Maharashtra move to legalise ‘live-in’ prone to misuse, say experts

October 9th, 2008 - 7:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Oct 9 (IANS) The Maharashtra government’s initiative to bestow legal status to a woman in a ‘live-in relationship’ with a man, although revolutionary, could be grossly misused, aver experts.The government has decided to amend the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.PC) Sec. 125, with a view to protect the interests and rights of the so-called ‘mistress’ or ‘other woman’, subject to the central government approval.

Family law expert advocate Neelofar Akhtar said the move would enable the ‘mistress’ to get the status of a legally married wife in all matters, including share in property, inheritance, maintenance.

“However, this essentially goes contrary to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which has no provision for a second wife among Hindus,” Neelofar told IANS.

She explained that once live-in couples invoke the proposed amended law, it would mean an admission on their part that there is a ‘second wife’ - which is not permitted as per the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Unfortunately, the proposed amendment has immense potential for misuse, both by men and women, feels Neelofar.

“For instance, men facing turbulent marriages or fighting divorce cases can now simply ignore these impediments and get on in life with the ‘other woman’, who will be accorded legal status,” she said.

This could actually compel the legally wedded wife to come around and beg for a divorce from her husband who is sharing a live-in relationship with another woman.

Social and women’s activist Flavia Agnes, terming the proposed amendment as “nothing new”, wholeheartedly welcomed the government’s decision.

“Men, who until now used to deny such a relationship on grounds that the marriage was never conducted as per Hindu rites, shall now have no escape route,” Flavia declared.

This will protect the rights of such women who had limited protection under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, though they are entitled to maintenance and certain other benefits, she said. As for the children out of such illegitimate relationships, she said that they are already being recognised so it will not affect their status in any manner.

Neelofar said that since the term “reasonably long” period of live-in relationship in the proposed law has not been quantified, it is left open to interpretation and arguments by lawyers. She apprehends that women in pursuit of monetary gains can also blatantly misuse it.

“Women with questionable motives could claim advantages under the proposed law even for ‘one-night stands’ or ‘temporary relationships’, with few options available for the legally-wedded wife or the man,” she added.

In her opinion, the proposed amendment could face the same fate as the Indian Penal Code Sec. 498-A (pertaining to dowry), which has been “completely misused and abused by women” all over and to which the government is now contemplating an amendment.

The state proposes to amend the CrPC Sec. 125 whereby the definition of the word ‘wife’ would include a woman as living with a man like his wife for a “reasonably long period”.

This would cover the interests of women involved in polygamous or live-in relationships, and is in tune with the recommendations of the Justice S. Mallimath Committee, which suggested reform in the CrPC.

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