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HomeFeaturesIndia's live-in couples battle stigma daily. Shraddha Walker murder makes it worse

India’s live-in couples battle stigma daily. Shraddha Walker murder makes it worse

Shraddha Walker murder case has been turned into a cautionary tale that landlords and real estate agents are using to deny unmarried couples the home they desire.

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Yes, we will get married soon. Yes, she is my fiancé. Yes, our parents know. If you are a live-in couple looking for a rented apartment in India, you have heard or said these lines. But the gruesome kill-chop-preserve-dispose Mehrauli murder has added another question: are you living with a potential murderer?

The Shraddha Walker murder case has brought the public gaze back on young couples in Delhi NCR, a city where love is covered in concertina wires. Unsanctioned love among couples, friends, and long-time live-in partners is scrutinised, stifled, and often smothered. Walker’s death has been turned into a cautionary tale that landlords and real estate agents are using to deny unmarried couples the home they desire.

Gurgaon-based Nikita, 29, has been living with her partner for the past seven years. Many assume they are married so they haven’t faced many difficulties, but Aftab Poonawala’s alleged murder of his live-in partner has sparked fresh murmurs and suspicions.

“My parents just agreed to disagree with my decision to live with my partner, but this murder case has pushed back years of efforts. Now everyone will have more and more questions for couples like us,” Nikita says.

Also read: RSS survey on women in live-in relationships only reflects its conservative beliefs

Having seen the worst 

When it comes to house hunting, the best options are for ‘families’, which means married heterosexual couples. The distrust towards tenants who do not have a marriage certificate to legitimise their relationship is written in the lease agreement itself.

Couples who somehow find a place after different levels of scrutiny by landlords and brokers have to constantly answer the question: When will you get married?

Noida-based real estate agent Mamta recently found a place for an unmarried couple, but only because she lied to the owners.

“I told the owners that only one person will live in the flat. There was no way the owner would agree to rent the place to a live-in couple,” says Mamta. Walker’s death has only reinforced her prejudice. “You saw on the news what happened to the girl who stayed with the boyfriend. It makes sense that the owners are afraid.”

In her view, live-in relationships don’t last anyway.

“Girls get pregnant, couples fight loudly and the worst thing is that they lie to their parents. If anything happens in future, why should owners have to deal with a police case?” she asks.

Mamta isn’t the only broker to sympathise with landlords. The possibility of a romantic relationship going sour is not something they are comfortable with. Now they have seen the worst of it in headlines, which means they have more questions and fewer houses for couples.

Even the Indian judiciary is unclear on live-in relationships. There are no laws protecting the rights of such couples but they have the legal right to live together due to progressive interpretations and amendments of existing legislation. Judges have called relationships morally unjustifiable, a possible cause for parents’ trauma and culturally unacceptable.

Also read: Rajasthan Human Rights Commission thinks women in live-in relationships are ‘concubines’

More than just romantic

Pooja Manek, 29, recently got married to her boyfriend and live-in partner for three years. And ‘romance’ wasn’t the only reason they decided to live together before marriage. “There are practical and logical reasons too. Not only do you get to know your partner but you also find out how you will run a household together,” she says. By living with her partner before marriage, she discovered ways to manage money and build a home between four walls. Manek calls the three years a true test of her relationship with her now husband.

Three years ago, when Manek and her partner went looking for their first home together in Bengaluru, their broker lied about them being engaged, though they hadn’t even started discussing marriage seriously.

“When the broker was telling the owners that we are engaged and soon to be married, it felt like a violation of our rights. But that’s what we had to do to get a place together,” Manek adds. They were often interrogated by the landlord about their wedding date.

Social scientist Shiv Visvanathan calls live-in relationships a celebration of trust, freedom and vulnerability. “The fragility of such relationships is under question now. Because such relationships are not yet accepted by society, there is a lot of suspicion. Live-in couples are treated as dissenters and any bad news is made public in a strange way. There is no attempt to resolve such conflicts and that’s where sadness is,” he says.

Also read: Punjab and Haryana high court refusing ‘seal of approval’ to live-in needs SC intervention

They ‘hate’ Muslims

Religion is yet another barrier faced by couples. Shahana, 31, lives in Delhi. She started looking for a more spacious flat with her live-in partner of four years in September and faced trouble every step of the way. Brokers didn’t return calls, one owner asked for her birth certificate and another pointed at her dog before turning her away. “They said that the building already has two dogs and we don’t want a third one. I think more than our relationship, it was my Muslim identity that made them uncomfortable,” she says.

Pooja Manek was told by her landlord that it is a good thing that her partner is a Christian. “At least he is not a Muslim”. “Because they hate Muslims so much, they hate Christians a little less,” Manek says.

Pune-based Nisha, 25, says that she is grateful to have found a landlord who understands live-in relationships. “My partner and I decided to live together because we were both struggling with money and living alone at different ends of the city. Living together has solved so many of our problems and we are able to support each other better,” she says.

But beware the prying landlord. Since the Shraddha murder, couples are worried that ‘well-meaning’ landlords will take it upon themselves to call their parents or, worse still, evict them.

(Edited by Prashant)

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