Is polygamy legal in india?

From a broader perspective, Polygamy is outlawed in India. In ancient India, like most other ancient cultures, polygamy was deemed fair and was often practiced, especially by men that held power and renown in the society, often kings. However, as we took steps towards the conception of modern society, our sense of morality began to shift from what we once considered fair to how we perceive the world nowadays. Institutions like child marriage, polygamy, etc. slowly started to feel outdated and morally wrong and hence, laws and obligations were formed to govern the society as deemed fit. In our country, laws regarding bigamy and polygamy were formed considering all religions to be equal. However, for a country like us, where religious dogmas shape the way a lot of us see society, there had to be exceptions. So various laws, particular to one’s religious beliefs, were formed so that every individual can be judged according to their beliefs. Section 494 and 495 of the IPC  prohibited polygamy for Christians in 1860. In 1955, the Hindu Marriage Act prohibited the remarriage of a Hindu while their lawfully wedded partner was alive or their marriage was not lawfully declared to be void. Thus polygamy became illegal in India in 1956, excluding Muslims, who are permitted to have four wives, and for Hindus in Goa and along the western coast where bigamy is legal.

A Hindu marriage that is a polygamous marriage is declared to be void. While the punishment specified in Sections 494 and 495 is applicable, it is compoundable in court if the first spouse does not have an objection.

What does the word polygamy mean?

The term ‘polygamy’ originates from the late Greek word ‘polygamia’ which means a state of marriage to many spouses. Generally, when a man is married to more than one wife, it’s called polygamy and when a woman takes more than one husband, it is referred to as ‘polyandry’.

Polygamy in Hinduism: The lawful prohibition of Polygamy in Hinduism was put forth when the Hindu Marriage Act came into force on 18th May 1955. Monogamy remained the only way of legal marriage for Hindus. It was made clear that a Hindu spouse was not legally permitted to marry for a second time unless the first one is dissolved by law. (divorce or death).

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 certifies monogamy under Section 11 of the act where it is mentioned that bigamous marriages are deemed void. And when someone practices it he/she is punished according to Section 17 of the same Act along with Section 494 and 495 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 which makes such an act an offence. The Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs are all included in Hindu they do not have any separate laws; those laws which are there in The Hindu Marriage Act, also include these three religions and according to sections 5, 11, and 17 of the Act the bigamy or polygamy was illegal.

Polygamy in Islam:Monogamy is the usual rule in Islam while polygamy is only an exception. It is believed that The Prophet did not support polygamy except in exceptional circumstances. The Muslim Marriage Laws in India states that a man can have up to four wives, but a woman can only have one husband at one given time. The female population is low in India, polygamy adds to the economic problem of providing for more than one wife and their children.

Polygamy in the Muslim marriage act under Islam has not been abolished in India but it is also not very widely followed and is often removed from the scene via a special clause introduced in the marriage contract by those who find it morally offensive. The groom, or the bride-to-be, may assert monogamy as a mandatory condition in marriage and, once signed, it obligates the parties to not enter into any formal or informal marriage contract with another person.

It is always important that the bride and groom personally read this contract carefully before signing it as this document lists the rights and obligations of both parties, their personal details, and expectations, restrictions on either party, consequences in case of disagreements or divorce, etc.

Polyandry in India:The word ‘polyandry’ is derived from the Greek words, Poly (many) and Andros (man) and means the practice of one woman taking two or more men as husbands. The custom evolved through time in human cultures where land and food were scarce, and/or where women were allowed to own property or ancestral titles of rank.  In some other parts of the world, it occurred because of a scarcity of women, for example in cultures where female infanticide was a common phenomenon.

In remote locations of India, the custom of polyandry continued until recently, majorly practiced by the many minority populations of the lands. In India, the practice seems to be fading away with time. Increasing resources and opportunities allow men to get out of areas that lack resources and find jobs and form families elsewhere. All of this development majorly took place in the span of a single generation.

Accordion to the law of our nation, polygamy was deemed illegal in India in 1956(with some exceptions).

Types of polygamy :

Polygamy exists in the following forms :

• The situation where a man has multiple simultaneous wives, known as Polygyny.

• The situation where a woman has multiple simultaneous husbands, known as Polyandry.

• Or, a group marriage, where the family is formed of multiple husbands and multiple wives of legal age.

Modern-day polygamy:<span;> Polygamy was declared to be illegal in India in 1956, except few exceptions made on religious grounds. Muslim men are allowed to take up to four wives, whereas polygamy among other religions has completely been deemed unlawful. Although there are some exceptions, for example in goa bigamy is permitted under certain circumstances. In modern society, polygamy is seen as taboo and is not socially and morally acceptable in most places, but some form of polygamy still exists in various parts of the world. In regions like the middle east, religious sentiments are held in very high regard, polygamy is still practiced. Polygamy is also practiced by various primitive societies across the world.

Exact data on the subject of polygamy, especially polygamy among various religions, is quite hard to come by. The last survey was the  1961 census. That survey’s result showed that polygamy was less common among Muslims, with just 5.7% of the community likely to practice it. The Hindu community had a higher chance of practicing polygamy with 5.8%. Other communities like Buddhists and Jains, were even more likely to practice polygamy. The phenomenon of polygamy was most common among the tribal population with 15.25%.

Subsequent data seems to confirm this. A government-influenced survey carried out in 1974 puts the polygamy figures at 5.6% among Muslims and 5.8% among Hindus. Mallika B Mistry of the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune conducted research in 1993, also concluded that “there is no evidence that polygamy is more common among Muslims than Hindus.”

According to the third National Family Health Survey carried out in 2006, 2% of women reported that their husbands had more than one wife. More than the religion of the parties involved, determinant reasons were not having a child or a male child from the first wife, education, and the age of the first wife. It found that a polygamous Hindu was likely to have 1.77 wives, a polygamous Muslim 2.55, Christian 2.35, and Buddhist 3.41.

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