The condition of having more than one spouse at one time or the practice of having more than one wife at the same time is called polygamy.
In ancient India there was practice of polygamy, during Vedic period a man could have more than one wife. Common people were only allowed second marriage if the first wife could not bear a son. This practice continued across the ages but it was mostly the rich and the aristocracy that were polygamous.
Polygamy in present India is practiced by Muslims, Hindu men living in Goa and Daman and Diu have right to polygamy but under specific circumstances. Amongst Nagas (a tribe in Nagaland) a husband has three wives. The Maharastrian concept of “panni bai” is a polygamous culture happened due to huge water scarcity in that area because of which man get married to more than one woman and have wives to fetch water. Apart from these Bhills of Maharashtra, Gonds of Andhra Pradesh, Santhals of Bihar etc. practice polygamy.
Polygamy in India is a destructive concept
According to Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
The plural marriage is not allowed it becomes null and void. The practice of the polygamy is illegal in India amongst Hindu’s. Abolition of polygamy from Hindu society was a progressive step.
In these time and age the practice of polygamy is often driven by selfish motive. When Quran allowed polygamy it was for fair reasons to protect orphans and their mothers from the exploitative society and now men are using this provision for selfish reasons. Polygamy is as a curse to self-worth of women in the society.
Polygamy was prohibited after section 494 and 495 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 came in effect. The punishment for polygamy is imprisonment, which may extend till 7 years or fine or both.
Polygamy is against the Fundamental Rights and it violates Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. Muslim as a community should follow their religion as per Article 25 but in terms of the equality and as per Constitution of India they are not allowed to have multiple wives.
In Khursheed Ahmad Khan v. State of U.P and Ors the Supreme Court held that the right of Muslim men is available under Muslim personal law to practice polygamy. In this case a Muslim man was a government employee for the state of U.P, he was dismissed from his job because he entered into a polygamous marriage which was against service rules in which he is required to take consent before engaging into polygamy. The entitlement available under Muslim Personal Law to marry second wife did not exempt Muslim men from this requirement of prior permission.
In Javed v. State of Haryana it was held that person having more than two living children was disqualified from holding any offices in Panchayats. The purpose was to promote family planning. The petitioners and appellants in the case were individuals who had been disqualified from holding an office in Panchayat due to the reason that they had more than two children. The Court upheld the provision, as it was a provision in public interest. It was held that polygamy is injurious to public morals and can be suspended by the state.
Demerits of polygamy:
-The status of women suffers in a society of polygamy
-Polygamy increases financial burden on the head of the family, because of it is difficult for a man to maintain a large family of wives and children.
-Polygamy increases the sexual dissatisfaction among the wives
-Jealously, hatred, quarrel takes place.
-Property inheritance becomes difficult leading to grudges among the children.
Indian judicial system by its various judgments had made clear that the inhuman practice of polygamy should be eradicated from the society and the dignity of Muslim women should be maintained. There should be justice on the basis of gender as Muslim women are deprived of their legal rights. Polygamy destruct public morals and it creates various problems in society.