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  Opinion   Columnists  10 Feb 2024  Shobhaa De | Mandatory registration of ‘live-ins’? Way over the top!

Shobhaa De | Mandatory registration of ‘live-ins’? Way over the top!

Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. You can reach her at: @ShobhaaDe(Instagram) and @DeShobhaa(Twitter).
Published : Feb 10, 2024, 12:18 am IST
Updated : Feb 10, 2024, 12:18 am IST

Uttarakhand's new law on live-in relationships faces criticism for intruding into personal lives; concerns for women's autonomy.

Members of Uttarakhand Numainda Group protest against the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) bill during a special session of Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly, in Dehradun, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (PTI Photo)
 Members of Uttarakhand Numainda Group protest against the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) bill during a special session of Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly, in Dehradun, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (PTI Photo)

Am I glad I am not a young person living in Uttarakhand these days. I’d probably be in prison by now! This is not a good time to be young… and the worst time to be a woman… given the Uniform Civil Code bill that has just been passed in the Utttarakhand Assembly earlier this week. Too many “jhanjats”, I tell you… Let’s start with the compulsory registration of live-in relationships. That’s dadagiri! Come on, you guys… at 21 years of age, a woman needs State approval to move in with a lover? Plus, if under 21 (but an adult), she is required to get her parents to endorse that decision? Why? Crazy logic -- the same woman, at 18, can skip off and marry a man (not another woman) without any such issue. Does that make any sense? Under this law, if she fails to toe the line, she faces imprisonment! Yup. Off she goes to cool her heels in the clink for not submitting a statement to the registrar and the local police, and yes, if either person is under 21, the parents need that statement too. Absurd is too mild a word to describe what Uttarakhand’s babus/netas piously claim is being done to protect the interests of women. They insist the bill is a response to pressure from equally pious parents who believe that a number of crimes have been committed against women by cohabiting partners. Will registration automatically take care of the problem? Will crimes disappear or lessen? Experts argue that the registration, and all this nonsense, borders on the illegal. Parents cannot impose their rules on anybody over 18. Reducing women to brainless bachchalog incapable of making independent decisions -- right or wrong -- is to strip them of all agency. Besides… look at the almost limitless power granted to registrars. They hold all the cards! A registrar has the authority to deny permission to live-in partners! Who the hell is this all-powerful individual sitting in judgment over young couples? The registrar can arbitrarily decide the grounds on which to withhold permission. Denial can be clubbed under coercion, unreasonable influence, and misrepresentation, among other reasons. Imagine a scenario where the registrar is in a foul mood, has had a fight with his/her partner, is sleep- deprived, hungry, tired, bored. A young couple is waiting anxiously to register their relationship. The registrar looks up and decides against it – bas! Just like that! Jhat-phat se. The rejected/dejected couple faces a crisis over which they have zero control. Then what? The registrar’s life continues, while theirs hits a major roadblock.

There are way too many annoying issues in the bill, made still more annoying because of the goody-goody overlay which is artfully designed to convey magnanimous, pro-women intentions -- the State as protector of women’s virtues. The State as guardian of women’s morals. The State as the maa-baap, stepping in to make sure women behave and don’t disgrace society through wanton acts of defiance. Controlling women in this medieval manner is not just counter-productive, it is outdated and comical. Women are more than capable of taking charge of their lives. Sometimes, things backfire. But that’s the personal responsibility of the woman. The State should back off. And butt out of our bedrooms, our private spaces, our decisions to be with whosoever, without being forced to sign forms and risking jail terms for refusing.

On paper, the bill seems all for women and gender equality. But, afsos ki baat hai, the dice are loaded against today’s independent minded women who value individuality and can handle tough choices. Why would any adult woman wishing to live in with a partner be subjected to pre-conditions and surveillance? Bad enough that women always have a critical lens focused on every area of their lives -- both private and professional. This bill will step up the scrutiny with hardly any room left for autonomy. What about self-respect? Consenting adults should be recognised as just that. Be it inter-faith marriages or live-in relationships. Nobody needs overbearing nannies, thank you!

“Murder of democracy’’ is a loaded phrase, and we have to thank our brilliant CJI for boldly calling out a criminal in Chandigarh -- no other word to describe the returning officer in the recent mayoral polls in Chandigarh. Anil Masih is either that arrogant, or a total fool for imagining he would get away after getting caught on camera defacing ballot papers by drawing squiggles over them. The sheer brazenness of the act led to a political fracas, which cancelled out the BJP’s victory in the Chandigarh’s mayoral elections. “We are watching over you…’’ said Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, while the court stopped the new dispensation of the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation from holding a budget meeting on February 7.

Unfortunately, this is not the only “murder” being committed in India. We are used to murders by the minute! In fact, so immune have we turned to daily acts of violence and atrocities that go unpunished, one more “murder” would have been ignored had Justice Chandrachud not raised decibel levels and done some much-needed plain-speak.

More than plain-speak was evident as Sharad Pawar faced his worst political humiliation to date when he lost the fight to his nephew Ajit Pawar, and was forced by the EC to give up his cherished “ownership” of the NCP, its symbol of the clock and pretty much all else associated with the brand. Well, Sharad Pawar may also have lost his own, personal positioning as India’s Mr Indestructible. No matter how swiftly sands shifted in the political landscape, no matter how many parties Sharad Pawar walked away from (six, in case you are curious), the man and the myth survived. Brilliant, dynamic, capable… he just didn’t know when to quit. Today, at 88, he stands stripped of everything -- except his alleged astronomical wealth. Seven decades in politics, starting out in 1958, the Sharad Pawar saga has limped to an ignominious end this week. Finally, even his shrewdest Machiavellian strategies to cling to power failed him miserably. It’s been a long, arduous and eventful ride. But Sharad Pawar is in no hurry to disappear into the sunset over the Sahyadris. Forget it! He has already bagged a brand-new, one-time option to use the name “Nationalist Congress Party -- Sharadchandra Pawar” ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls. And yes, the Maratha strongman’s ultimate obsession to become India’s Prime Minister one day has also slipped out of his hands, like the loyal supporters he enriched but eventually lost. Sab kuch khallas!!!

Tags: uttarakhand, live-in relationship, uniform civil code (ucc)