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Living Together: No Crime and No Sin, Says the Indian Supreme Court

The Indian Supreme Court in a recent ruling asked the people of India (parliament) to frame laws protecting the rights of women and children in live-in relationship. It has ruled that such a relationship is neither a crime nor a sin.

One needs to look at the accepted definitions of Live-in, crime and sin before commenting on the Supreme Court ruling

Live-in relationship is defined as a living arrangement in which two individuals who are not legally married, live together in a long-term relationship that resembles a marriage but not accepted as a marriage by society at large.

Crime means an act committed or omitted in violation of the law forbidding or commanding it and for which punishment is imposed upon conviction or a serious offense, especially one in violation of morality or an unjust, the senseless, or disgraceful act or condition.

And sin is described as an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.

In Indian law, fornication has not been prohibited. A man can have sexual intercourse with an unmarried woman over the age of 16 provided she consents to such a cohabitation. A person can also enter into adulterous relations with a married woman provided the husband has no objection. The Indian law intervenes only when non-consensual intercourse is committed with a married woman or with a minor. The Indian law also says that only a man can be proceeded against and punished for adultery, but the married woman cannot be, even as an abettor.

The Supreme Court has suggested that the rights of children born out of living together relations and women involved in such relations should be protected. In reality, the rights of men, women, and children must be protected regardless of the relationship among them. There is no need to have separate laws to protect the rights of people in this relationship as long as the law respects the equality of all Indians regardless of their background.

There are certain inalienable rights that cannot be denied to any individual. Among them are rights to live and to choose one's own lifestyle. However, no one in society has a right to weaken or destroy the primary social institution that is the foundation of human civilization, i.e. the family.

Long before the emergence of the modern state, it was the family that provided support to its men, women, and children, most of the times in a patriarchal arrangement but at times in a matriarchal situation too. The family was and is the human necessity as the life of an individual starts in a condition of total dependence upon others and ends in a situation of total dependence upon others. The family had rules and roles assigned to its members, especially the rules pertaining to conjugation and reproduction.

Humans had two options to select rules and roles pertaining to the family. Either they draw their own rules based on their likes and dislikes or they accept the rules given to them by a higher authority, God, Almighty, objective, and neutral who does not take sides of any gender or ethnicity or race.

It was the second option the humanity accepted and adopted a definition that ensured the continuity of roles assigned to various members of the family.

One of the fundamental rules in the divinely guided definition of the family dealt with the relationship with men and women. It was accepted that the conjugal relationship between a man and a woman should always be within the confines of marriage on the basis of contractual or sacramental ties witnessed by the people and approved by society. The purpose was not only to secure the interests of the couple, but also the rights of their children and other relatives.

Physical relation established outside these rules was considered illicit and a major sin carrying severe penalties. The purpose was to protect the dignity of both men and women and help them discipline their sexual urges and social responsibility in a meaningful manner.

Now, after some 8,000 years of recorded human history, we are back to where we began our human journey. Whose definition should we accept in defining the nature of the relationship between a man and a woman, i.e. the definition we as a human being evolves based on our limited knowledge, interests, and experiences or the definition received through divine guidance?

The Supreme Court said that people through their elected representative should define a family. It has also given a verdict on the 8,000-year-old wisdom of humanity that living-in without binding contractual or sacramental relations is neither a sin nor a crime.

The Supreme Court is not a lawgiver, it is a law interpreter and the decision that the live-in is not a sin or a crime is beyond its jurisdiction. It cannot give verdict on issues it is not competent to talk about. The Supreme Court follows the constitution that says that it would respect the religious beliefs of people. Hence, when it says that that live-in relationship is neither a sin nor a crime, it is showing disrespect to the people’s belief.

One of the definitions of crime describes it as an act in violation of morality or an unjust, senseless, or disgraceful act or condition.

In the eyes of the religious community of India or the world, physical relationship not based on a contract or sacrament is unjust, senseless and disgraceful from the perspective of their belief. Hence, by giving its verdict in this matter, the Court is again violating the constitutional clause that demands respect to the belief system of the people.

One should hope that the religious communities of India, regardless of their denomination would look into this verdict seriously and assert their right to make laws that would ensure the sanctity of marriage and family.

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