General Studies Paper 2

Context: The Assam government will soon move to ban the practice of polygamy through “legislative action”.

  • Constituting “expert committee”:
    • Assam Chief Minister recently said that an “expert committee”would be formed to examine whether the state legislature was empowered to prohibit polygamy.
    • This committee, comprising legal experts and scholars, would examine the provisions of the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Act, 1937 read with Article 25 of the Constitution of India.
  • Significance:
    • Recently, the authorities found that many aged men got “married multiple times”, and often to minor girls.
    • Therefore crackdown against child marriage is not the only solution, banning polygamy is also important.

More about the Polygamy 

  • About:
    • Polygamy is defined as “the act or custom of maintaining more than one spouse at the same time”.
  • Polygamy under Hindu Law:
    • The Hindu Marriage Act,which came into effect on May 18, 1955, made it clear that Hindu polygamy would be abolished and criminalised.
      • Monogamy was the sole option available to Hindus.
    • The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955states that polygamous marriages are void.
      • It was made explicit that a Hindu spouse may not marry again until the first one is terminated, either through a divorce or the death of one of the spouses.
    • Because Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs are all considered Hindus and do not have their own laws, the provisions in the Hindu Marriage Act apply to these three religious denominations as well.
  • Polygamy under the Muslim personal law:
    • Crucially, while the Hindu personal law outlaws bigamy and polygamy, the Muslim personal law does not.
    • The clauses under the‘Muslim Personal Law Application Act (Shariat) of 1937, as construed by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, apply to Muslims in India.
    • A Muslim man can marry and maintain four women or spouses at the same time, according to Muslim personal law.
      • Under Muslim personal law, such a relationship is recognised and legal.
    • While a Muslim man can have four wives at the same time, however, the same is not applicable to a Muslim woman.
      • A Muslim woman is not allowed to marry more than one
    • Global practice:
      • Polygamy is permissible and legal exclusively for Muslims in nations such as India, Singapore, as well as Malaysia.
      • Polygamy is still recognised and practiced in nations such as Algeria, Egypt, and Cameroon.

Issues & criticisms

  • In conflict with constitutional values:
    • Article 14 states that the state shall not refuse any individual under India’s territory equal treatment under the law and equal protection under the law. The state is prohibited from discriminating against any person solely based on faith, ethnicity, gender, religion, or birthplace, according to Article 15(1) of the Indian Constitution.
    • Only because polygamy has already been embraced among the Islamic culture since the ancient period and has been adjusted as a topic of personal laws.
  • Discriminatory in nature:
    • According to academicians and some other knowledgeable people, permitting polygamy in one faith while condemning others is discriminatory, and this prejudice must be addressed by the law.
  • Barbarous consequences:
    • As a man cannot please all of his women emotionally or economically, it creates a purely barbarous consequence in a poygamous relationship.
    • When the male partner dies, polygamy causes property disputes.
  • Impact on children:
    • Polygamy has an impact not only on the married couple but also on the offspring who are the result of such a relationship.
    • This troubling issue causes trauma in youngsters, which has an impact on their education and interpersonal attitudes towards life.
  • Gender discrimination:
    • Polygamy regulations vary depending on a person’s gender within a single faith. Governments, on the other hand, have failed to consider the situation of women, particularly those who embrace Islam.
  • Not a religious duty:
    • Polygamy is not at all a preferred lifestyle choice & comes with several drawbacks. It is not at all a religious duty or religious conduct,as the court system has often acknowledged.

Way Ahead

  • In patriarchal societies, religious laws have often been lopsided, favouring men.
  • Laws such as polygamy, triple talaq and nikah halala are not only archaic, but they are also debilitating for Muslim women.
  • The legality of such laws needs to be challenged and subsequently discarded.
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