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),[1] and partially since all of the major religions of India portrayed polygamy in a neutral light.[2]

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.[3] 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[4] and P. Rajagopal) had multiple wives.

The 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,[5] and their urn-like memorials exist at his Samadhi.[6]

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 where bigamy is legal.

A polygamous Hindu marriage is null and void.[7] 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"[8]. According to the 1961 census (the last census to record such data), polygamy was actually less prevalent among Indian Muslims (5.78%) than among several other religious groups.[9]. Incidence was highest among Adivasis (15.25%) and Buddhists (7.9%); Hindus (5.8%), by comparison, had an incidence 0.5% higher than Muslims in 1960, though it has declined much more quickly among Hindus in the last five decades with its criminalisation[10][11] Although there are movements to end polygamy[12], some orthodox members of the Muslim community seek to preserve the practice[13].

On 10 February 2015, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that polygamy was not an integral part of Islam and justified the firing of an Uttar Pradesh government employee for violating UP Government Servant Rules following his marriage to a second woman. Justices TK Thakur and AK Goel stated, "What was protected under Article 25 (right to practice and propagate any religion) was the religious faith and not a practice which may run counter to public order, health or morality. Polygamy was not integral part of religion and monogamy was a reform within the power of the State under Article 25."[8] In October 2015, the court stated that it was considering banning polygamy.[14]

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,[15] he denied getting converted.[16]

The Uttar Pradesh politician, Mulayam Singh Yadav was married twice.[17] His first wife was Malti Devi, whose son is Akhilesh Yadav (born 1973), the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.[18] Malti Devi died in May 2003.[19] Yadav's second wife is Sadhna Gupta Yadav, with whom he has a son named Prateek Yadav (born 1988).[20][21] Prateek manages land holdings of the Yadav family.[21] Mulayam's second wife was not acknowledged until February 2007, when the relationship was admitted in India's Supreme Court in a property dispute.[22]

Ram Vilas Paswan married Rajkumari Devi in 1960s. In 1983, he had married Reena Sharma, an airhostess and a Punjabi Hindu from Amritsar.[23][24] In 2014 he disclosed that he had divorced her in 1981, after his Lok Sabha nomination papers were challenged.[25][26] He has two daughters, Usha and Asha, from his first wife.

In the three cases, there was no political or legal impact. In 2014 supporters of BJP published a poster 'desh premi patni premi'[27] suggesting that Digvijaya Singh had two wives, although he was only in a relationship with the second woman while the first wife was alive.

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.[28]

Polygamy among Hindus is sometimes accepted in some rural areas,[29] 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.[30]

Polyandry has been traditionally permitted in a few Hindu tribes.

Conversion for the purpose of Polygamous Marriage[edit]

In the past, there have been many incidents of non-Muslim men converting to Islam solely for the purpose of practising polygamy legally.[31] In December 2008, a controversy arose when the then Deputy Chief Minister of Haryana, Chander Mohan, and Anuradha Bali, the former Assistant Advocate General of Haryana, converted to Islam, taking the names Chand Mohammad and Fiza, so that Mohan could marry Bali as his second wife. However he converted back to Hinduism afterwards. Such incidents raised concern over the use of Islam for polygamy.[32]

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.[33]

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 valuebles from them.[34][35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Legal system in ancient India". www.legalservicesindia.com. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  2. ^ "Polyandrous family customs in India". Drishtikone. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  3. ^ Polygamous Marriages in India, Vaidehi Yelamanchili, Sulabha Parasuraman, Population Association of America, 2010 Annual Meeting
  4. ^ The Birlas: Empire in transition, T.N. Ninan, Chander Uday Singh, Sumanta Sen, India Today, 20 July 2013
  5. ^ Samadhi of Ranjit Singh – a sight of religious harmony, Pakistan Today, JANUARY 16, 2016, NADEEM DAR
  6. ^ ‘Sati’ choice before Maharaja Ranjit’s Ranis, Kanwarjit Singh Kang, 28 June 2015
  7. ^ Modern Indian Family Law, Werner Menski, Routledge, 2013 p.194
  8. ^ a b http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Polygamy-not-integral-part-of-Islam-SC/articleshow/46180105.cms
  9. ^ A, Divya (13 September 2009). "Bigamy: An issue of one too many". The Times of India. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  10. ^ "Communal Politics: Facts Versus Myths". Ram Puniyani. p.148. ISBN 0-7619-9667-2.
  11. ^ "Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity Among the Daudi Bohras". Jonah Blank. p.78. ISBN 0-226-05676-7.
  12. ^ "End polygamy, Muslim woman pleads with SC -India-The Times of India". The Times Of India. 2001-05-12. Retrieved 2009-03-09.
  13. ^ Sebastian, Don (2008-11-12). "DNA: India: Kerala Muslim cleric vows to preserve polygamy". Retrieved 2009-03-09.
  14. ^ http://indiatoday.intoday.in/education/story/banning-polygamy/1/511127.html
  15. ^ Dharmendra or "Dilawar Khan?" Mili Gazette, 16-30 June 2004
  16. ^ Two's A Crowd His marriages give the actor's campaign a rude jolt, K.S. SHAINI, KAPIL BHATT, Outlook 2004
  17. ^ Will this man bring down Mulayam? 6 March 2007
  18. ^ Yadav, Shyamlal (7 March 2012). "The Samajwadi Parivar". Indian Express. Retrieved 2013-10-10.
  19. ^ "Tributes paid to Mulayam's wife". The Times of India. Retrieved 2013-10-10.
  20. ^ "Mulayam Singh Yadav let off, but second wife in tax net". Economic Times. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-10.
  21. ^ a b "Mulayam's younger son prefers body-building to body politic". Indian Express. 20 January 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-10.
  22. ^ Bhatt, Sheela (6 March 2007). "Will this man bring down Mulayam?". rediff.com. Retrieved 2007-10-10.
  23. ^ "The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) - Bihar - Political way to nurture love".
  24. ^ "When Bihar netas were bitten by love bug". Deccan Herald.
  25. ^ "Ram Vilas Paswan discloses divorce with first wife".
  26. ^ "Ram Vilas Paswan says he divorced first wife Rajkumari Devi in 1981". IANS. news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  27. ^ Narendra Modi marriage row: BJP hits back with Nehru-Edwina poster India today, 12 April 2014
  28. ^ SC says woman in live-in relationship to be considered wife unless proven otherwise, 13 April 2015
  29. ^ Some Indian men are marrying multiple wives to help beat drought, Mallika Kapur, CNN, 16 July 2015
  30. ^ Polygamous Marriages in India
  31. ^ PTI (2004-04-19). "Case against Dharmendra". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Retrieved 2009-05-26.
  32. ^ Mishra, Manjari (2009-03-15). "Chand-Fiza talaq: Ulema now talk of screening". The Times Of India. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
  33. ^ Indian man with 39 wives, 94 children and 33 grandchildren, The Telegraph, 22 February 2011
  34. ^ 2 Held for Marriage Fraud, Cheating, Express News Service, 4 October 2015
  35. ^ Girl booked for marriage fraud with NRI, HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Kapurthala, 23 September 2014