By Prarthana Mitra
In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court on Sunday said couples are free to live together out of wedlock as long as they were adults and in a consensual relationship. The court ruled in favour of a 20-year-old woman whose marriage was annulled stating she could choose whom she wanted to live with.
Here’s what happened
Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan were hearing a plea about a Kerala High Court order that had annulled Nandakumar’s marriage with Thushara.
According to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act the age of consent for marriage is 21 years for men and 18 for women, due to which the marriage was annulled as Nandakumar was of 20 years at the time of the marriage. The high court had also granted custodianship for Thushara to her father after noting that she was not Nandakumar’s “lawfully wedded” wife.
However, the top court declared that their marriage which was within the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, could not be rendered “null and void” merely because Nandakumar wasn’t of the legal age of marriage. “It is sufficient to note that both appellant no 1 and Thushara are major. Even if they were not competent to enter into wedlock (which position itself is disputed), they have right to live together even outside wedlock,” the bench said.
Registering a victory for the rights of an adult couple to choose whom they want to live with, it went on to proclaim that live-in relationships were now even recognised by the legislature and had a place under the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Referring to the recent Hadiya case where too the Supreme Court safeguarded the rights of an inter-caste couple to enter into consensual matrimony, the bench reiterated and clarified Thushara’s autonomy in deciding whom she wanted to live with.
Why you should care
Prohibiting consensual adult couples from exercising their right to live together aided by the state courts, law enforcement officers and with the khaps acting as moral guardians, marks the failure of a democratic society where individuals have autonomy in their decisions. The declaration of the court is a great victory for the country.
Another crucial obstacle that young men and women face in India is from homeowners, subletters, landlords and real estate brokers who will have to start cultivating a more tolerant attitude to alternate ways of living that are by no means illegal, unethical or immoral. Numerous accounts of tenants being slut-shamed, evicted and morally policed have emerged from Indian millennials in the recent years, which only serves to make this judicial victory an important step in the establishing the rights of an individual to decide whom they want to live with.
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