Polygamy in India

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Polygamy in India is outlawed. While polygamy was not prohibited in Ancient India and it was common among aristocrats and emperors, it is believed that it was not a major cultural practice. The lack of prohibition was in part due to the separation between land laws and religion (independence of the judiciary), and partially since all of the major religions of India portrayed polygamy in a neutral light.[1]

Gayatri Devi, the third wife of Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur, pictured by Cecil Beaton in 1940.

In contrast to Europe, polygamy prevailed in ancient India for rulers and kings.[2] It was common for rulers (for example Bhupinder Singh of Patiala and Fateh Singh of Udaipur and Mewar). Some wealthy individuals (for example Ramkrishna Dalmia, Gajanan Birla[3] and P. Rajagopal) had multiple wives.

The British colonial Empire of India permitted Islamic provinces to allow husbands to have multiple wives. When Maharaja Ranjit Singh was cremated in Lahore, four of his wives and seven concubines took to Sati,[4] and their urn-like memorials exist at his Samadhi.[5]

Legal developments[edit]

Section 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860, prohibited polygamy for the Christians. In 1955, the Hindu Marriage Act was drafted, which prohibited marriage of a Hindu whose spouse was still living. Thus polygamy became illegal in India in 1956, uniformly for all of its citizens except for Muslims, who are permitted to have four wives and for Hindus in Goa and along the western coast where bigamy is legal.

A polygamous Hindu marriage is null and void.[6] While the punishment specified in articles 494 and 495 is applicable, it is rare if the first spouse does not have an objection.

Muslim Polygamy[edit]

Muslims in the rest of the country are subject to the terms of The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937, interpreted by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. Still, many Hindus, tribal people, and Buddhists practice it all over the country, rejecting the laws as such.

However, in a judgment in February 2015, the Supreme court of India stated that "Polygamy was not an integral or fundamental part of the Muslim religion, and monogamy was a reform within the power of the State under Article 25"[7].

Hindu Polygamy in modern India[edit]

The Bollywood star and Lok Sabha member Dharmendra was already married to Prakash Kaur when he married actress Hema Malini in 1980. While it was reported that he had converted to Islam for the sake of the marriage,[8] he denied getting converted.[9]

Ram Vilas Paswan married Rajkumari Devi in 1960s. In 1983, he had married Reena Sharma, an airhostess and a Punjabi Hindu from Amritsar.[10][11] In 2014 he disclosed that he had divorced her in 1981, after his Lok Sabha nomination papers were challenged.[12][13] He has two daughters, Usha and Asha, from his first wife.

Legally the second wife of a Hindu would be a mistress, although religiously and socially she may be considered a wife. The law in India allows mistresses to be presumed wives unless proven otherwise.[14]

Polygamy among Hindus is sometimes accepted in some rural areas,[15] often with approval by earlier wives. The 2005-06 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) found that 2 percent of women reported that their husband had other wives besides herself. Husbands of women with no children are more likely to have multiple wives.[16]

Polyandry has been traditionally permitted in a few Hindu tribes.

Conversion for the purpose of Polygamous Marriage[edit]

There have been many instances in the past where Hindu men have converted to Islam to practice polygamy legally since polygamy is legal for Muslims in India .

Christian Polygamy[edit]

In Mizoram state, a Christian religious sect, called the "Pu Chana páwl" or just "Chana", formed in June 1942, practices polygamy. The founder Ziona, a 66-year-old man, has 39 wives, 94 children and 33 grandchildren, all living under one roof.[17]

Fraudulent Marriages[edit]

There have been several cases in which a man or a woman, assuming a fraudulent identity, marries multiple persons to get money and valuables from them.[18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Polyandrous family customs in India". Drishtikone. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  2. ^ Polygamous Marriages in India, Vaidehi Yelamanchili, Sulabha Parasuraman, Population Association of America, 2010 Annual Meeting
  3. ^ The Birlas: Empire in transition, T.N. Ninan, Chander Uday Singh, Sumanta Sen, India Today, 20 July 2013
  4. ^ Samadhi of Ranjit Singh – a sight of religious harmony, Pakistan Today, JANUARY 16, 2016, NADEEM DAR
  5. ^ ‘Sati’ choice before Maharaja Ranjit’s Ranis, Kanwarjit Singh Kang, 28 June 2015
  6. ^ Modern Indian Family Law, Werner Menski, Routledge, 2013 p.194
  7. ^ http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Polygamy-not-integral-part-of-Islam-SC/articleshow/46180105.cms
  8. ^ Dharmendra or "Dilawar Khan?" Mili Gazette, 16-30 June 2004
  9. ^ Two's A Crowd His marriages give the actor's campaign a rude jolt, K.S. SHAINI, KAPIL BHATT, Outlook 2004
  10. ^ "The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) - Bihar - Political way to nurture love".
  11. ^ "When Bihar netas were bitten by love bug". Deccan Herald.
  12. ^ "Ram Vilas Paswan discloses divorce with first wife".
  13. ^ "Ram Vilas Paswan says he divorced first wife Rajkumari Devi in 1981". IANS. news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  14. ^ SC says woman in live-in relationship to be considered wife unless proven otherwise, 13 April 2015
  15. ^ Some Indian men are marrying multiple wives to help beat drought, Mallika Kapur, CNN, 16 July 2015
  16. ^ Polygamous Marriages in India
  17. ^ Indian man with 39 wives, 94 children and 33 grandchildren, The Telegraph, 22 February 2011
  18. ^ 2 Held for Marriage Fraud, Cheating, Express News Service, 4 October 2015
  19. ^ Girl booked for marriage fraud with NRI, HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Kapurthala, 23 September 2014