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Polygyny 'going down' among Muslims, says GoI supported institute amidst UCC talk

By Syed Khalique Ahmed* 

The Mumbai-based International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS), working under the Central government, has blasted the myth that Muslims are the only polygynous community, with males having more than one wife. IIPS’ recent research report, uploaded on its website, says that polygyny is the highest among Christians in India, followed by Muslims and Hindus.
The report comes amidst raging debate on the Uniform Civil Code(UCC), with many right-wingers, including BJP leaders, elected representatives to state assemblies, Parliament, and ministers throwing their weight around the demand for a UCC, particularly to ban polygyny among Muslims, as they believe that every Muslim man marries four wives and hold Muslim community responsible for growth of population in the country, a new research has exposed their claims.
The latest research on polygyny tendencies by IIPS, a deemed-to-be-university, and an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India (GoI), has concluded that Christians as faith group are the most polygamous in India, followed by Muslims and Hindus. The researchers who conducted the study are Harihar Sahoo, R Nagarajan and Chaitali Mandal.
The research is based on the data collected from the fifth round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted between 2019 and 2021. NFHS data is based on the statements of married women who stated that their husbands had other wife or wives besides themselves.
According to the IIPS data, the rate of polygyny among Christians, as per the NFHS-5, is 2.1% against 1.9% among Muslims and 1.3% among Hindus. Thus, the difference between Muslims and Hindus polygyny rate is just 0.6 per cent.
Likewise, polygyny rate was found to be 0.5% among Sikhs during the period covered by NFHS-5, 1.3 per cent among Buddhists and 2.5 per cent among "others" (religion/caste group not stated).
According to the research, the national average of polygyny is 1.4%, indicating a declining trend, because it was 1.9% during NHFS-3 (2006-2006) and 1.6% during NHFS-4 (2015-16). The research says that polygyny decreased in almost every state from 2015-16 to 2019-21, with the exception of nine states (Chandigarh, Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Tripura, Maharashtra, and Puducherry).
Though the polygyny is not legal in India for any community other than Muslims, the IIPS research says it is still prevalent among non-Muslims in various parts of India.
Polygyny in India is more prevalent in Northeastern and the Southern states of India, as well Sikkim bordering Nepal. According to the report, Meghalaya (6.1%), Mizoram(4.1%) and Arunachal Pradesh (3.7%) in the Northeast have the largest prevalence of polygyny. The current rate of polygyny is 3.9% in Sikkim.
In South India, the highest prevalence of polygyny is in Telangana (2.9%), Karnataka (2.4), Puducherry (2.4%) and Tamilnadu(2%). In South India, practitioners of polygyny are generally Hindus.
The districts with high rate of polygyny are: East Jantia Hills (20%), West Jantia Hills (14.5%), West Khasi (10.9%), South West Khasi Hills(6.4 %), Ribhoi (6.2%), East Khasi Hills (5.8%), all in Meghalaya. The other districts are: Kra Daadi(16.4%), East Kameng(10.2%), Papum Pare(6.9%), Kurung Kumey(6.6%), Lower Subansir(5%), Upper Subansiri(4.9%), all in Arunachal Pradesh. Then there are other districts with high rate of polygyny: Bijapur (5.9) in Chattisgarh, and Yadgir(46%) in Karnataka.

Lowest polygyny in regions with Muslim concentration

What needs to be noted is that the states or regions with Muslim dominance are among the states with least prevalence of polygyny. For instance, Lakshadweep with almost 100% of Muslim population and Jammu & Kashmir with overwhelming majority of Muslims have only 0.5 % and 0.4% of polygyny, respectively, busting the politically-motivated claims of Hindu right-wingers that every Muslim man practices polygyny.
The rate of polygyny among Christians, as per the NFHS-5, is 2.1% against 1.9% among Muslims and 1.3% among Hindus
The study indicates that polygynous marriages are more prevalent among women who had no formal education (2.4%) than among those who had higher educational (0.3%) qualifications. 
Polygyny was most prevalent among the poorest women and women who had no formal education. It is also most prevalent in rural areas (1.6%) than in urban areas (0.6%). Polygyny is also more prevalent among poorer people (2.4%) and very less (0.5%) among rich people.

Polygamy in other countries

According the Pew Research Center’s survey by Stephanie Kramer in 2020, polygamy is prevalent in several countries of the world like Germany, Russia,, China, Iran, Canada and the US where it is less than 0.5%. In Iraq, it is 2%.
West and Central African countries like Burkina Faso (36%), Mali (34%) and Nigeria (28%) etc. are the polygyny centres of the world, with people living with more than one wives. Religion wise, they are mostly Christians and Muslims. But even people belonging to folk religions or no religion at all in Burkina Faso practice polygyny (45 %).
The Pew Research says that many of the countries that permit polygamy have Muslim majorities, but the practice of polygamy is rare in many of them. The report says that countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Egypt are Muslim majority and polygamy is allowed there, but only less than 1% of men live with more than one or two wives. 
The Pew Research is, however, silent on polygamy in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates and their neighbouring Muslim majority countries because of lack of data from these countries.
According to Pew Research, one-in-five US adults consider polygamy as morally acceptable. The Pew report about the US is based on a Gallup Poll conducted in 2003. More than conservatives (9%), liberals (34%) see polygamy as morally acceptable.
*Senior journalist based in Delhi. A version of this article first appeared in India Tomorrow



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