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Uttarakhand Uniform Civil Code: Registration of live-ins, jail term raise questions of privacy & liberty

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The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill introduced in the Uttarakhand Assembly Tuesday enters uncharted territory, imposes stringent terms on a consensual relationship between adults and raises constitutional concerns of privacy and personal liberty.

From requiring compulsory registration with the state while starting or ending a live-in relationship for heterosexual couples — a record of which will be kept in a police station; providing for maintenance to the woman when “deserted” by her partner; to prescribing jail term of up to six months for not producing a “certificate” of the relationship — the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill introduced in the Uttarakhand Assembly Tuesday enters uncharted territory, imposes stringent terms on a consensual relationship between adults and raises constitutional concerns of privacy and personal liberty.

Essentially, the Bill seeks to equate heterosexual live-in relationships to the status of a marriage. A separate chapter in the proposed Code deals with live-in relationships, defining them as a “relationship between a man and a woman” (partners) who “cohabit in a shared household through a relationship in the nature of marriage, provided that such relations are not prohibited.”

The Bill requires the partners to notify the “Registrar” within a month of entering into a live-in relationship and while terminating a live-in relationship. It prescribes a jail term of upto three months for not registering a live-in relationship. In case of failing to produce a certificate of live-in relationship, a term of six months is prescribed on conviction.

When asked about these provisions, an official in the state government claimed that “concerns over heinous crimes among live-in couples” was the key imperative behind this provision. And that registration would act as a “mental deterrent” if a partner had “bad intentions.”

“When the expert committee (led by Justice Ranjana Desai) went to remote areas in Uttarakhand for public consultation,” an official said, “incidents (of live-in crime) were fresh in the minds of the people. Because of that, during public consultation, parents and elderly said they want something to be done. It was discussed that personal freedom is important but the interest of youngsters is also important. The committee found a way to ensure that.”

Easier said than done, said many experts. “The compulsory registration takes away the freedom to choose not being married. The state should not enter into the realm of what citizens do consensually. Prima facie, it intrudes into the domain of privacy which is recognised as a fundamental right in the Puttaswamy ruling,” senior advocate Geeta Luthra said.

Significantly, the proposed Code also provides for maintenance for women “deserted” by her partner, similar to a married woman. Section 388 states: “If a woman gets deserted by her live-in partner, she shall be entitled to claim maintenance from her live-in partner, for which she may approach the competent Court having jurisdiction over the place where they last cohabited, and, in such a case, the provisions contained in chapter 5, Part 1 of the Code shall mutatis mutandis apply.”

Live-in relationships are currently accounted for only under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 as “domestic relationships”. The law, which also has provisions for maintenance, only recognises relationships “akin to marriage” when women complain of domestic violence.

“The idea of compulsory registration may have been to protect women, but women may not want that protection from the state. It is a parochial approach to deal with free adults in a free country,” Luthra said.

The proposed law will apply to those living in Uttarakhand as well as residents of Uttarakhand living elsewhere in India.

Section 378 of the Code requires submission of a statement by partners to a live-in relationship. “It shall be obligatory for partners to live-in relationship within the state, whether they are resident(s) of Uttarakhand or not, to submit a statement of live-in relationship under sub-section 1 of section 381 to the Registrar within whose jurisdiction they are living,” it states.

“Any resident(s) of Uttarakhand staying in a live-in relationship outside the territory of the state, may submit a statement of live-in relationship under sub section 1 of section 381 to the Registrar within whose jurisdiction such resident ordinarily resides,” it adds.

The Bill also explicitly recognises that a child born in a live-relationship is a legitimate child. This has been the legal position but is now codified as law.

The Registrar, similar to powers granted to the magistrate in the anti-conversion legislation, is empowered to conduct a “summary inquiry”, summoning the live-in partners or “any other persons” for verification.

The Registrar will forward the record to the police station concerned and, in case either partner is less than 21 years of age, inform the parents or guardians.

In the 2017 landmark Puttaswamy ruling where the Supreme Court recognised the right to privacy, the Court had cited several precedents stating that “personal information which has no relationship to any public activity or interest”, or which would cause “unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual”, unless the authority is “satisfied that the larger public interest justifies its disclosure”.

The Delhi High Court in the Naz Foundation ruling in 2009, which for the first time struck down Section 377 of the IPC, had said: “…The sphere of privacy allows persons to develop human relations without interference from the outside community or from the State. The exercise of autonomy enables an individual to attain fulfilment, grow in self-esteem, build relationships of his or her choice and fulfil all legitimate goals that he or she may set. In the Indian Constitution, the right to live with dignity and the right of privacy both are recognised as dimensions of Article 21…” (with Avaneesh Mishra)

source by: The Indian Express News

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