The legalisation of Polygamy varies from country to country. It is legal in legal in some countries where as it is not legalised in some countries. The legalisation of polygamy in India depends on the Indian laws and the Personal laws. In other countries or places where polygamy is legalised the phenomenon is applied.


Polygamy is a practice of having more than one spouse at a time. When a male person has tow or more wives at a time then he is called as “Polygyny”. And a female is married to more than one husband then she is called as “Polyandry”. These word “poly” means many and “andry” is used to mention male , “gyny” to define female. So, a polygyny is a person having women as wives and polyandry is a women having many husbands.

The practice of polygamy has been prevailing in society for a long time. Even though it is prevailing from a long time, polygamy is not legalised in India. But when we look into the history of India we see many emperor and kings following the practice of Polygamy. Such examples are also present in Religious scripts and texts written in those days. In those ancient days in India, there was a time where polygamy was not prohibited. It was a well known fact that the emperors or kings of those days are practicing polygamy. Even in many countries polygamy was under practice.

But later polygamy was prohibited in India. After Section 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code came into force the polygamy practice was prohibited. Later, in 1955 the Hindu Marriage Act was drafted. This act stated that Hindus are criminalised if the spouse is married twice even though the other is alive. This act also gave some exceptions to tribe and goa residents. Therefore, polygamy is made illegal in India apart from Muslims and Hindu residents in Goa from 1956.


One can understand the position of polygamy in India by reading the above introduction part. In ancient days , the practice of polygamy has been a part of society without any legal bindings on it. The legal system of those days was not such harsh or strict towards polygamy. Thus, people of those ancient days used practice polygamy without any fear of punishment.

However, in our country the state of polygamy is not clearly defined. Most of the consider polygamy as illegal whereas some other people follow the practice of polygamy. So, the practice of Polygamy in India in legal means varies from religion to religion. There are punishments of imprisonment of seven or more years for practicing polygamy in India. However there are some exceptions if the first spouse is dead or if the first is having no objection.

We cannot consider by taking exceptions into consideration and say that “polygamy is legal in India”. No man can have more than one wife in India. But it is different in the case of Muslims under their own personal laws. As of Muslims personal law they can have four wives. And it is legal to be a bigamy in Goa. Whereas the Hindus are punished if there are having two or more wives.

As of Indian law, a person cannot have more than one spouse. But a Muslim can have nearly four wives and in Goa it is legal be a bigamy. But , one cannot think that polygamy is legal in goa. This concept should be clearly understood by each person.


In India both Indian law and their person law i.e., their religious law are considered. So each person is supposed to follow the laws as per the Indian law and their religious law. In ancient days the Indian law was not such rigid. So a Hindu of ancient days used to practice polygamy. Husband used to marry two wives in those days.

But when the Hindus Marriage Act came into force such practices came to end. Today polygamy became illegal to Hindus all over the country. So, for a person who is Hindu or practicing Hinduism is prohibited from practicing polygamy and it is illegal from them. The Hindu Marriage Act is a codified law which prohibits a Hindu from practising polygamy.


Under Muslim personal law, a male can marry four wives and keep them with him at a time. Whereas, a female is not supposed to marry more than one person. When a male marries four females, such marriage is valid and legal in Muslim personal law. A female cannot have more than one spouse. This shows the legal status of polygamy under Muslim marriage.

Many Muslim women to curb practice of polygamy has taken help of Special Marriage Act. Under this special act, even a Muslim can marry only one person. He cannot have more than one spouse. A Muslim person practising polygamy is not punished if he is a Male. This is a social custom which has been in practice from many centuries.


It is not an easy to task calculate the number of countries practising polygamy. It is difficult because in some others many people follow the practice of polygamy even though it is not legal. So this creates the difficulty in calculating the polygamy practised or legalised countries. In countries like Singapore, India, and Malaysia polygamy is legalised only for Muslims. Whereas, in countries like Algeria, Egypt and Cameroon the practice of polygamy is legalised. In those countries practising polygamy doesn’t lead to any punishment or penalty. Their customs and personal laws are keeping polygamy valid and legal.


Polygamy is a practice of having more than one spouse at a time. In India it is not legal to follow the polygamy practice, whereas it is legal for a Muslim male to have four wives at a time which is not vice versa and also the bigamy is legal for a Hindu who is a resident of Goa. Therefore, we see the legalisation of polygamy depends on the basis of gender as per their own personal religious laws. The practice of polygamy is not a desirable option. It has both pros and cons in society.

Author: Duvvuru Sravya Reddy,
Ifim Law School, 1st year, BBA LLB student

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