Is Polygamy Legal in India?

8 Aug 2022  Read 4355 Views

Whether polygamy is legal or not? The solution to this varies from one country to another, say for Hindus, it is prohibited with exceptions. So how is polygamy legal in India? Referring to the legal status of polygamy under Muslim marriage, tribals as well as Goan residents, it is permitted. However, Goans are permitted to practice bigamy, which can be a form of polygamy, so there are some areas where polygamy is still legal. In this article, we will discuss the legality of polygamy, the difference between monogamy, and polygamy- bigamy, polyandry, and polygyny. Let's get started.

What is Polygamy?

Polygamy has been associated for ages with mankind. Monogamy got the initiative over polygamy only around 10 thousand years back. Many communities have tolerated it and continue doing so. As of this moment, some nations, primarily Islamic, recognize polygamous relations, while others have declared it null and void, plus some jurisdictions, such as India, exclusively allow Muslims to practice polygamy. 

Polygamy comes from two words: “poly,” which means “many,” and “gamos,” which means “marriage.” As a result, polygamy relates to marriages that are several. It comes down through the Greek word “polgamos,” which means “often marrying.” Polygamy is thought of as “the act or custom of maintaining one or more spouses at the same time.” 

Types of Polygamy

Polygamy is divided into three types such as polygyny, polyandry, and group marriage.

1. Polygyny

It is the matrimonial structure in which a male individual has numerous wives. Polygamy in this form is more common or widespread. This method was also imitated by others with significant influence and power. Marriage typically came with additional riches, territory, and titles, so it was a method order for them to consolidate and enforce their influence. 

2. Polyandry

It is a type of marriage in which a female has several husbands. Nevertheless, this can be an extremely uncommon occurrence. Polyandry is not at all like polygyny with regards to legal standing. A man’s marriage to numerous women is incredibly common, but a female’s marriage to multiple men is frowned upon. 

3. Bigamy

 When one is already married additionally, the marriage continues to be valid, then married with someone else is known as bigamy plus the person committing this will be called bigamist. The difference between bigamy and polygamy is that in bigamy, the two or more spouses are unaware of each other whereas; in cases of polygamy, two or more spouses are aware of each other's union to the spouse. 

Let's understand the difference in detail:

Bigamy vs. Polygamy





When a person marries another person, even though he/she has been married legally before.

When a person has more than one (i.e., two or more) spouses at a time.

Religious practice 

It is not a religious practice.

It is considered to be a religious practice, and it is seen in the Muslim religion mostly.


The second spouse may not be aware of the first marriage.

As most of them reside in the same place, they are aware of each other.


Bigamy is not legal in any of the countries. But in certain cases where the first marriage has already been dissolved, the second marriage can be considered legal.

In countries like India, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc., it is considered to be legal. 


Bhaurao Shankar Lokhande and Ors. Vs. State of Maharashtra and Ors.

Jafar Abbas Rasool Mohammad Merchant Vs. State of Gujarat and Ors.

Is Polygamy Legal in India?

We have discussed what polygamy is and what is the positioning of these practices polygamy was quite definitely an integral part of society together with no legal binding. People used to practice polygamy freely. The laws prevailing at that right time are not harsh or strict about polygamy. Thus, people used to practice polygamy without the anxiety about punishment.

However, in India, the career of polygamy continues. While a lot of people look at the practice of polygamy as illegal. Thus, the practice of polygamy in India varies from religion to religion. The punishment specified in articles 494 and 495 is relevant. However, it is really rare in today’s world that the first spouse doesn't have any objection.

Cases on Polygamy

1. Parayan Kandiyal Vs  K. Devi & Others (1996)

After considering many resources on Hindu law, the Honorable Supreme Court concluded in this instance that monogamous relationships were the conventional and ideology of Hindu society, which scorned and condemned a moment marriage. Polygamy was not allowed to become a right part of Hindu culture due to the influence of religion. The Court also noted that some persons benefit from perhaps the tiniest of legal privileges and that, at this point, the government should part of to discipline behavior that is such.

2. State of Bombay v. Narasu Appa Mali (1951)

The Bombay High Court ruled that the Bombay (Prevention of Hindu Bigamy Marriage) Act, 1946 was not discriminative in this case. The Supreme Court ruled that a continuing state legislature can enact measures for public welfare and reforms just because it violates the Hindu religion or custom. The Court ruled it was as much as the Legislature to decide whether or not Mohammedans must certainly be excluded from the purview of the challenged Act. It is not necessary to implement a reform in a single stage. 

3. Veena Rani vs Jagdish Mitter Malhan (1989)

For some classes of people, and under certain circumstances, polygamy was permissible. With time, changes in society were abrogated. The concept of monogamy was highlighted, and polygamy was frowned at. The status of the institution of marriage

Countries where polygamy is Legal 

Polygamy is still practiced in several regions and jurisdictions. Having many spouses is not prohibited and does not bring about any penalties or sanctions. The majority of these rules and practices are found in Muslim countries because of their personal laws. Polygamy is still lawful and legal according to their tradition and domestic legislation.

Polygamy is permissible and legal exclusively for Muslims in nations such as India, Singapore, along with Malaysia. these are the only countries where polygamy is still legal. Polygamy is considered as a curse by Muslim women. Women also have no right to speak up against the spouse in this case, regardless if he could be married when it comes to the second or third time. 

As a result, we can observe that polygamy regulations vary depending on a person’s gender within a single faith. Polygamy is not a preferred lifestyle choice.

What is the punishment for polygamy in India?

Somebody who is held responsible for committing the polygamy offense is punished under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The punishment includes imprisonment for a period that is a maximum of 1 year, a fine, or both.  


Polygamy has existed long in Indian society, and even though we can find laws, it's still practiced in a few areas. Polygamy was considered taboo by Hindu Law even in earlier civilizations and was just authorized in restricted conditions. Muslim law, on the reverse side end, enables a man to possess four wives, though it is not essential for a Muslim man to do this. Hence Polygamy became a prestige statement, and it has also been prevalent in one of several poorer layers of society.

About the Author: Shivam Pathak | 23 Post(s)

Shivam is pursuing a BA. LL. B (HONS.) 5-year integrated course from Amity University, Raipur, Chhattisgarh. With a core interest in Criminal and Civil Law, his hobbies are reading books and listening to songs in his free time.

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