In Gujarat, there is a social tradition that is used to circumvent the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act by men so they can “have another woman” in their lives. Hindu Marriage Act only allows one wife. Polygamy is a punishable offense.
In Gujarat a system prevailed in which a man and a woman entered into a friendship agreement, a legitimate contract before a magistrate. It had a social and legal sanction and was popularly known as “maitri karar”. Later this practice was converted into a “service agreement”, according to which the man would keep the woman of his choice in his house as a helper or a maid servant. Not surprisingly, this contract, too, had a legal and social legitimacy. It is well known that this practice was followed by many Ministers and senior bureaucrats.
As per some figures 29,951 cases of ‘Maitri Karar’ (Friendship Contract) are registered in the District Collectors office in Ahmedabad.
This custom is a deviation from an earlier custom in Gujarat, where this was available to legitimize a temporary relationship while the man and woman lived together as being like a marriage. The provisions were more stringent then and it wasn’t there to have mistresses as it has become now.
The two parties, one male and another female, must be of the age of consent/ majority and of sound mind and otherwise competent to contract. They must not be married to any other person. They will contract to marry and stay in matrimony for a period of time. The rights, duties and liabilities of both parties are set out clearly including whether they will have any offspring or not. The right to damages for breach is also usually stipulated.
Now, however, this has degenerated into a convenient way for the wealthy and the powerful to have their own personal harem or mistresses.