Live-in relationships not to be moved out of the ambit of rape, says Delhi High Court

In an affirmation of the tolerant and liberal outlook towards men and women relationships, the Delhi High Court declined to keep live-in relationships outside the boundaries of rape and the provisions of the Indian Penal Code criminalizing rape. However, the Court observed that such an action would amount to granting live-in relationships a status that is at par with marriage. The Court said that it cannot grant live-in relationships such status as the legislature itself has decided not to treat these relationships at par with marriage.

The Court was hearing a public interest litigation petition which pleaded that the government should treat live-in relationships as falling out of the purview of provisions of the Indian Penal Code governing rape offence, including criminalization and punishment.

The bench of Chief Justice G. Rohini and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw pointed out that the relief sought by the petitioner could not be granted as if live-in relationships were to be kept out of the limits of Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, it would amount to admitting indirectly that the said relationships have the status of marriage under Indian criminal law and other wise. Since, the legislature has not granted the same to these relationships, the High Court most certainly cannot, said the bench.

The Bench observed that all it is capable of doing at the moment is observing that a live-in relationship is different and belongs to a category/class different from marriage. The Court felt that it cannot be argued that the defence of consent cannot be availed by the accused in such cases. Consequently, the Court dismissed the petition for the want of merit.

The public interest litigation had prayed for a direction to the effect that the complaint lodged by a live-in partner should not be considered under Section 376. Such a complaint should much rather be registered under the offence of cheating under Section 420. However, the Court was quick to reject the request for such an order.

The PIL was filed by one Anil Dutt Sharma, who had argued that a perusal of police as well as court records would show that there is an increasing prevalence of false cases of rape filed by women, where the Court ultimately ends up acquitting the accused men. According to the petitioner, in over 70 per cent of the cases, the Court does not find the accused guilty of the offence of rape. However, the accused as well his relatives are subjected to extreme humiliation and ostracism in the society, due to obvious and prevalent social prejudices and stigma against offences of such a nature.

The petitioner had also requested for a direction from the Court to the Central government as well as the Delhi government to protect and ensure the constitutionally given rights of a person who has been acquitted in a case of rape. Such protection and security can be assured by granting the acquitted person appropriate compensation. The woman filing the false case, on the other hand, should be reprimanded for misusing the law, according to the petitioner.

Further, the petition had argued that the police should not move to arrest a person on the mere levelling of an allegation by a woman. They should first conduct a preliminary enquiry into the matter and gather a medical report and before arresting the person against whom the charges have been levelled, it should be made mandatory to record sufficient causes for the arrest by a senior officer. Such vigilance would thus, avoid any false cases and prevent any mischief or misuse of the provisions meant to secure the safety of women, said the petition.

by Siddhartha Singh.