Should long-term live-in partner get maintenance if deserted?
The Supreme Court has reserved verdict on an important question of law viz., whether a woman in a long live-in relationship is entitled to maintenance after she has been deserted by her partner.
The question arose on an appeal filed by Chunmuniya, who claimed that she was married to her husband's younger brother after his death. During the course of arguments, Justice A.K. Ganguly said every woman, whether wife or long term live-in partner, should get maintenance if she was deserted. Whether she had the status of a wife or she lived with a man without any substantial proof of marriage was immaterial. “Women can't be left vagrant. Right to life guaranteed under the Constitution includes the right to live with dignity. It is not possible to live with dignity when a woman has no food and leads the life of a destitute.”
The other judge on the Bench, Justice G.S. Singhvi, said: “Someone has to take care of her if she is not able to prevent vagrancy. Every woman in a long-term relationship should get maintenance if she was deserted and if it was proved that she was completely dependent on him for sustenance.”
Expressing his anguish at the use of words “illegitimate” children and “other woman” in various laws, Justice Singhvi blamed the “patriarchal” mindset of lawmakers. He said “The use of the word ‘illegitimate' stigmatises these children the day they are born.”
Chunmuniya claimed that after her husband, Ram Sharan, died on March 7, 1992, she was married to his younger brother as was the practice in her caste. He, however, deserted her in 1996. She moved an application for maintenance on March 26, 1997, but even as it was pending he married another woman in 1998. Her marriage, Chunmuniya claimed, was performed by simply doing a katha. A family court upheld her claim to maintenance. But on an appeal by Kushwaha, Ram Sharan's younger brother, the Allahabad High Court ruled in his favour on November 11, 2007, saying she could not prove the marriage between the two, and set aside the family court's order. Her appeal is directed against that judgment.
The judges, while reserving verdict on Thursday, agreed with counsel that the status of wife need not be a prerequisite for maintenance. A prolonged domestic relationship resembling marriage was enough to entitle a deserted woman to maintenance, the judges said.