Impact of Bigamy on Family members and women

Mental Health

By Social and Women Rights Activist: Parul Khera

Most of us grew up in a world where it’s normal to share marriage with just one other person. However, there are women unfortunate enough who have to witness their husband marrying other women for pleasure.  It is degrading and distressful for women to suffer through such hardship, where they have to share their husband. It just spells intolerable pain, disappointment, loss of meaning of life and continual competition for the women. To define Bigamy in a simpler way -Bigamy occurs when a person is married to two people at the same time. Therefore, when a person is already married and the marriage is still valid, he then contracts another marriage with another person is referred to as bigamy. In many countries with multiple legal systems, the customary law permits a man to take multiple wives and also forbids a current wife from objecting to her husband’s marriage to a new woman. This practice treats women as lesser members of their families and as inferior in status to men.

It is the women who have to bear the brunt of bigamy/polygamy. As, men proceed to marry without officially going through a divorce and positioning their wife through all sorts of mental harassment, simply because of the Muslim Law that allows them to keep four wives. It is an open case of violation of the fundamental and human rights of women. It is a way of treating their wives as chattel. Studies have also reported a higher ratio of somatization, depression, anxiousness, aggression, psychoticism and psychiatric disorders where bigamy has occurred. The wives have additionally suffered with a reduced life, no marital satisfaction, a baffled family functioning and low self-worth. All this is due to the fact that it is highly distressing for a woman to see her husband commit polygamy out of lust, or with a mindset to have children at a faster rate than Hindus by taking advantage of Sharia to legitimatize their actions.

In respect to the Muslim religion the practice of marrying outside marriages should be gender-neutral, where even the women have the liberty to stand against or with a decision. Just like unfair traditional practices like Sati, Triple Talaq, child marriage and female infanticide were abolished; bigamy also needs to be eradicated from the system, as it is the need of the hour. The aforementioned will be a huge step forward for the empowerment of Muslim women in India, rendering them with a safer and brighter future. The Hindu marriage act is apt and considerate for both the male and female parties when it comes to bigamy, providing them with equal power and opportunity. The same needs to be done with other religions and customs to help phase out Bigamy. It will be a great step to help revive dignity, ability, safety, and liberty to countless women.The law needs to take a firm stand with the women here standing in their support. It needs to highlight the fact that women are no slaves and are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and its dissolution. Bigamy is not prevalent amongst Hindus, Christians and Parsis but the same is only recognized by the Muslim community where the Muslim women are made to suffer.

Findings in a study revealed that women in polygamous marriages experienced lower SE, less life satisfaction, less marital satisfaction and more mental health symptomatology than women in monogamous marriages. Many of the mental health symptoms were different; noteworthy were elevated somatization, depression, hostility and psychoticism and their general severity index was higher. Furthermore, “first wife syndrome” was examined in polygamous families, comparing first with second and third wives in polygamous marriages. Findings indicated that first wives reported on more family problems, less SE, more anxiety, more paranoid ideation, and more psychoticism than second and third wives.

Many family members suffer symptoms of depression, anxiety, trauma, somatic symptom disorder, interpersonal sensitivity, phobias, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, paranoia and psychoticism.

Bigamy/Polygamy is considered an offense in India, as under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code. However, the flaw in the law here is that it differs with detail to criminality or indictment for the second or subsequent marriage depending upon the respective personal laws, customs, and practices of the communities. As it is the country is already going through a vast difference regarding sex ratio of nine hundred females for every thousand males. Now, this ratio is further more disturbed when a single male decides to marry subsequent times. It is a hit for the other young members in the community. 

Society itself should openly condemn such cases until these people realise it’s not ok to act like that towards women. It’s high time now that we as responsible citizens need to take this issue from being talked about around the kitchen table and put it on the public agenda.

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