The Chennai High Court judgment saying that a couple having had a pre-marital sexual relationship should be considered married for legal purposes, has obviously resulted in a slurry of jokes about how many times some people have been married.

Illustration/Amit Bandre

Underlying these responses is the feeling that this is a retrograde idea of sexual relations — equivalent to forcibly marry off a young couple caught kissing on the terrace.

But the recurrent discussions about relationships within legal rulings of the last few years, struggle to articulate the complicatedness of how human beings fall in love, choose to be with each other — and then choose not to be with each other.

When we say All is Fair in Love — it is usually taken to mean that anything you do in the line of love is fair. On the other hand, we could also see it this way — that when in love we would struggle to be fair; that love enforces an ethicality in us so we always try to be the best way we can towards the person that
we love.

In these two meaning sits the riddle of love, which is somehow altruistic and takes us out of ourselves, and individuality in which we choose to do what works best for us. In the expectation of the first and the tendency of the latter lie innumerable stories of hurt, anger, cruelty and shoulder shrugs.

Laws, at whose heart is the desire for some basic justice, exist to navigate these choppy waters, to create some basic norms whereby people negotiate conflicting choices.

Laws only recognise certain forms of marital union, often based on certain (not all) traditional norms. But in practice, people of differing backgrounds opt for a number of unconventional types of union, including living together and having children — or not. If one lives within the boundaries of those legal definitions, then leaving the relationship requires an acknowledgement of its history. What happens when we are not functioning within those parameters.

Falling in — or out — of love is not exactly a matter of choice, I agree.

This language of being helpless in love becomes an excuse for much unkindness — “how can I help it if I don’t feel that way anymore.” Indeed we cannot help it. But entering a relationship is a choice we make — as we do in leaving one. So there is actually a discussion worth having on how we do so.

More now than ever before, when socio-sexual culture is changing so much and we are far more casual about sexual encounters, no longer inhabiting a world in which girls thought kissing would make them pregnant and having sex with someone meant you had to get married.

In many ways the judgment isn’t exactly about sex as much as it’s a question we may diversely answer about the value of sex. Is sex within marriage more worthy of respect than sex outside of it? Is sex with someone you “love” somehow lower on the hierarchy than someone you “don’t love”? In other words, are some people worthy of being treated lovingly and others not depending on what we want from them? Can we choose to be or not be with someone in a respectful way, thereby asking for a returned respect for our choice?

Love is a riddle with many answers — so we have to keep solving it over and over. After a very long time, we’re becoming a society that admits to having sex. Now that we’ve come out of that closet, it’s time to talk about how we can be ethical lovers — whether monogamous or polyamorous.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.