UNMANA INITIATED a lively discussion on marriage a few weeks ago, and there is news now that the institution as we legally define it in India may be set to change. Maharashtra is picking up the cause of legalising live-in relationships and providing more rights to extramarital female parties within a marriage. The state cabinet announced on Wednesday that the definition of the word “wife” under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code may be amended, thus facilitating the expansion of the institution of marriage. The bill cannot be cleared without the Centre’s approval, and the amendment has been suggested ostensibly in the interest of securing the rights of women in relationships that do not have the protection of the law.
To my understanding, there are two points to be considered here, and personally I applaud both:
1. Live-in relationships of over a certain “reasonable duration” (yet to be determined), are treated as common law marriages.
2. Female parties not legally bound within a marriage (a non-primary partner of a polygamous husband) also get the legal status of wives.
Of course, there are a huge number of grey areas in relation to both categories. First and most obvious of all, an effective legalisation of polygamy will be a veritable minefield in itself. It is arguable, for instance, that in protecting the rights of the “other woman” in a marriage, the rights of the official/first wife are curtailed. How exactly will a couple prove that they have lived together long enough to meet the law’s criteria? And lastly, why aren’t these provisions also extended to male non-primary partners, and what if they were? Monogamy may not be better — but it is certainly legally simpler.
What do you think of this move — should we hold on to straightforward matrimonial monogamy, or expand the definition of marriage? If, like me, you are in cautious theoretical support, what kinds of solutions might be viable in tackling the grey areas that this legal amendment will encounter?