In my opinion, the Fukrey franchise is underrated and does not get due credit for tickling our funny bones. The franchise has not only given us stars like Ali Fazal, Varun Sharma and Pankaj Tripathi, if viewed with sincerity it can also teach us the law on live-in relationships in India.
To give some context, the franchise showcases the story of four boys (‘fukrey’ meaning jobless) who are keen on making money and their tryst with destiny. In one of the scenes in Fukrey Returns, Ali Fazal and his girlfriend Neetu Singh are shown looking for a flat to live in. The broker asks them to pay an extra sum over and above the booking charges for creating a fake marriage certificate. Neetu Singh argues with him stating ‘unmarried couples can live together now as there is a Supreme Court judgment to that effect’, to which he responds, ‘to fir aap Supreme Court mein hi kamra lelo, koi society unmarried couple ko ghar nahi degi’ (get a room inside the Supreme Court only then as no society will give a flat to an unmarried couple). Both the broker and Neetu are right.
Are Live-in Relationships legal in India?
Marriage is considered a very sacrosanct relationship in India. Unfortunately, any romantic relationship between a man and a woman sans a wedlock is looked down upon by the society and is considered immoral. This becomes even more severe if the couple is living together sans a wedlock (referred to as ‘live-in relationships’). Such relationships may be viewed as immoral, but they are not illegal.
The Supreme Court in Lata Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh has held that even though live-in relationships may be perceived as immoral, they are not against the law. The Court in another case had observed that living together is a right to life recognised under Article 21 of the Constitution i.e., the Right to Life and Liberty (Khushboo v. Kanaimmal).
Often couples living together sans a wedlock face resistance from their family and the society. In such cases, they are entitled to seek the Court’s protection. For instance, in Nandakumar v. State of Kerala, the Supreme Court recognised the right of an unmarried couple to live together outside a wedlock and granted them protection from their respective families. The Court held that society’s values and morals cannot curtail a person’s constitutional right i.e., the right of choice and expression of a partner. Similarly, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Sanjay v. State of Haryana, granted protection to a 21 year old girl and 19 year old boy who were living together. The Court observed, T’he live-in-relationship nowadays is not a new phenomena but the society has not evolved to the extent of accepting such relationship without raising the eyebrows to such relationship.“
In addition to live-in relationships, the Courts and the legislature also recognise relationships that are in the nature of marriage (‘RINM’) and accord them additional protection. In other words, while live-in relationships are legal, certain protections are only available to relationships in the nature of marriage.
Let me explain how the two are different using the test laid down in D. Veluswamy v. D. Patchaimal. The Court here held that for a relationship to constitute a RINM, (a) the couple must present themselves to the society as a couple for a significant period of time; (b) they both must be of a legal age to marry; (c) they must be capable of entering into a legal marriage. It should be noted that the Court has often ignored requirement (b) and has afforded protection to a couple so long as they are major (even if not of marriageable age – since age of majority for boys is 18 years while age of marriage is 21 years).
For instance, where a man keeps a servant, pays her and uses her mainly for sexual purposes, such a relationship would not amount to a RINM in law (as per Veluswamy’s judgment). Similarly, where a couple in a live-in relationship enters into a deed wherein, they specifically state that theirs is not a marital relationship, it does not amount to a RINM. In fact, the Courts have reprimanded such deeds and have termed them an instance of the misuse of the process of law which cannot be morally accepted (Moyna Khatun v. State of Punjab, CRWP 2421/2021).
Statutorily, RINMs are recognised under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, a legislation aimed at providing redressal to female victims of domestic violence. Section 2(f) of the Act specifically includes ‘RINM’s in the definition of a domestic relationship to which the Act is applicable. The Act granted additional protection to the female partner against abuse by her counterpart and also allows her to claim maintenance.
Neetu or Broker, who was right?
As stated above, the law recognises live in relationships and RINMs, and therefore, Neetu was absolutely right in telling the broker that there is no need to produce a fake marriage certificate to get a house. While that may be the law, the societal reality is different which is what the broker points out i.e., ‘noone will grant you a flat in this society without a marriage certificate’.
This is extended to hotels as well, which often refuse to let unmarried couples stay in the same room. There is no basis in law for hotels to do so and they can at best ask for identification cards of the two people to ensure that they are majors. The Madras High Court clarified this in a recent judgment, wherein it observed, “When a live-in relationship between two adults is not deemed to be an offence, the occupation of a hotel room by an unmarried couple will not attract any criminal offence. While that being so, the extreme step of sealing the premises on the ground that an unmarried couple was occupying it is totally illegal.”
Interestingly, the Hotel Association of India itself has clarified that legally there is no stipulation or rule to this effect. Challenging the same before the Courts, however, is tough because no one has a right to admission in a hotel and the only grounds for challenge against admission are gender, race, creed, caste etc. [Article 15(2)]., which are not attracted here.
The altercation between Neetu and the broker highlight the contrast in the law and the society’s stance. Despite the Supreme Court reiterating that live-in relationships are legal, and the couples deserve protection, the society refuses to change its orthodox view, perceiving such relationships as immoral and a taboo concept, imported from the west.