which has a negative & opposing attitude towards such relationships and people find it difficult to actually talk about this in the public sphere or their family domain because of this sort of cohabitation is seen as a taboo. On the day to day basis couples who are into such relationships are considered as if they had committed a crime by choosing it. Moreover, it is very hard to find an apartment on rent to stay if the landlady comes to know about such relationship between the couple.


If we go on to scratch some of the historical roots for such form of relationships can help us in understanding the present dynamics of this issue strictly in Indian context with a more logical and wider domain before reaching to some baseless interpretations personally.


  1. If we look on the eight types of marriages which in Hindu normative scripture mentions the concept of “Gandharva Vivah” is described in The Vedas, where it is word-of-mouth commitment in which woman and man mutually consent to get married and no traditional rituals or family of the couple requires for solemnising the marriage.
  2. In the times of King’s rule or Nawabs or Emperors it was a trend in royal families to have an extra marital affairs or pre-marital affairs of such live-in relationship kind where it was allowed and justified to have more than one female partner outside marriage alliance or without marriage and having sexual relationship refers to the “Dasi Culture”in India.


  1. If we travel through the time it is not much before when we witnessed some bizarre relationship practises in India which were very homologous to the concept of live-in relationships. The arrangement called “Maitri Karar”in Gujrat and “Nata Patra” in Rajasthan in 60’s and 70’s were quite prevalent where the it’s literal meaning was a “companionship contract” in which it has a legal mechanism of having an extra marital affair by promising a false sense of legal security to the women and entering into an alliance of friendship and engaging into the sexual relationship and bonding even after getting married which resulted in adding a new dimension to the commercial sex. This was then officially banned by the government somewhere around1999 completely.




Within Indian context there are certain legal structure which is given to the live in relationship under the Indian constitution where in a landmark judgement by the Supreme Court sanctioned legalized status to the any of such relationship where a man and woman living together without marrying each other cannot be considered as an offensive act in the legal terms. Some of the very remarkable cases which can be studied are-


  1. The first case in which the Supreme Court of India first recognized the live in relationship as a valid marriage was that of Badri Prasad VS Dy. Director of Consolidation, in which the Court gave legal validity to the a 50 year live in relationship of a couple.1
  2. The Allahabad High Courtagain recognized the concept of live in relationship in the case of Payal Katara vs. Superintendent, Nari Niketan and others, wherein it held that live in relationship is not illegal.2
  3. In the case of S. Khushboo vs. Kanniammal & Anr., the Supreme Court held that living together is a right to life. Live in relationship may be immoral in the eyes of the conservative Indian society but it is not “illegal” in the eyes of law.3

 (, 2016)


Moreover, since then several judgements are being made in terms of rights given to women and children born out of such relationships and pattern followed for alimonies after breaking of these relationships. There are several questions which remains out of ambit of the framework of law such as –emotional cruelty, black mailing, misuse of each other personal space and also joint assets. These are some of the very prevailing problems with in this concept of cohabitation concept as such which can be resolved through bringing about a strength in legal system and effective laws to protect the rights of women and children which faces the most cases of subjugation and exploitation. There are some landmark cases that can be studied in regard to these issues related to live in relationship which were taken up by the Indian Judiciary:


  1. “In June, 2008,it was recommended by the National Commission for Women to the Ministry of Women and Child Development to include live in female partners for the right of maintenance under Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The view was also supported by the judgment in Abhijit Bhikaseth Auti v. State Of Maharashtra and Others. “

However, recently it was observed that it is divorced wife who is treated as a wife in context of Section 125 of CrPC and if a person has not even been married i.e. the case of live in partners, they cannot be divorced, and hence cannot claim maintenance under Section 125 of CrPC.5

  1. ‘In October, 2008, the Maharashtra Government also supported the concept of live in relationships by accepting the proposal made by Malimath Committee and Law Commission of India which suggested that if a woman has been in a live-in relationship for considerably long time, she ought to enjoy the legal status as given to wife.”6
  2. In the case of Koppisetti Subbharao Subramaniam vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, the defendant used to harass his live in partner for dowry. The Court rejected the contention of the defendant that since he was not married to the complainant, Section 498(A) did not apply to him. Thus, the Supreme Court took one more step ahead and protected the woman in a live in relationship from harassment for dowry.7



Nowadays there are mixed opinions in the society regarding accepting Live-in relationships and giving them space in the social structure but more or less it is limited to the urban societies. It has actually gained popularity among the elite class whereas people from other classes for Ex: Middle class or the lower classes still have a very intolerant attitude towards such form of relationships for which there are three reasons first, it is seen as a deviation from the normalcy where a female and male is supposed to live together in the legal sanctity of the marriage as a standard institution. Second, a negative connotation is attached to this idea of Live in relationships and if one attempts to practise it, it is seen as a threat to the honour of that family and the devaluation of their status in the community and society in which they live. Third, other than elite class the people of other classes are very much into the idea of “Bharatiya Parampara” where the people of these middle and lower classes are held saviours for such ideas which has to do with retaining age old traditions, values, societal norms and morality.



The major reason for people engaging in these sort of relationships can be a kind of freedom people experience in terms of bearing less responsibility, easy break ups, individual liberty and a commitment on a short term basis which if goes well can continue for longer period. Majorly in Indian society we see an imposition is made for the females not to go for a job outside after marrying and ask to engage in household work as a housewife which restricts the rights of women on par with men and thus leads to a dependency of a wife over her husband in every manner. But, on the other side Live in Relationships actually provides space for women to exercise their will without worrying for moral obligations and societal norms as such which a married women has to confront on a daily basis.





There are certain pros and cons which are attached to the practice of the live in relationship in the practical domain. So, the pros can be seen as-

  • One gets to know each other closely. The idea of being in relationship and then being into live in relationship is a completely different experience.
  • The pair becomes more close, matured and responsible in terms of taking care of each other and sharing personal space. It give us an understanding of marriage.
  • When the two starts living together under one roof, the room and utilities becomes more arranged and organized because of shared responsibilities and mutual coexistence.
  • One gets a lots of quality time to spend with each other and share emotions, love and talks.


On the other side cons can be counted as-

  • From the time one starts living in relationship the area of their friend circle will shrink enough so that the space becomes more nuclear and separate in terms of public sphere.
  • There is the problem of reduced privacy for both individuals where sometimes the personal freedom is restrained and one cannot execute whatever and whenever one feels like. One has to find a proper balance between you and your partner’s need.
  • In general, the issue of sexual exploitation and discrimination on female part becomes more evident and she is the one who is judged.


Moreover, there can be the situations of clashes or fights between both the individuals which can be serious enough to dissolve relationships on the other hand, it might give you an experience of a marriage life where one has to witness both the lovey-dovey moments and even fights and resolving them to continue their love for each other.


  • Societal and familial level opposition to such an arrangement is relatively high and that puts live-in relationships in India at a greater risk of failure.
  • Metro cities (that witness bulk of live-in relationships in India) do not represent the complete attitude of country.
  • Living in couples often face financial difficulties as they are usually not as well off financially as their married counter parts.




So, in conclusion it is very much evident that world is changing at a very drastic rates which thus applies to the kind of relationships that people are practising gets affected by a number of settings. The day to day human interaction is going nuclear and into the individualistic lines. The types of relationships carrying on by human societies these days are very much result of increased globalization and intermingling of diverse cultures and their dominance in personal domain on each and every one in the society. The ideals of individual liberty and freedom has provided base for exercising such form of relationships which are very much into the contradiction with age old traditional values. As it is repeatedly said “things changes as per the requirement of the time and order of the day which prevails”. Live In relationships took shape as an alternative to the marriages with a multiple reasons for its emergence and practise. In some societies of the world it has actually gained a great popularity at a society level whereas, in societies like in India it will take time to gain a popular base and acceptance. Indian legal system has shown signs of a positive attitude towards cohabitation and made some of the remarkable decisions on the same whereas as to gain a social sanction and legitimacy in Indian society will take time to open up for a dialogue and practise of such relationship openly.


Moreover, the right to take decision should always be in the possession of individual and on her /his will. One should be free to decide about leading one’s own life by one’s own way. There should not be a connotation of morality attached to the every act of any individual in the society because it restricts the individual liberty and freedom of choice. Basically, Indian society in the past and even till date had suffered a lot because of its age old traditions and false glorification of its ideals which were subjected to the governing of society. As it is 21st century where the agenda of development, globalization and liberalization are the prior most goals which India has set to achieve and in order to achieve it the people in the Indian society should come out of the age old ideas and perceptions of what is moral and immoral? The individual should be empowered enough to take decisions without any barriers imposed by the society and one should be given both personal and public space enough to experiment with his/her own life.

There are both kinds of people in the society who either chooses marriage or live in relationships or even atheism to lead their life happily. So, practise of any such relationships should not be seen as an antagonistic towards the each other. One should be free to exercise one’s own will through their rationale. The youth should be encouraged for carrying on their life with good deeds and good humane values for maintain a harmonious social order by accepting all sorts of variations in relationships practised by the individuals.






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