Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), on December 20, 2022, released a nationwide study on the status of polygamy. The study indicated that polygamous marriage causes immense emotional trauma to the woman. Nearly 300 women were questioned, among which 84 per cent of wives said polygamy should be prohibited.
The harsh impact on mental health is compounded by educational and economic poverty as the women “are in no position to raise their voice and demand fair treatment”, states the report in which several interviewees said they felt a sense of betrayal, loss of dignity and loss of self-respect when the husband remarried while being married to them.
The study titled ‘Status of Women in Polygamous Marriages and Need for Legal Protection’, co-authored by Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman of BMMA-an association which has been working for the reform in Muslim family law since 2007-the recently published report is the result of a 2017 survey conducted over the span of a year.
Fifty case studies were compiled after 289 questionnaires were given to a random sample of women in polygamous marriages in Delhi, Rajasthan, MP, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal and UP. Many of the interviewees of the survey had learned about their husband’s second marriage through neighbors or friends. Some wives had decided to dwell under the same roof for the sake of their children while others had moved to their parent’s homes.
The report’s publication was postponed by four years due to logistical reasons, including high costs and Covid; its findings, Niaz says, remain just as relevant today, especially in the backdrop of various pleas questioning polygamy in the Supreme Court.
Polygamy permits a Muslim man to have four wives. As per the Indian Penal Code, polygamy is a criminal offence under Section 494. This law prohibits polygamy, sentencing the said husband to 7 years of imprisonment. It is non-cognizable, bailable and compoundable. The Hindu Marriage Act, which governs Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, also prohibits polygamy.
Quoting a 2015 SC judgment of Khurshid Ahmed Khan’s case which argued that polygamy could not be seen as an integral part of religion, Noorjehan Safia Niaz stated, “Why should Muslim women be denied legal protection which women of the other communities enjoy? The universal Islamic values of equality, justice, wisdom and compassion do not match with the unbridled right to polygamy enjoyed by men.”
Zakia Soman speaks to Organiser and says the report publication was delayed due to COVID Pandemic but its findings are still relevant as Supreme Court admitted our findings. We have filed a petition in 2019 regarding status of polygamy and SC mentioned our findings in the petition.
On December 12, SC sent a notice to Union Government regarding the petition.