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Polygamy in India "down" in 45 yrs: Muslims' from 5.7 to 2.55%, Hindus' 5.8 to 1.77%, "common" in SCs, STs

By Rajiv Shah
Amidst All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) justifying polygamy, saying it “meets social and moral needs and the provision for it stems from concern and sympathy for women”, facts suggest the the practice is down from 5.7 per cent of Muslim families in 1961 to 2.55 per cent in 2006.
The latest figures of polygamy, released by the third National Family Health Survey (NFHS), carried out in 2006, also show that two per cent women reported that their husbands had more than one wife. It found that polygamy was prevalent among 1.77 per cent Hindus, down from 5.8 per cent in 1961.
The 1961 figures – based on Census of India data – also show that among tribals it was then widely prevalent: 15.25 of them were polygamous.
Crucially, while the Hindu personal law outlaws bigamy and polygamy, the Muslim personal law does not. AIMPLB said in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, "Quran, Hadith and the consensus view allow Muslim men to have up to four wives", adding, while Islam permits polygamy, it does not encourage it.”
"Since polygamy is endorsed by primary Islamic sources, it cannot be dubbed as something prohibited. Where women outnumber men and polygamy is not permitted, women will be forced into leading spinster's life”, AIMPLB said.
Contrary to the AIMPLB, the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) has said, the Muslim community needs to have a law against polygamy, to move towards a society that treats women with dignity and equality. But BMMA also said, “We don't imagine that just passing the laws mean things will change. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for proper grassroots activism.”
A paper based on NFHS data on the subject said, “In modern times, a person is bound by the marriage laws laid down by their religion and have to be adhered to and any deviation from the norms are considered to be illegal. Until recently, no scientific data also was available at the national or regional level to assess whether polygamy is still practiced or is non-existent.”
It added, “For the first time data required to study and understand such marriage practices was collected as part of the 2005-06 NFHS. Data was collected from both women and men – women were asked a direct question whether besides herself, her husband had other wives and men were asked if they currently have one wife or more than one wife.”
The paper said, “Preliminary analysis of this data reveals some interesting findings on this aspect of marriage. In India as a whole, two percent of women reported that their husband had other wives besides herself. Urban-rural differentials are marginal (1.5% in urban areas and 2% in rural areas).
“Husbands older than women, women with less education are more likely to have multiple wives than husband’s of younger women and women with higher levels of education. Spouses of women age less than 30 have about 1.35 partners whereas husband’s of women age 30 or more have 2.22 to 2.51 partners”, the paper said.
It added, “One interesting finding is that women across religious groups – Hindu (1.77 partners), Muslim (2.55 partners), Christian (2.35 partners), Buddhist (3.41 partners) have reported that their husbands have multiple wives. It is more common for husbands of women belonging to scheduled castes and tribes to have multiple wives than women belonging to other caste/tribe groups.”
“Differentials in this characteristic are not only by background characteristics of the women but also a clear regional variation emerges from the findings of the survey”, the paper said, adding, “Polygamy is more prevalent in the Eastern (2.11 partners), Northeastern (3.20 partners) and Southern (3.02 partners) regions.”
It further said, “In the northern and central regions, it is non-existent as the women from these regions have reported their husbands to be having only one partner on an average.”
“The general thought in India is that marriage is practiced mainly for progeny, i.e., to have children to continue the lineage. Also, we need to understand marriage practices in the context of strong son preference that exist in most parts of India”, the paper said.
It added, “The data clearly shows that husband’s of women with no children are more likely to have multiple wives (2.51 partners) than women who have at least one child (1.80 partners).”

Comments

There is an anecdote about understanding. A professor was taking a biology class. It was about dissection of a frog. The prof cut one leg of the frog and said 'jump'. The frog managed to jump on its three legs. Then two and then one. After cuttings its fourth leg when the prof said jump it couldn't. He asked the students what they understood and one of them promptly replied 'if all four legs of a frog are cut then the frog will not be able to hear'!

I am reminded of this anecdote on reading the following parts of this report.

“In the northern and central regions, it is non-existent as the women from these regions have reported their husbands to be having only one partner on an average.”

“Husbands older than women, women with less education are more likely to have multiple wives than husband’s of younger women and women with higher levels of education...'

It is similar statistics that say that the literacy levels in northern and central regions are very poor. So how does the first part linking literacy to polygamy compare with the second part?
This report also highlights the following facts:

1. The law is an ass. It has no business to permit polygamy amoung muslims when banning it for others.

2. The people are not asses. They do not take such biased laws seriously.

3. The law enforcers are asses as they are seen unable to enforce the laws!

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