Dr Inderdeep Kaur Associate Professor, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College
A couple of years back when urban society started witnessing ‘live-in’ relationships, the heterosexual (now it may be also read as homosexual) couples were frowned upon by elders and renting a flat in a metropolitan meant total rejection by the landlord. Over the years, as time passed, society learnt to be less harsh on such relationships though the mind-set change still remains elusive. It is more of a compromise than acceptance in most cases as parents feel that by entering into self-styled moral policing, they would lose their grown up child. But the fear of uncertainty about the commitment of the ‘live-in’ partner keeps looming minds of the peers. After all what is wrong (or right?) about such relations which are sweeping the pious institution of MARRIAGE.
The older generations find it difficult to come to terms with living together of a boy and a girl or man and woman without entering into a formal relationship of marriage. The younger generations express it as a rebellion and a freedom revolution trying to copy the west. While the elders take it as breaking sanctity of the institution called marriage, the younger generations explain it as exploring new options of relationships. With changing times such relationships have become common in urban set-ups, and society has started to if not accept them openly, come to terms with its ‘cult’. It has been supported also by women as they can assert individual choices over their reproductive potentials with decreased reliance on male partner for financial stability. Replacing permanent commitment of raising a family through wedlock, a ‘live-in’ relationship is a state of no commitment. The couple can live together as long as it wants, walking out of the relationship anytime without any such issues like divorce. Though apparently partners proclaim there being no hassle in walking out of this relationship, it must be admitted that there is an emotional turmoil attached to it besides financial and social stigma which spills over to the extended family. There is also no security of the children if born out of wedlock.
In several parts of the world like US, these relationships have become popular as a more practical way out to fulfil the biological demands. In various surveys conducted “cohabitation” has increased in the past five decades and the country has a reduced divorce rate. But we should not forget that though West has always projected as being tolerant to sexual preferences and relationships, the Christian doctrines on sex oppose unmarried cohabitation.
Do we know that ‘live-in’ concept is not new to Indian tribes and has been a part and parcel of their culture since thousands of years. Such relationships have a social consent and are not looked down upon by elders of the tribe. So is Urban India, going back to these set-ups rooted in tribes?
The Garasia tribe from Rajasthan still practices this tradition where couples ‘live-in’ and marry only when man has accumulated a fair amount of money. If this happens at a much later point in their lives, the couple is not ashamed of getting married in presence of their children! In such cases no social stigma is attached to the relation and children born out of wedlock are accepted by the tribal society. Not only this, the adolescent boys and girls are also encouraged to elope in a ‘courtship fair’ after which they continue to live as a couple, getting married later when the boy manages some money to the girl’s family. According to social scientists it gives a freedom to both, young boy and girl with right to choose and right to reject. It also results in better bonding between the couple and therefore divorce and rape remains unheard of in such tribes. With passing time, after thousand years of ‘live-in’ practice, the Garasia community is finally giving in to ‘modern’ ways. Slow and gradual change has led to recording of verbal agreements between the couples.
In Muria tribe of Bastar, Chattisgarh, ‘live-in’ relationships are very well woven into the society. Mixed-sex dormitories called ‘ghotuls’ are set up in isolated village outskirts and adolescents are sent to practice premarital sex. In some ghotuls, adolescents are put in monogamous relationships but are discouraged from becoming emotionally attached to their partners. As a rule couples who sleep together for more than three nights are punished. Lingo Pen, Phallic deity who started ghotuls, a much broader perspective is attached to these set ups. The ghotuls not only focus on sexual activities alone but are ‘educational institutes’ where the in-mates develop skills in arts and learn to behave as partners taking up responsibilities. The young boys called Chelick and girls, Motiyari are bound by discipline managed by the leader of boys, the Sirdar and leader of girls, Belosa. The ghotul system also includes udhalka vivah, or marriage after kidnapping young girl. Any youth can grab hold of a girl’s arms in a public place such as in weekly haats or Madiyasthe festivals. If the girl doesn’t object, the boy takes her to his home and informs society about the udhalka vivah. There is no objection to such practice provided castes of the boy and girl match, if they don’t belong to the same class, problems arise. Heterosexual dormitories are also seen in North East states like Mizoram (Zawlbuk).
Though a section of urban population has adopted ‘live-in’ relationship as a more practical life style, and may feel encouraged by the tribal concept of ghotuls, they forget the discipline practised by the in-mates. Breaking commitments and shirking responsibilities has never been a part of the pre-marital relations of tribes, while the basis of urban ‘live-in’ appears an escapist’s attitude which ignores the burden of non-marital parenthood. The urban relations do not address issues like how to share the monetary aspects and the extent of relationship before marriage while the ghotuls managed by leaders lay down rules for the proximity between the couple. These rules are respected by the youth of the ghotul and legal hassles are unheard of.
Of late many ghotuls have degenerated into centres which encourage promiscuity, resulting in the spread of venereal diseases and unwed motherhood. As a consequence anti-ghotul drive has picked up amongst tribes where education has raised awareness that close proximity between boys and girls is unhealthy. ‘Live-in’ relationship which is now also referred to as de facto marriage faces a paradox situation. While ‘live-in’ is falling apart among people who practiced it for thousands of years, it is becoming common among people who believed for thousands of years in sanctity of marriage. For latter section, ‘live-in’ is simply an easy workable solution with practically no ‘attachments’, the consequences of which have challenged its existence and are taking toll on the mental health of partners of broken ‘live-in’ and integrity of the social set up.