Is polygamy legal in India?

Introduction: Is polygamy legal in India?. Polygamy comes from two words: “poly,” meaning “many,” and “gamos,” meaning “marriage.” As a result, polygamy refers to multiple marriages. Thus, polygamy is a marriage in which spouses of either sex can simultaneously have more than one partner. Traditionally, polygamy – a man having more than one wife – was widely practiced in India. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 made this practice illegal.

The Special Marriage Act (SMA) 1954 allows people to perform inter-religious marriages but prohibits Polygamous relationships. Many Muslim women have used this act to help prevent polygamy. However, it is subject to certain conditions and restrictions based on religious practices and personal laws.

For example, Muslims in India are permitted to practice polygamy under the Muslim Personal Law. In contrast, Hindu Marriage Act and other personal laws prohibit polygamy for Hindus and other specified religious groups. 

Is polygamy legal in India?
Is polygamy legal in India? 2

Is polygamy legal in India?

Perhaps in Indian history, countless monarchs and kings practiced Polygamous relationships and had multiple wives. Such examples of polygamy can also be found in religious texts and traditions.

India is a diverse country. As a result, marital laws were never simplified. Each sect seems to have its rules, rituals, and practices. However, when it came to polygamy, they unanimously agreed that monogamy was the ideal marriage system but that polygamy could be used in some instances.

There was a time in the Indus Valley Civilization when polygamy was not prohibited. Aristocrats, including kings, were known to engage in this activity. During the Vedic period, the Vedas, scriptural texts, and the Manusmriti governed Hindu marriage regulations.

Legal Framework

Polygamous relationships is primarily governed by personal laws specific to different religious communities in India. These personal laws, also known as religious laws, cover marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption. India recognizes different personal laws for various religious communities, including Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and others.


Polygamous relationships are prohibited among Hindus in India. The Hindu Wedding Act of 1955, which governs Hindu marriages, explicitly states that a Hindu man or woman cannot simultaneously have more than one spouse. If a person marries another while their spouse is still alive, the second marriage is considered void.

The Hindu Marriage Act passed in 1955, explained that Hindu polygamy would be abolished and criminalized. Under Section 11 of the Act, which states that polygamous marriages are void, the act mandates monogamous relationships with caution.

When one commits it, he is punished under Section 17 of the same Act and Units 494 and 495 of the Indian Community Penal Code, 1860. As Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs are all considered Hindu and do not have their laws, the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act apply to all three religious sects.


The legal status of Polygamous relationships differs for Muslims due to the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937. Under this law, Muslim men can have up to four wives, provided they fulfill certain conditions, such as treating all wives equally. However, polygamy has been debated and criticized within the Muslim community and broader society.


Polygamy is generally not permitted among Indian Christians. The Indian Christian Wedding Act of 1872 governs marriage and related matters for Christians. This act does not allow men to have more than one wife simultaneously.

Other Religious Communities

Other religious communities in India, such as Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains, do not have specific personal laws that allow or regulate polygamy. In practice, these communities generally follow the legal framework applicable to their marriages as outlined in the Special Marriage Act of 1954, which prohibits polygamy.

Legal Challenges and Debates

Polygamous relationships has been a legal, social, and political debate topic in India. Critics argue that allowing polygamy perpetuates gender inequality and places an undue burden on women.

They contend that the practice can lead to financial and emotional hardships for women and children in such marriages. Proponents of polygamy often cite religious freedom and cultural practices as reasons to maintain the status quo.

Reform Efforts

There have been efforts to reform personal laws in India to address issues related to gender equality and polygamy. Advocates for women’s rights have called for a uniform civil code, which would provide a single set of secular laws governing personal matters for all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations. However, implementing such a code has been contentious, as it would require reconciling differing religious beliefs and practices.

Indian Constitution and Polygamy

Religion is given considerable attention in India, and the Indian Constitution guarantees it where necessary. On the contrary, the judicial system is essential in amending the constitution by emphasizing procedural fairness, as seen in some recent landmark decisions, reflecting the modern culture and the latest developments. The constitution has been amended to make polygamy permissible in Islamic law, although it is forbidden in other sects.

The constitutionality of polygamous relationships has also been established. However, the laws have always been susceptible to reform for the sake of society so that the system may change or end for various reasons.

Therefore, just because polygamy has been accepted in Islamic culture since ancient times and accommodated as a subject of personal laws, the followers of Hinduism cannot contest the laws that Hindus have. They criminalize monogamous relationships.

As Martin Luther King said, “Laws can never change people’s hearts, but they can restrain oppressors.” Consequently, laws requiring monogamy are designed to strengthen society rather than curtail people’s fundamental rights.

Conclusion: Polygamous relationships

In conclusion, polygamous relationships legal status in India is complex and varies across religious communities due to the country’s diverse religious and cultural landscape. While some communities permit polygamy under certain conditions, others prohibit it outright.

The ongoing debates surrounding this issue reflect the broader challenges of balancing religious freedoms with gender equality in a diverse and pluralistic society. Polygamy seems harmless to society, yet from the point of view of a rational pure organism, most of today’s social problems result from this type of relationship.

This impacts the community as there is a constant linguistic conflict between husband and wife, resulting in extreme environmental conditions for young people and an inappropriate moral standard for raising a family.

Instead of differentiating rules and regulations based on religious beliefs, a secular republic requires a common law that applies to all citizens. It will remove prejudice against the underprivileged and unify the country’s diverse culture.

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