Polygamy: Women, Children and Men.

By Weins Bhir
(1st year, Lady Shri Ram College, DU)

“Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.” Deuteronomy 17:17

Polygamy is a mere umbrella term.
However, reflecting upon a patriarchal society, ‘polygyny’ mirrors the idea of polygamy where a man practices plural marriage at the same time. According to the NFHS, “Overall polygynous marriage was found to be higher among poor, uneducated, rural and older women…”. Wherein India, polygamy is a criminal offence which can lead to imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine. It mostly flows in the currents of Schedule Tribes, while Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh tops the list with the highest polygyny rates issued by the NFHS, Census 2011. Moreover, the data analysis shows how this practice coincides with the wellbeing of women, children, men and the society as a whole.
The idea of polygyny exaggerates the dominance of men in the expense of social stability. It creates a complex family system involving the husband’s relationship between subsequent wives and children. In addition to studies documenting polygamy’s detrimental effects on wives health, researchers have identified polygamy as a risk factor for adverse child health outcomes. In polygamous marriages, the environment at home is stressful, parental investment is low, and resources are diluted which further impoverishes the child. There was a higher prevalence of somatisation, depression, anxiety, hostility, paranoid ideation, psychotics, general symptom severity, positive symptoms of total and psychiatric disorder, as well as lower ratings of life and marital satisfaction. A study found that one-third of the respondents had suicidal behaviour. In a qualitative study of American Muslims of various ethnic backgrounds, women in polygamous relationships have reported being abused by their husbands or other wives. In terms of social problems, children with polygamous parents have higher risk of family dysfunction with MD. For school achievement, two studies reported children with polygamous parents had lower scores compared to monogamous parents and a study reported that these children had difficulties in understanding subjects such as Mathematics and English. Studies have found that adolescents who are neglected by their parents are more likely to fall prey to drug abuse. Hence, poor parenting which is a consequence of polygamy also correlates to today’s Arunachal as a hub of drug abuse. Al[1]Sherbiny reported the “first wife syndrome,” where the first wife reported difficulties, faced psychological, physical, and social problems among women in a polygamous marriage. There is evidence that first wives and their children are often neglected and a study conducted in Egypt found that following their husbands second marriage, senior wives in polygamous families experience a major psychological crisis. Children from kindergarten through Grade 6 reported a lower level of educational achievements based on the examination results. They had difficulty adjusting to their schools, thus indicating that these social problems were impacted by their parents polygamous marriage that has affected their formal education system, increasing dropouts. Additionally, it is unfortunate that husbands from polygamous families were found to be more educated than husbands from monogamous families. And the women in question go for marrying married men with a dream for a better future only to realise that they have been deceived.
“Monogamous marriage reduces crime” -Henrich
A new study out of the University of British Columbia documents how societies have systematically evolved away from polygamy because of the social problems it causes. Cultural anthropologist Joe Henrich documents, the institution also causes problems for the young, low-status males. They are denied wives by older, wealthy men who have hoarded all the women. Creation of large numbers of unmarried men, whose presence is correlated with increased rates of rape, theft, murder, and substance abuse. Arunachal has become a hub of drug abuse which correlates to polygamy as a consequence of poor parenting. Also, as one would expect, polygynous households foster jealousy and friction among co-wives. Men with lots of children and wives are spread too thin, and to make things worse, they’re compiling resources to attract their next wives instead of using it on their existing families. Researchers have found a strong link between polygamy and violence against women. It also causes high population growth. The economics of polygamy are paradoxical. Even in the oil rich Persian
Gulf region , Al-Toniji found that 75% of the participants agreed that the polygamist husband faced economic problems due to the need to pay for two or more houses. And the top causes of this practice are infertility or having only female children, husband’s love marriage, and in-laws family pressure because they wanted to secure their marriage instead of divorce. Indian monogamous marriage setup altogether disapproves of ‘Divorce’ which is a far fetched dream for women who are either financially dependent upon men or are strung with socio-cultural obligations. The divorce rate of India today is less than 1%. Does it manifest a win for our society? Hence, there is a reason why marriage has metamorphosed into today’s modern serial monogamy. In an era of science and adoption, polygamy is a mere excuse for habitual offenders. It is a testimony of gender bias which contributes to the denial of civil liberties to the women. Women need to be empowered with education and positive affirmation of self-worth through community awareness. And empowering the children is a must to subside the traumatic cycle that the experience burdens them with, which is possible through counselling and awareness. Perhaps, polygamy might have been relevant in the pre[1]historical era but in today’s generation, polygamy has no role to play. Therefore, the ultimate solution is to eradicate the practice of polygamy itself, to hand justice to the victims of polygamy imbibed in the history of social evils.