Legality of Polygamy in India

Polygamy is a practice of marrying multiple spouses. It was a famous practice in the ancient times. People used to consummate marriage with more than one or two spouse. It was more common among the aristocrats and emperors in India. Polygamy is the opposite term of monogamy. This practice has been prevalent in many parts of the world at a neutral state. Different parts have their own set of rules and regulations. Where in some cultural and regional laws, polygamy is a result of political or territorial linkages, in other parts, it is seen a religious practice as well. There have been many infamous instances of the same. This practice propagated in several parts of the globe and it is still practiced in some. There are nations that have explicitly declared it to be illegal. It is not officially recognised in many countries now. During the British regime, the British colonial empire of India, assented Islamic provinces to practice polygamy where men had more than one or two spouses at the same time.


With time, several legal developments took place and polygamy was prohibited in India in its entirety. However, it began with section 494 and 495 of IPC, that banned polygamy for Christians. The Hindu Marriage Act came into existence in the year 1955, and it prohibited marriage of a Hindu whose spouse is still living. Thus, polygamy became a prohibition in the year 1956 in India, as per the conventions of The Hindu Marriage Act and some provisions of the Indian Penal Code. However, these laws are not applicable over Muslim population since they have their separate marriage laws and polygamy is legal in the Muslim Laws. A polygamous marriage is considered to be void in the Hindu laws. There is prescribed punishment for polygamy as well. The status of polygamy in India, is different in rural areas and sometimes polygamy is accepted when it is done with the consent of earlier wives. In cases when the first wife has no children, men tend to marry other women.

You May Also Interested In Learning Below Topics

Problems caused by Polygamy

  • Relatively higher child birth rate
  • Higher rate of STD’s in women
  • Domestic violence
  • Sex trafficking
  • Children suffer in terms of education and basic rights
  • Succumb to more female genital mutilation
  • Poverty
  • Poor quality of living
  • Poor health facilities

We have several real life cases where people have remarried during the lifetime of their spouses, however, this varies with the subject matter. Polygamy is illegal in India, except for Islam, where restrictive polygamy is allowed. The Indian Muslims are subject to the provisions of Muslim Personal Law Application Act (shariat) of 1937. However, the religious practices are also subject to constitutional scrutiny and could be struck down as and when required, as per Article 13 of Indian constitution. Marriage is a pure institution and in order to protect that sacredness of this institution, such practices have been condemned in our laws. Marriage establishes a set of responsibility, dispersal of which becomes very crucial. Immoral behaviour and lack of integrity ruins this institution and to protect the harmony of a family, such laws have been made. Monogamy protects the interest of both the parties and promote livelihood with dignity and integrity. This is on of the reason why polygamy is illegal in India.