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Uttarakhand UCC Bill: ‘Extremely Regressive’ say Most Young People

Young couples in the state capital, Dehradun, fear mandatory registration of live-in relationships may lead to intrusion, harassment and blackmail, especially of girls.

Young people across Uttarakhand are aghast at the forcible imposition of a registration clause for live-in relationships amongst consenting adults. This is one of the key sections in the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill of Uttarakhand 2024 that was passed recently.

While the overall objective of this controversial Bill is clearly political, as it deprives the minorities of their personal laws and replaces these with a common set of laws governing marriage, divorce and succession, the clause that has young people most alarmed is the one about live-in relationships.

The Bill mandates that all residents of the state, whether living within Uttarakhand or outside, must register their relationship with a registrar to be appointed by the state. The registrar is expected to verify the antecedents of the couple to ensure that neither partner has been already married or has been in a prior live-in relationship or is a minor. He must also ensure that the partners are not related by blood or marriage.

Once these details have been clarified, they will be given a registration certificate which can be forwarded to the police station under whose jurisdiction they are residing.

This correspondent spoke to several young people in Dehradun, the state capital of Uttarakhand, to elicit their views on the UCC Bill. Predictably, none of them was willing to be identified but they definitely had strong views on the subject.

A young executive in his mid-20s who has been cohabiting with his girlfriend from the time they studied together in a college in Dehradun scoffs at these clauses.

“Three people will benefit from this registration process. The first will be a relative of the registrar who will head a company to issue fake certificates. The second will be the policeman who will collect a hefty sum from couples to ensure their names do not enter the public domain. The third will be the landlord who will mark up the rent he extracts from young couples like us who want to shack up together,” he says.

The reason why several young people start living together is because they do not want to enter into a formal relationship via an arranged marriage where they end up being saddled with many responsibilities for which they are ill-prepared. They find it hard to negotiate relationships with each other’s families before they are sure they have a future together.

Another young man in his late 20s, who is in a relationship with a young teacher, pointed out: “Living together was like doing a reality check on each other since we wanted to find out whether we would be able to make a go of our relationship.” After four years together, they have decided they would like to marry and plan to do so by the end of this year.

A woman in her early 30s was very upfront in admitting she had been in a live-in relationship but had walked out a year later because she felt it was not working. While she admitted registration did offer the possibility of providing greater protection to women, she felt a subject as complex as live-in relationships should have been opened for much greater debate before the public and should have incorporated the views of young people.

The UCC Bill has failed to spell out what time frame they are looking at when they talk about live-in relationships. “To expect a man to give maintenance to a woman after they have lived together for one year is totally unrealistic. A couple needs to be together for at least a period of three years before any claim for maintenance should be made,” she added.

However, the Bill does not spell out any such details. Even in the West, maintenance is given only for long-term relationships.

The Bill also states that if partners decide to terminate the relationship then they must go back to the registrar and inform him of the same.

It is not uncommon for young village women, who have migrated to find work in the larger cities of Uttarakhand, to enter into live-in relationships. Such relationships meet their sexual desires and economic needs too, as sharing a room and expenses makes living affordable. Coming from conservative backgrounds, they hide such relationships from their families back home.

Having to go public on their private life is something that the majority of young people in this state feel is an “extremely regressive” step. Young women believe that if they do not apply for registration, this could well open them for blackmail by neighbours or vigilantes.

One of the worst clauses of the UCC Bill is the criminalisation of such relationships. Couples that do not apply for registration within a 30-day period will face imprisonment of up to three months or a fine of Rs 10,000 or both. In case of false information being given to the registrar when filing the application, the couple can face imprisonment up to three months and a fine of up to Rs 25,000.

A 22-year-old studying in a leading college in the capital city said he was planning to cohabit with his course mate who is 21 years old. They are both nonplussed by these developments and plan to wait a few months before taking such a step.

The student said that young people were not so mature and should be allowed to experiment with relationships and even make mistakes. He was shocked at why the state had come up with such an “intrusive law” to regulate their behaviour.

A practising lawyer in Dehradun believed mandating registration of live-in couples was an infringement on the privacy of an individual. He pointed out how a PIL (public interest litigation) on this subject had been brought before the Supreme Court in March 2023. It was immediately dismissed, with the highest court having described it as a `hare-brained scheme’. He also felt it was ‘weird’ that this law was addressed to heterosexual couples and made no mention of same sex couples or transgenders.

The clause referring to compulsory registration of couples seems to have been drafted keeping inter-faith couples in mind. Uttarakhand has had a handful of cases where young Muslim men have been accused of wooing Hindu women in order to “forcibly convert” them to their religion. One such case happened in Uttarkashi in 2023. It was blown out of proportion and Muslim traders were ordered by Right wing groups to close shop and move out of the district. Subsequent investigation proved the accusation to be false but by then the damage had been done. The courts in India do not recognise ‘love jihad’ being propagated by Right wing groups.

Compulsory registration of live-in couples reflects a patriarchal and puritanical mindset with moral policing not being restricted just to this state, but also to all state citizens living outside the state.

Registration of couples has another more dangerous spin off. It includes putting their details in the public domain, open for inspection by all. In a state where honour killings are not unheard of, many young girls fear that stating their intent to cohabit would be like signing a death warrant.

The writer is an independent journalist. The views are personal

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