A single-judge bench of the Kerala High Court last week passed an order stating that women in live-in relationships cannot successfully claim an offense under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits a woman’s husband or his relatives from subjecting her to cruelty. The judgment was given by Justice Sophy Thomas that, “when there was no solemnisation of marriage at all, and only live in relationship on the basis of a marriage agreement, then the woman cannot seek shelter under Section 498A of IPC, saying that they were holding out to the society as man and wife by their long cohabitation.”
For this Section, to apply its literal interpretation, it is essential that the woman is married at the receiving end of cruelty from her husband or a male relative of the husband and the behavior accounted as cruelty has various subjective interpretations through case laws.
The court takes precedent from the interpretation of the term “husband” used in the section in the case of Reema Aggarwal vs. Anupam and others (2004). The term husband has been interpreted as a man who is in a legally valid marital relationship with the woman.
The court said that even if any religious or even customary marriage that has a ‘color of legal marriage’ exists between the man and the woman, then the woman can claim a remedy under section 498A.
The only legislation in India that recognizes live-in relationships is the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005. This Act was envisaged in the case of Indra Sarma v V. K. V. Sarma with the intention of providing rights and protection to women, married or unmarried, who face cruelty within their household.