Rashika came to Kathmandu to attend college a few years ago. She began dating her classmate Bishal who convinced her to move in with him, promising to marry her after graduation. It was a convenient option: to live with the man she loved, as well as cut down on living expenses in Kathmandu.
But her partner started becoming very possessive, telling her what she should wear, who she should talk to, and began keeping tabs on her accounts on social networking sites. “He won’t even let me leave, threatening to tell my parents about our past and ruining my future,” says Rashika, who is still living with Bishal.
The increasing trend of live-in relationships among young people in Kathmandu has brought with it a whole set of problems in a society that is still culturally conservative. It is usually women like Rashika who suffer when relationships fail. Some men turn violent, and the young women have nowhere to report it.
Anu, a technician at a media house, was a victim of domestic violence after she moved in with her boyfriend for almost two years. He beat her and also took money from her. “When I found out about his other affairs, I was sad, but I still asked him to marry me,” she says, “but after that the physical assaults got more severe.” She decided to leave him despite his threats. She couldn’t complain to anyone since live-in relationships are not legally recognised.
Many women from such relationships take shelter at women’s orgaisations and try to start a new life. Women activists say live-in relationship needs to be recongnised by law so victims can seek legal recourse in case of domestic violence or disputes related to children who may be born out of marriage.
“It is becoming urgent to address the legal issues related to non-marriage partnerships,” says Menuka Thapa of Raksha Nepal which works with trafficked women and shelters women from broken live-in relationships.
India’s Supreme Court determined guidelines for live-in relationship last year while adjudicating dispute between a live-in couple where the woman had sought maintenance from the man after the relationship ended. Shared household expenses and pooling of resources are some of the guidelines the Court framed within the expression ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ for protection of women under Domestic Violence Act. In Nepal, there is no such legal recourse.
It is even more difficult for women who give birth to children during the relationship and are abandoned later. Rima (pic, below), 21, from Makwanpur has nowhere to go after her partner of eight years refused to marry after she gave birth to a baby girl who now can’t get a birth certificate.
“He says that she isn’t his daughter and now I am worried about her future,” she says. Rima now works at a restaurant to pay for her daughter’s education.