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Legal Perspectives on Addressing Domestic Violence in Live-In Relationships

Domestic violence is a severe and pervasive issue in India, affecting individuals from all walks of life. In recent years, live-in relationships have become more prevalent in India, which has brought about a focus on the issue of domestic violence in these relationships. In India, a "live-in relationship" refers to cohabiting without officially getting married. While such relationships have advantages, they also come with several challenges, including the risk of domestic violence.

According to a 2019 National Family Health Survey, one in three women in India has experienced physical or sexual violence. Furthermore, domestic violence is often underreported due to cultural stigmas and a lack of legal and social support for survivors. However, without specific legislation, norms, or customs governing such relationships, the Supreme Court has provided some recommendations in its decision. Accordingly, this article will define live-in relationships and focus on domestic violence in these relationships. It will also examine the legal protection available to individuals in live-in relationships, including men's rights.

The concept of live-in relationships has become increasingly prevalent in India with the rise of modernity in society. Despite the absence of a statutory enactment addressing this contentious issue, Indian courts have upheld individuals' right to liberty in the context of live-in relationships. However, with the stigmatization and shame attached to the patriarchal and conventional section of society, the burden of suffering and shame frequently falls on the person who has suffered due to their abusive partner, who is predominantly a woman.

In the aftermath of the heinous murder of Shraddha Walker in the capital city, there has been increased scrutiny of live-in relationships. However, it is essential to acknowledge that domestic violence also exists in married relationships. Law Minister Kiren Rijiju stated that the Apex court and other lower courts have held that the live-in relationships in the 'nature of marriage' are covered under the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA).

This paper aims to explore the prevalence and forms of domestic violence in live-in relationships in India and analyse the legal framework to protect survivors. The article will also suggest reforms to address the issue and examine whether men are protected against domestic violence in live-in relationships. Overall, this research aims to understand better the legalities, rights, and obligations of live-in relationships in light of specific Supreme Court rulings in women's favour, focusing on domestic violence in India.

What are Live-in Relationships
Live-in relationships are a form of cohabitation where unmarried couples choose to live together in a long-term, committed relationship that resembles a marriage. This type of relationship involves two individuals who opt to live together for an extended period, sharing a close and intimate bond on both emotional and sexual levels. Live-in relationships are usually associated with unmarried couples who reside together.

In 2010, the Supreme Court of India recognized live-in relationships as "domestic relationships". It granted them legal recognition and protection under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (DV Act). In the case of S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal, the Court ruled that live-in relationships are permissible and fall within the purview of the right to life enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It stated that the act of two consenting adults residing together could not be deemed illegal or unlawful.

Live-in Relationships as Marriages
In India, live-in relationships can be considered valid under the law if they have some essential characteristics of a marriage, even if they are not legally recognised. However, the courts have laid down certain conditions for such relationships to be considered in the "nature of marriage."

These conditions were outlined in the Velusamy v. D. Patchaiammal case and included:
  • Duration of the relationship: The couple must have voluntarily lived together for a significant period, such as months or years.
  • Socialisation in public: The couple should socialise publicly with friends, relatives, and others as if they were husband and wife.
  • Age and marital status: Both partners should be able to qualify to enter into marriage, meaning neither of them should have a spouse at the time of entering into the relationship, and both should be above the legally valid age of marriage (18 years).
  • Sexual relationship: The couple must have a sexual relationship that includes emotional and intimate support.
  • Financial arrangement: The couple should have a financial understanding similar to that of a husband and wife, such as shared bank accounts or joint assets.
  • Domestic arrangement: If one partner, particularly the woman, is responsible for running the household and doing domestic work, this is a domestic arrangement similar to a marriage.
  • Intention and conduct of the parties: The common intention of the parties as to their relationship and their respective roles and responsibilities primarily determine the nature of that relationship.
  • Children: Having children is a strong indication that the nature of the relationship is similar to that of a marriage and that the participants have a long-term orientation towards the relationship.

It's important to note that if these criteria are not met, the courts may not recognise the relationship as live-in. Therefore, a clear understanding of the essential characteristics of a live-in relationship is crucial to determine legal rights and obligations.

What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence occurs when one partner uses their physical or emotional strength to exert control over the other. This type of violence involves using force and other abusive methods to intimidate and instil fear in the other person. Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical, emotional, social, and financial abuse. The abuse can occur regularly or intermittently and can have a significant impact on the victim's well-being.

Forms of Domestic Violence in Live-in Relationships in India
Domestic violence in live-in relationships in India takes many forms and can have devastating consequences for survivors. Recognising the different forms of abuse is essential to provide adequate support and protection to those affected. Here are the most common forms of domestic violence that occur in live-in relationships:
  • Physical abuse:
    Includes any physical harm or injury caused to the survivor by the perpetrator. Physical abuse can be hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, or other forms of physical assault.
  • Emotional abuse:
    Emotional abuse can include verbal, psychological, and mental abuse. This abuse can involve insulting, threatening, demeaning, or controlling behaviour towards the survivor. Emotional abuse can leave the survivor feeling isolated, powerless, and afraid.
  • Sexual abuse:
    Sexual abuse in live-in relationships can take many forms, including rape, sexual assault, forced sexual acts, and other unwanted sexual behaviour. Survivors of sexual abuse may experience a range of emotional and physical consequences, including trauma, anxiety, and depression.
  • Economic abuse:
    Economic abuse involves the perpetrator controlling the survivor's finances or preventing them from working or earning income. It can leave the survivor financially dependent on the perpetrator and make it difficult to leave the abusive relationship.

Causes of Domestic Violence in Live-in Relationships in India
Domestic violence in live-in relationships in India has various underlying causes.

Some of the significant reasons are:
  • Gender-based power dynamics:
    One of the leading causes of domestic violence in live-in relationships in India is the unequal power dynamic between men and women. Patriarchal attitudes and beliefs, deeply ingrained in Indian society, often result in men exerting control over women in intimate relationships. As a result, the male partner may feel threatened by the female partner's independence or perceive her as challenging his authority. This power imbalance can lead to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
  • Cultural beliefs and social norms:
    Indian culture and social norms often reinforce traditional gender roles and the expectation that women should be submissive and obedient to men. This expectation can pressure women in live-in relationships to conform to conventional gender roles. As a result, it may contribute to guilt, shame, and self-blame when they experience abuse. Similarly, cultural beliefs surrounding masculinity can pressure men to be dominant and aggressive in their relationships.
  • Financial issues:
    Financial stress can also be a factor that leads to domestic violence in live-in relationships in India. Economic dependence on the partner or unequal distribution of financial resources can create tension and conflict. In addition, the partner with greater financial power may use the money to control the other partner, leading to abusive behavior.
  • Mental health and substance abuse:
    Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma, can contribute to domestic violence in live-in relationships. Similarly, substance abuse, such as alcoholism and drug addiction, can exacerbate violent behavior and create a volatile environment. These issues can also make it difficult for the abused partner to leave or seek help.

Legal Framework for Domestic Violence in India
India has a comprehensive legal framework for addressing domestic violence, including legislation and criminal and procedural laws.

The following are the essential legal instruments that protect against domestic violence:
  1. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005:
    This Act provides a legal remedy to women who are victims of domestic violence, including those in live-in relationships. It broadly defines domestic violence as physical, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse. The Act also provides protection orders, residence orders, monetary relief, and other forms of relief to survivors.
  2. The Indian Penal Code, 1860:
    The Indian Penal Code has provisions that criminalize domestic violence, including assault, battery, and criminal intimidation. The Code also criminalizes sexual offences, including rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.
  3. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973:
    The Code of Criminal Procedure lays down the procedure for investigation, arrest, and trial of offences under the Indian Penal Code, including domestic violence cases.

The police are crucial in responding to domestic violence cases, including registering complaints and investigating and arresting perpetrators. The court also plays a vital role in protecting survivors of domestic violence, including granting protection orders, issuing injunctions, and awarding monetary relief.

Recently, the Indian judiciary has issued several landmark judgments that have strengthened the legal framework for protecting women in live-in relationships from domestic violence. For instance, in Lalita Toppo vs The State of Jharkhand (2018), the Supreme Court held that female live-in partners are entitled to relief under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

In D.Velusamy vs D.Patchaiammal (2010), the court held that individuals in live-in relationships are entitled to protection under the Act, subject to certain conditions. And in Chanmuniya v. Virendra Kumar Singh Kushwaha (2011), the court held that women in live-in relationships are entitled to the same claims and reliefs available to legally wedded wives.

Understanding the Domestic Violence Act of 2005
  • Section 2(a) defines the term "aggrieved person" as a female who is or has been in a domestic relationship with the defendant and claims to be a victim of domestic violence.
  • Section 2(f) defines a "domestic relationship" as a relationship between two people who live or have lived together in a shared household, regardless of whether they are related by blood, marriage, adoption, or a "relationship in the nature of marriage." Notably, while defining domestic relationships in section 2(f), the Act uses the term "lived together in a shared household" without specifying the duration of cohabitation. In M. Palani v. Meenakshi, the Madras High Court held that the Act does not require the parties to have lived together for a certain period as long as they shared a household and engaged in consensual sexual intercourse. It enables women to seek maintenance even if the relationship is short-lived and lacks the promise of marriage.
  • Section 2(s) defines "shared household" as a residence where the aggrieved person has lived with the defendant in a domestic relationship, whether jointly or separately, and includes any property owned or leased by either party.
  • Section 2(q) of the Act protects women in live-in relationships.
  • Section 3(a) of the Act defines domestic violence as any act that endangers or harms the aggrieved person's life, safety, health, well-being, or limb, including physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and financial abuse.

Specific criteria must be met and proven for a live-in relationship to qualify as a "relationship in the nature of marriage" under the 2005 Act. Failure to meet these criteria will result in the relationship not being recognized under the Act.

The case of Smt. Sabana@ChandBai & Anr. V. Mohd. Talib Ali & Anr involved a woman in a live-in relationship with the respondent and filed a domestic violence case. The court found that the couple lived together and followed the norms of a live-in relationship. Consequently, the respondent was found guilty under Section 2(f) of the Domestic Violence Act.

The Act can provide remedies to the victim, the separated wife, or the live-in partner in a shared home. In Ajay Bhardwaj vs Jyotsna, the court referred to this ruling while granting alimony to a female in a live-in relationship under the Act. However, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 only entitles women to support. Men in live-in relationships are not eligible for support under this Act. In Khushboo vs Kanniamal, the court observed that "a live-in relationship is usually initiated and maintained by males."

Are Men Protected Against Domestic Violence in Live-in Relationships?
Domestic violence is not limited to women; men can also be victims of domestic violence in live-in relationships. In a survey of 1000 males, more than half (51.5%) reported experiencing violence from their wives or intimate partners at least once in their lifetime, and 10.5% reported experiencing violence in the past 12 months as reported in A Cross-sectional Study of Gender-Based Violence against Men in the Rural Area of Haryana, India.

However, the attention given to this issue is negligible due to societal stereotypes and the lack of gender-neutral laws. As a result, men who suffer from domestic violence in live-in relationships are silent victims, fearing the patriarchal society's ridicule. Unfortunately, the current laws in India do not adequately protect men in such cases.

To address this issue, it is essential to implement gender-neutral laws that protect both men and women against domestic violence. Therefore, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 must be interpreted as gender-neutral to protect men from domestic violence. In addition, it is crucial to establish gender-sensitive support services for male survivors to encourage them to come forward and report such incidents.

Furthermore, addressing gender-based power dynamics is essential in preventing domestic violence against men in live-in relationships. Traditional gender roles and beliefs contribute to the power imbalance in relationships, leading to domestic violence. By addressing these root causes, we can create a society where both men and women can live free from the fear of domestic violence.

Thus, including men in the Domestic Violence Act and in the sections of the Indian Penal Code that deal with domestic violence is necessary to provide equal protection to both men and women against domestic violence in live-in relationships. Furthermore, it is essential to recognize the prevalence of domestic violence against men and address the issue to create a safe and equal society for all.

Reforms for Addressing Domestic Violence in Live-in Relationships in India
  1. Raising awareness about Domestic violence in live-in relationships:
    Domestic violence is a serious issue affecting both men and women. Therefore, it is essential to raise awareness about this issue and educate people on the different forms of abuse that can occur. That includes creating campaigns to promote healthy relationships, such as the #LoveIsNotAbuse campaign, and providing information on support services available to victims.
  2. Providing legal protection to both men and women in live-in relationships:
    Legal protection is crucial for survivors of domestic violence, and it is imperative to have gender-neutral laws that protect both men and women. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, should be amended to include men in its protection. Furthermore, there should be provisions for including men in other laws, such as the Indian Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure.
  3. Strengthening institutional responses to Domestic Violence: Institutional responses to domestic violence must be maintained, and law enforcement agencies must be trained to handle domestic violence sensitively. That includes understanding the gender-based power dynamics in relationships and being aware of the specific needs of male survivors. Specialized courts and tribunals should also be established to deal with domestic violence cases.
  4. Providing gender-sensitive support services to survivors of Domestic violence:
    It is crucial to provide support services to survivors of domestic violence, including men. For example, it could be setting up crisis hotlines, safe houses, and counseling services that cater to the needs of all survivors. There should also be efforts to destigmatize seeking help for domestic violence, especially for male survivors, who may fear backlash or ridicule.
By implementing these reforms, we can work towards a society free from domestic violence, where all individuals have equal protection under the law and survivors can access the support, they need to rebuild their lives.

Domestic Violence in live-in relationships is a prevalent issue in India, with various forms of abuse, such as physical, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse. The causes of Domestic Violence in live-in relationships are rooted in gender-based power dynamics, cultural beliefs, financial issues, mental health, and substance abuse. Women are the primary victims of Domestic Violence. Still, men are also subjected to abuse, and they need to be protected as well.

The legal framework for Domestic Violence in India includes the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. To address the issue of Domestic Violence in live-in relationships, awareness needs to be raised, and institutional responses need to be strengthened. Additionally, addressing gender-based power dynamics is crucial in preventing Domestic Violence. The laws must be gender-neutral to protect men and women equally against Domestic Violence.

In conclusion, Domestic Violence in live-in relationships is a severe problem in India, and measures need to be taken to protect the rights of women and men in such relationships. The implications for policy and practice include the need for clear-cut laws determining victims' and children's rights in live-in relationships and robust implementation of the provisions mentioned in the Domestic Violence law.

Written By: Himanshu Dubey, 3rd year, B.A. LL. B Student of the University of Allahabad

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