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Women, Live-in & Domestic Violence: Legal Experts Question Leander Paes Plea

The tennis star's counterarguments in the domestic violence case against him hold little ground, legal experts said.

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“Sexual relationship beyond the ties of marriage is not widely accepted even today also. Particularly, a female partner, is always at the receiving end. A patriarchal society caused various injustices to a female partner involved in such relationships beyond marriage. (sic)”

A magistrate court in Bandra, while passing an order in favour of model- actor Rhea Pillai, who is the former partner of ace tennis player Leander Paes, said in February this year.

The court added:

“The available legal measures for such female partner are also found to be inadequate resulting in her exploitation and abuse.”

The case:  Pillai, who lived with Leander Paes and had a daughter with him, had filed a complaint against Paes in 2014 invoking the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (DV) Act, 2005, and alleged emotional and financial violence.

She had said that “she was cheated on and betrayed at every juncture of their relationship, emotionally, physically and financially.”

What the court said: Acting on the complaint, the magistrate court said that it is proved that the Respondent in the case (Leander Paes) had "caused various acts of domestic violence" and directed him to pay ₹1 lakh monthly maintenance and ₹50,000 monthly rent to Pillai.

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It had ruled that while Pillai was still legally married (to actor Sanjay Dutt) when she began living with Paes, the presence of a relationship beyond marriage was apparent.

How did Paes respond? Paes, on his own part, subsequently filed a plea in the Mumbai Sessions court, challenging the magistrate court’s order. His plea is slated to be heard soon.

So what has the tennis star argued? How legally valid are his arguments? And what rights do women in live-in relationships have when they are subjected to domestic violence?

What Has Paes Said in His Latest Plea? 3 Points

The crux of Paes’ arguments can be summed up in the following points:

>The metropolitan court’s order was erroneously passed because it was based on the relationship between him and Pillai being in the nature of marriage as defined under the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act (DV Act)

>Pillai falsely alleged being in a relationship in the nature of marriage with Paes since 2005, as she was married to Sanjay Dutt until 2008

> How could he be penalised for a relationship that, by Pillai’s own admission in her domestic violence application, had broken down entirely after the birth of their daughter in 2006

The tennis star's counterarguments in the domestic violence case against him hold little ground, legal experts said.
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The Point of Contention: Relationships in the Nature of Marriage

According to the magistrate’s order, Pillai and Paes lived with each other but were not legally married.

The entire case, thus, rests on a singular definition under the Domestic violence act: relationships in the nature of marriage. 

Why the term matters: For legal proceedings to hold ground in domestic violence cases, one of the definitions of a “domestic relationship” mentioned in the act, has to apply to the case.

What the law says: For the uninitiated, Section 2(f) in The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 says: 

“domestic relationship” means a relationship between two persons who live or have, at any point of time, lived together in a shared household, when they are related by consanguinity, marriage, or through a relationship in the nature of marriage, adoption or are family members living together as a joint family.

What this means: What this implies is that the shared household does not have to be a matrimonial house, contrary to popular assumption, Former Bombay and Rajasthan High Courts' Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog told The Quint.

Explaining the ‘shared household’ point further, Supreme Court Lawyer Ujjaini Chatterji said that the two people have to co-exist in the same household for a substantial period of time.

Coming back to the case: While Pillai has contended that the act applies to her because she was in a relationship akin to marriage with Paes, the tennis player has refuted this based on the arguments mentioned above.

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Will Paes’ Arguments Hold Value?

According to what legal experts told The Quint, the chances of that happening is highly unlikely because:

What matters in this case is if Paes and Pillai lived with each other and shared a household. The status of her relationship with Sanjay Dutt at the time is irrelevant to this case.

“Adultery although decriminalized, could be grounds for divorce but how does that prove that there was no domestic relationship between the two even though she was married to someone else?” Chatterji, who has worked extensively on domestic violence cases, questioned.

“The word used in the act is shared household and since they were sharing a household when the acts constituting mental and financial violence transpired, the case against him would be actionable,” Justice Nandarajog said.

Further, according to Chatterji, them having a daughter with each other, makes it clear that they did have a relationship in the nature of marriage.

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Have Courts Previously Come to the Rescue of Women in Live-in Relationships in Domestic Violence Cases?

Yes, in at least three instances, according to what Chatterji pointed out: 

1) Khushboo v Kanniammal (2010) : The Supreme Court clearly recognised live-in relationships and categorised them as "domestic relationships" protected under the DV act. 

2) Indra Sarma v V.K.V Sarma (2013) - In this case, the top court made a distinction between different categories of live-in relationships. 

One is a simple domestic cohabitation between two unmarried persons, and the other is a domestic cohabitation between a married and an unmarried person. 

The Supreme Court however, held that because Indra Sarma knew that VKV Sarma was married, her relationship with him would fall outside the protected ambit of “relationship in the nature of marriage” under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

3) Malarkodi@Malar v Chief Internal Audit Officer (2021) - The Madras High Court held that the sections of the Domestic Violence act are enough to  include relationships where one or both the partners are married to any others.

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