The Shraddha Walkar murder case has put live-in
relationships among young Indian couples into the spotlight. Walkar, 26, was
murdered by her live-in partner Aftab Amin Poonawala, 28, on May 18 this year
in Delhi’s Mehrauli. After strangling Shraddha to death, Aftab allegedly cut
her body into pieces, stored them in a fridge and then disposed them one by one
in various parts of Delhi.

Media reports indicate that Shraddha had complained
earlier about the physical abuse she faced at the hands of Aftab. She had even
gone to the cops about him, but when a police officer said if she wanted Aftab
to be called into the police station and interrogated, Shraddha budged.

The focus on live-in relationships and their nature
came after Indian Union minister Kaushal Kishore said incidents of the sort
were happening to “educated girls” in relationships of the sort. “Why are they
living in live-in relationships,” the minister asked and said if women chose to
do so then they should register
themselves for live-in relationships.

Are live-in relationships legal in India?

Live-in relationships are not governed by law in
India. There is no law either permitting or disallowing live-in relationships.
In the absence of law, the rules around live-in relationships are decided on
the basis of Supreme Court judgements. The Supreme Court judgements, as they
stand, do not disallow live-in relationships.

The Supreme Court first decided on live-in
relationships in 1978 in the Badri Prasad vs. Dy Director of Consolidation

Ruling on the case, India’s apex court said that under
the nation’s law, a live-in relationship between consenting adults is legal if
the requirements of marriage, such as legal age of marriage, consent and
soundness of mind are met.

In Lata Singh vs State of UP (2006), the Supreme Court
ruled live-in relationships are not illegal under the legislation even though they
are considered unethical.

In S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal and Anr (2010), the
Supreme Court ruled living together is a right to life protected by Article 21
of the Indian Constitution, and thus, despite being considered immoral by
society, it is not an offence under the law.