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Polyandrous family customs in India

Note: Given the extremely unfavorable sex ratios that one is seeing in India today – as families keep killing unborn daughters and girls, the day is not far when some believe that Polyandry will become pervasive in the society as a matter of norm and social compulsion!!

A lot of cultures have the practice of Polygamy… where polygamy means a man marrying taking more than One wife. However, Mahabharata talks about the other side Polyandrous family – ONE female taking MULTIPLE husbands. Draupadi demonstrated that. That practice is alive even today and it seems to help that society with some of their issues as well…

There are at least two areas in India that this practice is followed:

Jaunsar Bawar, Uttar Pradesh: The people here claim that they are descendants of Pandavas. The Jaunsaris are both polyandrous and polygamous, with several brothers sharing several wives and vice versa. Some anthropologists believe that they are the purest descendants of European tribes. Often light eyed and fair skinned, the Jaunsaris, with their finely chiseled features are indeed noticeably different in appearance from, for instance, the Garhwalis who inhabit the mountains barely a stone’s throw across the fledgeling Yamuna river which demarcates Jaunsar from Garhwal. Even their sports, dances, ways of worship, marriage costumes and water mills are different from anything around there.

Here, because of the customs, a baby girl’s birth is welcomed and not frowned upon like other regions of South Asia. When a girl finally marries – here instead boy’s family pays an agreed, furiously negotiated bride price to the girl’s family before the wedding ceremony takes place, and the bride is carried to her new village on the shoulders of the bridegroom or one of his relatives. The payment to the bride can be anywhere from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 60,000 depending upon the economic status of the bride family.

Pooh and Yangthang, Kinnaur district, UP: It is a socially mandated tribal practice to facilitate economic sustenance – all siblings sharing a wife. Because of this custom – no fighting/breaking of family on the name of happiness really happens. This also protects their land from breaking into small units.

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Since all the siblings share one wife, they unit together in the form of a big family working on the same piece of land and flourishing. This also led to preservation of the economic sustainability.

Except for denial of the right of inheritance, the Kinnauri women have traditionally enjoyed cultural freedom in the matter of choosing life partner/s. no wonder Kinnaur, with a population of 78,000 now has the highest per capita income among the 12 districts of the state.

[Other areas where this practice is also followed are: among the Nairs, Theeyas and Toda of South India, and the Nishi of Arunachal Pradesh]

Disclaimer: I am not promoting this practice, I am just pointing a counter way that some families live and change definitions.

Polyandry and Religion

The Hebrew Bible prohibits polyandry. For a woman to have sexual relations when she is married to another (which would include a situation such as polyandry) would constitute adultery, with the consequences that it would have on her status, as well as of her children from that relationship.

Islam also bans polyandry. In Islam the verse from the Quran that is typically used for a proof in this matter is Surah Nisa’ Chapter 4 verses 22 to 24, which gives the list of women with whom one cannot marry and it is further mentioned in Surah Nisa’ Chapter 4 verse 24. Nikah Ijtimah, a pre-Islamic tradition of polyandry, was forbidden by Islam.

There is at least one reference to polyandry in the ancient Hindu epic, Mahabharata. Draupadi marries the five Pandava brothers. This ancient text remains largely neutral to the concept of polyandry, accepting this as her way of life.

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(source: Wikipedia)

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Desh Kapoor

The panache of a writer is proven by the creative pen he uses to transform the most mundane topic into a thrilling story. Desh - the author, critic and analyst uses the power of his pen to create thought-provoking pieces from ordinary topics of discussion. He writes on myriad interesting themes. Read the articles to know more about his views and "drishtikone".

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