Polygamy: Threat to Women’s Equality in India

polygamy threat to women's equality in india

polygamy threat to women’s equality in india

There has been a lot of discussion on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the wake of the Law Commission’s request for public feedback and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s subsequent mention of the issue. Some people have supported the UCC, citing gender justice and equality. 

Others have criticized it, claiming that it won’t consider the nation’s varied socio-cultural realities. 

In this article, we examine the divisive subject of polygamy, a harmful practice, it is a threat to women’s equality in India.

The practice of polygamy, which is ingrained in some cultural and religious traditions, can have detrimental effects on gender equity and justice. Polygamy should be outlawed, according to a recent recommendation from an Assam panel led by a retired high court judge. The media has since reported that Assam intends to pass a law outlawing polygamy this fiscal year. 

In the past, polygamy was common in India. For Hindus, this practice was forbidden by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. The same is true for Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists according to their laws. The Special Marriage Act of 1954, which permits interreligious unions, also forbids it. However, the Shariat Protection Act permits polygamy for Muslims. Additionally, polygamous unions are frequent in many tribal communities.

As a result, there have been instances of people converting to Islam to get remarried without having their first marriage formally dissolved. In the Sarla Mudgal decision from 1994, the Supreme Court ruled that such conversions carried out solely for a second marriage were invalid.

In the case of Lily Thomas v. Union of India, the judgment was upheld. These rulings emphasize that the first marriage must be legally dissolved before a person can convert and get married again, to prevent the abuse of religious freedom to get around laws prohibiting polygamy.

However, there are significant social and legal issues with this strategy. The victims of this injustice are the second wife and any children from such unions. They find it more challenging to exercise their maintenance and inheritance rights.

As a result, such conversions for remarriage frequently result in legal ambiguity and can cause interpersonal and familial conflict.

But in March 2023, Ashwini Upadhyay asked a bench made up of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justices PS Narasimha, and JB Pardiwala to hear cases involving the constitutionality of polygamy and nikah halala. 

The Chief Justice continued, I’ll give it some thought. I’ll erect a Constitution bench when the time is appropriate. The court’s decision to reevaluate polygamy’s legality is a component of a larger initiative to promote gender equality and uphold women’s rights.

Keep Reading

Due to its effects on gender inequality and the subjugation of women, polygamy has come under fire from feminists. Polygamy, according to feminist academics, upholds patriarchal power structures. It also perpetuates the unfair treatment of women in marriage and the family at the same time. Some academics claim that polygamy creates an imbalance of power and the distribution of resources because it permits men to have multiple wives while restricting women to a single husband. Social norms exacerbate this power disparity. Even when they look for work outside the home, such norms frequently force women to shoulder more household duties than men.

In polygamous relationships, there is an increase in violence against women and children, according to a study from Emory University, and abuse can come from both the husband and the co-wife. Promoting actions that uphold the ideals of equality and justice is essential as India works to achieve social harmony and unity among its diverse religious and cultural practices. Polygamy, especially when it is connected to conversion to another religion solely to get married again.

Additionally, it is important to emphasize how economically dependent women are on their husbands, which can result in vulnerability, exploitation, and divorce anxiety. The multiple wives frequently rely solely on their husbands for financial support. This consequently restricts their agency and autonomy within the marriage. This economic dependence reinforces gender disparities and limits women’s capacity for self-determination.

Polygamy, according to feminist scholars, perpetuates women’s subjugation and serves to further the idea that they are less equal to men. Additionally, polygamy devalues the sexual agency of women and reflects a misogynistic culture. Male privilege and control over women’s lives are seen as a result.

According to the National Family Health Survey-5, polygamy is not common in India, despite being practiced by some groups. Polygamy was 2.1% prevalent among Christians, 1.9% prevalent among Muslims, 1.3% prevalent among Hindus, and 1.6% prevalent among all other religious groups. Given the low prevalence rates and the general societal shift away from this practice, a ban may be consistent with changing social mores.

The discussion of individual liberty and equality highlights the troubling aspects of polygamy by drawing on the philosophical frameworks offered by thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Simone de Beauvoir. Strongly supporting individual freedom, Mill argued that such freedom is only constrained when it starts to harm others. An example of this is the practice of polygamy, which by its very nature breeds harm due to power disparities and gender inequity. Simon de Beauvoir’s feminist philosophy strongly opposes polygamy and other practices that limit women’s agency and promotes the liberation of women from repressive social structures.

These injustices are further highlighted by the economic, psychological, and social repercussions of polygamy, which puts women in a precarious and unfair situation. The opinions of current academics, the shift away from polygamy in society, and the potential consequences all support the need for a ban. It is crucial to reevaluate practices like polygamy that obstruct such advancement and continue to undermine the idea of equal rights as we all work towards a just society. The prohibition of polygamy would support the social movement toward justice and equality as well as the philosophical foundations of freedom, equity, and respect for all people.

SO, Banning polygamy would be a major step forward for gender equality in India, and it would help to protect the rights of women and girls.

About Wrighter

Wrighter covers news across the global on Human Rights, Migrants Rights, and Labor Rights. Wrighter has vast experience in writing and is a doctor by profession.

Read Previous

10 Secret Santa Rules for the Workplace

Read Next

ASF Pickets Winona Teachers and Students As Strike is Impending

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x