NEW DELHI – The Indian state of Uttarakhand has introduced a new law requiring unmarried couples, also known as “live-in couples,” to register their relationships with the authorities or face penalties. This controversial law is part of the state’s Uniform Civil Code, a long-standing campaign promise of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP, along with its political allies, has pushed for a single national code to replace the various religious laws governing marriage and inheritance.
The new law has stirred intense debate in India, with critics arguing that it infringes on individual freedoms and privacy. This legislation, tucked inside a 740-page law, includes strict rules for live-in couples. For example, couples will have to report the beginning and end of their relationships to an appointed registrar, who can then summon them for more information or even reject their applications. In addition, neighbors are encouraged to inform on any live-in couples suspected of not having the necessary certificates, and the registrar is obliged to inform the parents if either applicant is found to be below 21.
Experts and activists have expressed concerns about the coercive aspects of the law, such as strict punishments for presenting false information or failure to apply within 30 days of receiving a notice from the registrar. They also worry about the potential invasion of privacy and increased surveillance by nosy neighbors.
While proponents of the code argue that it outlaws polygamy, protects women, and safeguards inheritance rights for children born out of wedlock, critics contend that there is a sectarian bias. Many object to the mandatory registration requirement for live-in couples, pointing out that registration for married couples remains voluntary. Critics argue that the law is likely to encourage people to invade the privacy of others, particularly unmarried couples who may face challenges in renting apartments.
The new rules have also raised concerns about whether they will be used to target live-in relationships that are not between men and women. Additionally, the law specifically excludes live-in relationships in which one of the partners misrepresents their identity, leading some to perceive a bias against certain groups.
As a key agenda item for the BJP, the new Uniform Civil Code has sparked both praise and ridicule, with proponents lauding it as a step toward equality and uniformity, while critics warn of its potential to encourage vigilantism and infringe on individual liberties. The controversial law’s implementation has prompted a lively national debate, with some drawing parallels to authoritarian regimes in their criticism of the measure.