Uniform Civil Code: Can we stop men from marrying more than one woman?

A bold amendment is required to make bigamy and polygamy a cognisable offence.

 |  3-minute read |   31-10-2016
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Bigamy is a non-cognisable, bailable offence in India in so far as non-Muslims are concerned. Muslims are untrammelled by any restriction so long as a Muslim male is in a married state simultaneously with just four wives and no more, as mandated by the Sharia.

The first wife in case of non-Muslims should bestir and file a complaint against her casanova husband. If she doesn't, others including the state, have no business to protest. This is the long and short of the law as it stands today on bigamy and its extension, polygamy.

This toothless law has emboldened many non-Muslim males to cock-a-snook, and blithely marry as many times as they please.

That is why in panel discussions the one haranguing against bigamy or polygamy by Muslims suddenly becomes tongue-tied when he is halted by a bold counter - don't Hindu males practise bigamy or polygamy?

Indeed the guilt of breaching the one-man-one-woman edict of civil society is followed more in breach than in compliance as much by Hindu males as by males of other religious persuasions.

And it would be wrong to blame Muslim males alone in this regard. Filmstars and politicians become the butt of jokes when the discussion turns on bigamy or polygamy, with the media revelling in lampooning nonagenarian DMK leader Karunanidhi and his naiveté - he declared the assets of his second wife to the Election Commission when the law says the second and subsequent wives have no share in a Hindu husband's property. Be that as it may.

The farce and numerous faux pas must be ended with a bold amendment to make bigamy and polygamy a cognisable offence so that anyone, including the police, can initiate proceedings for annulment of the extra marriages.

marriage-embed_103116051334.jpg Incidentally, one doesn't fulminate as much against polyandry. (Photo credit: India Today)

Indeed this would be a prerequisite, a necessary prelude to the uniform civil code because should the code be ushered in somehow, a vital part of it - bar on bigamy and polygamy - would be followed more in breach than compliance unless the leeway available is wrenched away.

For the Muslim clergy, the leeway if continued to be made available would become the glib excuse for persisting with its indulgence of plural marriages by Muslim males.

And non-Muslim males would laugh up their sleeve at the naiveté of the government. In the event, it would be business as usual for every casanova male, irrespective of his religious persuasion, despite the seminal uniform civil code, unless the offence is made cognisable.

For, not all subsequent wives are as spunky as the 27th wife of Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormon sect among Christians in Irving Wallace's non-fictional work The Twenty-Seventh Wife, in which the author gives a vivid account of the consequences of Mormon males being permitted to be in wedlock simultaneously with as many as 27 wives, virtually a harem.

She took her fight to seminar circuits and the US Congress. Indian wives still defer to the desires of their husbands even if the desire is to relegate them to the shared wife status.

Incidentally, one doesn't fulminate as much against polyandry - one woman in a state of marriage with more than one man simultaneously - in India because it is a rarity and without any religious leg-up from any religion.

But the government while making changes to marriage laws must address the issue comprehensively and futuristically. There is a lot of justified resentment against the present domestic violence law that is female-centric in its single-minded obsession to protect women from violence unleashed by males and females in households.

Males at the receiving end of domestic violence have been rooting for a unisex domestic violence law. And the strict law against plural marriages must apply to both males and females.

Also read: Why monogamy is not going to work in the future

Writer

S Murlidharan S Murlidharan @smurlidharan

The writer is a Delhi-based chartered accountant with an abiding interest in writing and teaching.

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