A rather curious article in the front page of THE HINDU caught my attention today. “Couples who have had premarital sex to be considered married” -High Court. The report is hilarious to say the least. Here are some nuggets from the ruling - “ Couples who indulge in sexual gratification” “ Couples who consummate their sexual cravings”. I had a good laugh-at the article and at all the jokes that are circulating now on social media about this ruling!
But jokes apart, there is a history to it that can be traced back to a couple in the family court in Coimbatore. It was a maintenance case where the lower court had ruled that as the woman could not prove that she was legally married to the man, she was not entitled to maintenance. While it is certainly commendable that Justice Karnan says marriage does not necessarily mean following all the customs like wearing a thali , ring etc it is a little farfetched to include premarital sex as the “rite of passage” (so to say) into marriage!
There are many issues here that are being mixed up. First of all there is the issue of “marriage” as a life long ( well at least we hope it is ) bond and the second is about giving in to your sexual urges. One can be married without any external symbols or ceremonies. I would say that couples who have lived together for years without marriage can be considered “married”. But “indulging in sexual gratification” as the court so quaintly puts it, cannot be equated to marriage! It reduces marriage to a physical act! Then there is the question of children being born out of such relationships - no “ legal marriage”, live in relationship or one night stands! In that case it is pointless declaring the parents as married. Here it is a question of getting a person to accept responsibility for bringing another life into the world in such a careless way. And in today’s times, with so many contraceptive options and with abortion being legal, I refuse to believe that people would be victims of such circumstances.
I cannot understand why we are so obsessed with marriage as the ultimate status of respectability! I remember reading somewhere about the different kinds of marriage that are recognized in the Hindu scriptures – Vedic ( where all rituals customs etc are followed), Rakshasa ( rape !!) and Gandharva ( which is basically about a couple having premarital sex! The Shakuntala – Dushyant union is part of the last category of marriages!)
Maybe centuries ago it was alright to declare forcible sexual intercourse or rape as a form of marriage. But even today there are caste panchayats which force a rapist and the victim to get married subjecting the poor girl or woman to a violence filled life. This premarital sex thing sounds like something similar. If the report in the HINDU is to be believed, it would force a couple who may have momentarily gotten physical to suddenly think of themselves as married! It takes away from young people the freedom to explore their sexuality. Sure, there are consequences but does responsibility have to begin only after you become pregnant or get someone pregnant ? Responsibility also involves ensuring one does not get into such a situation in the first place! After all we are not a tribal society which is far more open about accepting the consequences ie the children begotten out of such irresponsibility (just that they do not view this as “irresponsibility” – more as a natural fallout of succumbing to the passion of youth)
Despite going into great depths about how such marriages have to go through divorce before a person can enter into another union and how the partners are entitled to the same rights as those legally marriage, this High Court Ruling is strangely silent on the issue of extramarital sex. How are they going to define a situation where a married man seduces an unmarried girl/woman ? So there is the premarital sex bit as well as the extra marital one? ( Gosh.. this is beginning to sound like a plot from a B grade film! ). Does such a situation absolve a man of “marriage” or are we promoting bigamy/polygamy/polyandry?
I am really puzzled sometimes by the way our judiciary interprets social issues! They try to be progressive but end up sounding very archaic and pronouncing rulings that are impractical given the times. I mean, how is a person going to provide “documentary proof” that s/he had a sexual relationship and is therefore married and entitled to a share in the “spouse’s” property? It can only hold good if it ws a ‘live in relationship” and not a casual physical affair. And if it is about maintenance to be paid for child care then the amounts fixed by the court should be realistic and not Rs 500 or Rs 1000! I mean even a woman who does agriculture wage work gets paid Rs 120 at a minimum in Tamil Nadu!
The issue of making “legal” a long standing “live in relationship” is to be dealt with independently and not linked to premarital sex because a live in relationship cannot be trivialized as “pre marital sex”. If a couple have lived together long enough and produced children then certainly, they are as good as married! And the breaking of such a relationship is not without its legal consequences!