Regulation of live-in relationships is definitely invasive

Why is the state criminalising personal choice?

In principle, I support a progressive Uniform Civil Code.

For too long, orthodoxies of different faiths have been weaponised against women. Gender justice as the goal of a secular family law—on marriage, divorce, inheritance—is something I would support.

A Uniform Civil Code is not meant to be the hegemonic assertion of one set of customs and traditions on the other. Nor is it meant to be a triumphalist political document.

In my understanding, a UCC should standardise family law within the framework of fundamental rights. But the voluminous draft of the new Uttarakhand Uniform Civil Code—tabled in the state assembly amid chants of Vande Mataram, Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Jai Shri Ram—seems to go well beyond this remit.

While it will take time to go through its 800 pages, the proposed regulation of live-in relationships is definitely invasive and ill-thought through. The demand that couples who cohabit outside of marriage have to register their relationship or face a possible jail term/fine is preposterous. Even if we assume the intent of this proviso is noble—arguably to protect women and children by recognising the legitimacy of a non-marital relationship; the punitive action against those who decline to do so is unacceptable.

Illustration: Shutterstock AI Illustration: Shutterstock AI

The bill says that registration of the relationship is required within one month of the date of entering the relationship. A failure to do so can result in three months in prison, or a 010,000 fine, or both. Effectively, it is an invitation to the police to enter the bedroom. Or even to pesky neighbours and landlords to start reporting new, young couples to the local police station. The registrar also has the power to decline the application of a couple. Relationships where one partner is married or registered in a live-in relationship elsewhere cannot have official recognition. It is not clear what happens to those who are separated, but not yet divorced due to the snail-like pace of court hearings or long-drawn out property/custody battles. Nor is it clear what this bill means for same-sex couples. And the legislation already exempts tribal communities. So its uniformity is questionable.

But let us be clear. Not only are these proposals meaningless in the age of Tinder and Bumble, they are completely violative of the right to privacy, a right recognised by no less than Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

To give the state machinery overarching powers of this nature is to unleash the moral police on consenting adults. It is criminalising personal choice. It is quite literally policing the personal.

Those who opt to live together instead of getting married either do so because they are not convinced of the need for the formality of marriage or because they are in an exploratory phase of their relationship. Sometimes it could be because one or the other partner is still emerging from a previous relationship because of a prolonged legal battle.

Whatever be the reasons, what happened to live and let live?

If the essential aim of a Uniform Civil Code is to equalise rights between men and women, these tenets, if approved into law, will have the opposite effect. It is women, young and old, who will be judged, character-assassinated and possibly prosecuted.