Polygamy in India
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.
In contrast to Europe, polygamy prevailed in ancient India for rulers and kings. 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 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, and their urn-like memorials exist at his Samadhi.
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. While the punishment specified in articles 494 and 495 is applicable, it is rare if the first spouse does not have an objection.
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". 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.. 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 Although there are movements to end polygamy, some orthodox members of the Muslim community seek to preserve the practice.
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." In October 2015, the court stated that it was considering banning polygamy.
Hindu Polygamy in modern India
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, he denied getting converted.
The Uttar Pradesh politician, Mulayam Singh Yadav was married twice. His first wife was Malti Devi, whose son is Akhilesh Yadav (born 1973), the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Malti Devi died in May 2003. Yadav's second wife is Sadhna Gupta Yadav, with whom he has a son named Prateek Yadav (born 1988). Prateek manages land holdings of the Yadav family. Mulayam's second wife was not acknowledged until February 2007, when the relationship was admitted in India's Supreme Court in a property dispute.
Ram Vilas Paswan married Rajkumari Devi in 1960s. In 1983, he had married Reena Sharma, an airhostess and a Punjabi Hindu from Amritsar. In 2014 he disclosed that he had divorced her in 1981, after his Lok Sabha nomination papers were challenged. 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' 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.
Polygamy among Hindus is sometimes accepted in some rural areas, 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.
Polyandry has been traditionally permitted in a few Hindu tribes.
Conversion for the purpose of Polygamous Marriage
In the past, there have been many incidents of non-Muslim men converting to Islam solely for the purpose of practising polygamy legally. 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.
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.
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