Polygyny highest among scheduled tribes: NFHS 2019-20

The percentage of polygyny is higher in tribal populations, which increases the percentage of polygyny for those states which have a greater tribal population, such as Meghalaya (6.1%) & Tripura (2%)

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NH Web Desk

According to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data 2019-20, polygyny (the practice of having more than one wife at a time), though overall reducing, is being noticed in many communities in the country, even though it is legal only for Muslims.

Times of India reported that the prevalence for polygyny among communities stood at-

Polygyny highest among scheduled tribes: NFHS 2019-20
Polygyny highest among scheduled tribes: NFHS 2019-20

While the report stated, "In 1955, the Hindu Marriage Act of India prohibited the practice of polygyny. Although India has banned polygyny among Hindus, this practice still exists among some sections of the Hindus and the personal law of Muslims allows such practice."

But data from the report still showed that polygyny among Hindus increased in four states from 2005-06 to 2015-16 and again from 2015-16 to 2019-20 in four different states.

Polygyny highest among scheduled tribes: NFHS 2019-20

The International Institute of Population Studies in Mumbai did a comparison study on polygyny in the years 2005-06, 2015-16 and 2019-20, stating, “Overall, polygynous marriage was found to be higher among poor, uneducated, rural and older women. It indicated that socio-economic factors also played a role in this form of marriage in addition to region and religion.”

The percentage of polygyny is higher in tribal populations, which increases the percentage of polygyny for those states which have a greater tribal population, such as Meghalaya (6.1%) and Tripura (2%). The report said, "Among the districts, the prevalence was high in East Jantia Hills (20%), Kra Daadi (16.4%), West Jaintia Hills (14.5%), and West Khasi Hills (10.9%)."

But it’s not just those states, since Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, and West Bengal also have higher percentages of polygyny than north Indian states.


There are exceptions too. In states like Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu, polygyny is more prevalent in Hindus than in Muslims. TOI said, “no single background characteristic could be attributed as the reason for higher prevalence of polygyny.”

According to TOI, the survey showed that Christians had a high polygyny rate, which can be attributed to polygyny being common in Northeastern states. While the survey found that polygyny was more common in poorer families where the women were uneducated and mostly aged over 35, polygyny was also common in places where the literacy rate was high.

According to the report by the International Institute of Population Studies, polygyny takes place for various reasons- "excess mortality of men than women, desire to have children to continue the family line, failure to produce children/son by first wife, the cultural practices of lengthy periods of sexual abstinence after child birth driving the men to seek another partner, etc". For this research, married women between the ages of 15-49 were asked if their husband had another wife.

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