Date :25-Nov-2022

THE brutal murder of ShraddhaWalker by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawala has shaken the conscience of the nation. Some are looking at the murder from the angle of ‘Love Jihad’, some from the feminist dimension, and some see the angle of nothing but crime in the murder. However, there is another angle that needs to be discussed so that such incidents could be prevented and innocent lives could be saved from dishonest and violent partners. That angle is of responsibility of both the partners in a live-in relationship. To ensure that a legal framework must be put in place. For various aspects to be brought in public discourse in this regard, the nature and need of live-in relationships must be understood. The concept of live-in relationship, in the so-called ‘modern’ form, has come from the Western world. Everything Western need not be opposed or criticised. However, the way those concepts are foisted on Indian socio-cultural frameworks, definitely present a cause for concern. In case of live-in relationship, its supporters treated it as an emotional need of younger generation. Then, the concept was extended to the senior citizens living alone. Live-in relationship covered LGBTQ community too. Then came the movies, articles, videos, and web-series through which live-in relationship got glorified and then ‘normalised’ in Indian psyche. At the same time, these movies, articles, videos, and web-series ridiculed not only the Indian family system but also the concept of marriage. In Indian context, marriage is not a ‘contract’ as perceived in Western frameworks; rather, it is a union of souls with cultural dimension. Marriage is the foundation of the institution of family, leading to the construct of society, and wider consciousness of connectedness with the entity called nation. If there is accountability in ‘marriage as a contract’ in Western materialistic understanding, responsibility towards each other forms the core of the ‘marriage as a union of souls’ in Indian culture. Having said that, the live-in relationship is covered neither by ‘contract’ as per Western notions, nor by the institution of family as per the Indian tradition. So, there is neither accountability of live-in partners as in a ‘contract’ nor responsibility as in Indian family values. If something goes wrong, both the partners -- whether a victim or a perpetrator -- are left to themselves. That leads to trauma -- mental and physical or both -- that the victim carries for life. However, those championing the cause of the unregulated live-in relationship deliberately ignored this angle of responsibility and focused only on flawed notion of ‘freedom’. While all this was happening, not everything was as hunky-dory as portrayed in films and web-series and articles. Beyond a minority, this relationship started showing the symptoms of deteriorating into lustful temporary bonding. There have been umpteen number of incidents in which murders, like that of Shraddha Walker, have taken place. Some cases even went to the courts of law. The courts held that though the live-in relationship might be treated as immoral, it could not be treated as illegal in case of consenting adults. In a case, the concept of maintenance was applied to a partner in a live-in relationship. Sadly, despite all this, the moot point of responsibility got overshadowed by biased social media-driven public discourse in favour of live-in relationship. As a result, girls like Shraddha became victims of unregulated relationship wherein male partner resorted to violence against the female partner. If one takes a look at the National Crime Records Bureau statistics for the year 2021, of a total 29,272 murders that took place in India, the motives in as many as 3,125 (11.05 per cent) were found to be ‘love affairs’ or ‘illicit relationships’. Though there is no separate category for live-in relationships, those fall in abovementioned two categories. This is good enough to indicate the gravity of the situation, and also underscore the need for having a robust legal mechanism to save the weaker partners in live-in relationships. Else, there may be more Shraddhas falling prey to the violent partners like Aftab.