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  • Taking the Monogamy Out of Marriage

    UNMANA INITIATED a lively discussion on marriage a few weeks ago, and there is news now that the institution as we legally define it in India may be set to change. Maharashtra is picking up the cause of legalising live-in relationships and providing more rights to extramarital female parties within a marriage. The state cabinet announced on Wednesday that the definition of the word “wife” under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code may be amended, thus facilitating the expansion of the institution of marriage. The bill cannot be cleared without the Centre’s approval, and the amendment has been suggested ostensibly in the interest of securing the rights of women in relationships that do not have the protection of the law.

    To my understanding, there are two points to be considered here, and personally I applaud both:

    1. Live-in relationships of over a certain “reasonable duration” (yet to be determined), are treated as common law marriages.

    2. Female parties not legally bound within a marriage (a non-primary partner of a polygamous husband) also get the legal status of wives.

    Of course, there are a huge number of grey areas in relation to both categories. First and most obvious of all, an effective legalisation of polygamy will be a veritable minefield in itself. It is arguable, for instance, that in protecting the rights of the “other woman” in a marriage, the rights of the official/first wife are curtailed.  How exactly will a couple prove that they have lived together long enough to meet the law’s criteria?  And lastly, why aren’t these provisions also extended to male non-primary partners, and what if they were? Monogamy may not be better — but it is certainly legally simpler.

    What do you think of this move — should we hold on to straightforward matrimonial monogamy, or expand the definition of marriage? If, like me, you are in cautious theoretical support, what kinds of solutions might be viable in tackling the grey areas that this legal amendment will encounter?

    10 Responses

    1. I was excited when I saw the headline on ToI Website, but reading the entire content shocked me. I don’t know what all is there in the actual bill but based on what is there in the news – this is not about Live-in relationships at all. It’s just about legalizing polygamy – and that too probably only for Men. What they are talking about is changing the definition of the word ‘wife’ !!!

      If it’s about Live-in relationships, there is NO ‘other-woman’ (or man for that matter). Live-in relationships are not about extra-marital affairs but about relationships that don’t care about getting married in the first place.

      I don’t see anything good coming out of the proposed bill, rather it’s looks anti-feminist.

    2. As an Advocate, I can only say that such type of legislature is only creating vote banks.
      In my opinion, this ammendment will only ring the death toll on the institution of marriage. At the same time the grey areas sought to be covered will only become more murky.
      With the codification of Hindu law, woman got some relief but the same stood negated without uniform civil code.
      Muslims all over the world obey the law of the land, but in India they want to live in their own fantasy by saying they want to follow Islam.
      Woman can only attain equality when all are equal before law without claiming right of personal law prevailing over the law of the land.

    3. How does protecting the “other woman’s” interests get equated with the interest of couples living together?! Only in Maharashtra!

      I am left shaking my head over how TOI has framed the wife test and I quote — “The only catch is that the state has not specified the term ‘reasonably long period’ that a woman needs to stay with a man to be called his wife.”

      Stay?! I assumed that they cohabit and does the man ever get to stay with the woman? The implicit, impermanence and insecurity of a woman or wife’s position is reflected so clearly in this innocuous newspaper line. Where is the “husband test” in all this legalese? My questions are rhetorical and I’m simply venting.

      The difference between two distinct scenarios does not seem to have struck the proposers of this bit of legislation.
      1. Man (or woman?) guilty of bigamy under fraudulent circumstances.
      2. Partners in a monogamous (ostensibly?) long term live-in relationships being entitled to the same responsibilities and privileges as marriage.

      The first has been addressed in the Indian penal code. http://www.netlawman.co.in/acts/indian-penal-code-1860.php?pageContentID=541
      Notice however, that the Adultery clause concludes that women are not to be held responsible for their own actions and are not to be punished! Women come off so much like children or property in that bit of legal magic.

      The whole thinks stinks and I hope I’m right in expecting that the proposed legislation in its current form doesn’t have a snow ball’s chance in hell!

      When our legal and societal definition of monogamous marriage have evolved to simply refer to “partners” or “spouses” rather than “husbands” and “wives” we may be ready to explore questions about polygamy/polyandry or relationships outside of marriage.

      While on the subject of monogamous marriage I’d like to draw attention to a fact that receives little or no attention. The institutions of Monogamy and Prostitution are co-dependent twins, they were born out of each other and each needs the other in order to survive. I’m not a social anarchist, just exploring a little piece of the “how we got here” puzzle.

    4. The whole thing smacks of an exercise in trying to sneak in polygamy through the backdoor half a century after it was abolished! There dont seem to be any provisions for the “other” man – so polygamy will be legalised but only for men.

      One must congratulate the Maharashtra Govt (and the TOI correspondent as well) for giving such a progressive slant to such a regressive piece of legislation!

      Jay are you seriously suggesting that if men were allowed to have multiple wives there would be no prostitution at all??!!! May I remind you that polygamy was traditionally acceptable in Indian society till the 50s (its still acceptable socially but not legally for Hindus) and the flesh trade still flourished?

    5. Bollyviewer, no I am not at all suggesting that allowing men to have multiple wives would end prostitution (LOL)!!

      I am suggesting something that anthropologists have suggested before me but have never quite caught the public’s ear for obvious reasons. The institution of marriage makes the institution of prostitution possible and the institution of prostitution makes marriage possible. One could view them as two extremes on the same sliding scale.

      Anthropologists have found that societies which do not control and regulate women’s sexual behavior do not have prostitution or its equivalent. So what I was saying essentially is that Marriage and Prostitution were both born out of the same set of social ideas and constructs. When I use the word marriage I am referring to Monogamous and Polygamous marriage, perhaps I should have clarified that in my earlier post.

      A couple of thousand years or so (perhaps) women’s status started to be defined exclusively by their sexual relationships or sexual availability. It was a huge turning point in history and a core component of the foundation of patriarchy was in place. One that remains invisible as we study history and basic anthropology today.

      Women were categorized as virgin, wife, concubine, slave and prostitute, essentially allocating social status or lack thereof based on their sexual relationship with one man (wife or concubine), many men (prostitutes) or any man (slaves who had less rights than prostitutes). This categorization continues to serve as the blue print for our obsession with the sexual morality of women and its relationship to the amount of respect due to women.

      Bollyviewer, let me know if I’ve clarified my earlier comments. I couldn’t agree more with your comments about this ridiculous bit of so called legislation.

      Women and children were the earliest slaves, the enslavement of men came about later. This is another of those invisible pieces of history we glide over most of the time.

      Read this entry in the encyclopaedia Brittanica very, very carefully. Pause over words like “spouse” to see if it refers to the wife or husband. Notice that male children who started as domestic slaves were adopted as sons but what happens to the female slaves? They became wives or concubines.


    6. Jay, I agree with your hypothesis to some extent (now that I know that you arent advocating polygamy!). But I believe that prostitution isnt just about sex, its also about the economically empowered exploiting/exerting their power on the economically and socially weaker part of the populace. Societies with less rigid hierarchies are less likely to have prostitution – those are probably also societies that do not have a rigid patriarchal structure and do not restrict the sexuality of women.

    7. Bollyviewer,

      I can definitely see the logic in concluding that prostitution isn’t just about sex but also economic oppression and exploitation. But that begs the question, why are men not economically and sexually exploited in quite the same way?

      If we look beyond things as they are and disentangle the social and economic threads that have been woven together to create society as it is, with prostitution as an integral part of it, things get very interesting and uncomfortable. The mostly invisible pattern of patriarchy starts to reveal itself in almost every single aspect of our world today. (Bit like snapping of the matrix :). Was it the red pill or the blue pill that did it?)

      Instead of my hurried and botched paraphrasing (In my first post I’ve already referred to Monogamy when I meant Marriage!) I’m pasting an excerpt from an interview with Gerda Lerner whose substantive work on the subject of the history of patriarchy is about the only exhaustive bit of research and analysis on the subject. I’ve looked high and low for a while. Her work also explores another question that has been nagging me for years. Why have women been complicit in their own oppression for so long and why has it taken so long for some sort of mass consciousness to emerge.
      MISHLOVE: You’re very explicit about this in your analysis of the ancient cultures that grew up in the Middle East, in ancient Mesopotamia. You point out that the subordination of women’s sexual rights preceded even the creation of private property.

      LERNER: That’s right, and it in fact in my opinion led to what I call the invention of slavery, because it is a fact that has been acknowledged by every historian of slavery that the first slaves in every civilization that we know were women and children. But other historians have stated that fact, but they have never asked the simple question, well, why was that so? What does it signify? And I have occupied myself with that question very thoroughly and studied it. The reason that women were first enslaved, and children, was that men in the Bronze Age, when they were fighting with bronze weapons –

      MISHLOVE: What are the dates, approximately?

      LERNER: Well, the beginnings of the process of the creation of patriarchy lie in the second millennium B.C., and the process of institutionalizing it in the ancient Near East, in every society of the ancient Near East, was completed by about 500-600 B.C. So 1500 years of a process of making changes in the society so that we end up with a society where men have rights in women which women do not have in men, all right? Now, the enslavement of men and women was made possible as a result of the agricultural revolution. You can’t keep slaves as long as you don’t have enough foodstuff to support an added population. But with the Bronze Age and plow agriculture, there was an increase in agricultural production that made it possible to amass enough surpluses so you could keep prisoners of war alive. But for a long time the warriors, who had just fought hand to hand with enemies from maybe the next village or the next mountain range —

      MISHLOVE: Using simple bronze weapons.

      LERNER: — using a cudgel, a bronze cudgel — they could conceive of how they could bring that man home in chains and hand him a bronze hoe and say to him, “You’re now my slave. Work in the ground,” and not take the risk that that man at night would brain them all, the master and the mistress and the children. But they did know, through previous marriage arrangements, through exogamy — the habit of marrying women from outside of one’s tribe — that you could bring women into your family and marry them, make them pregnant, and they would become part of your group. And so they tried it on the conquered women, and only after decades, and in some cases maybe a hundred years, of doing that with the women, did they learn how to enslave the men. Now, this is a very important fact, because it shows the close connection between the suppression of women, the subordination of women, and hierarchy, and the subordination of people of other tribes and other races. So racism and sexism are very closely connected. And if you remember that the first class distinctions were the distinctions between those who owned slaves and those who did not, then you see that class and race and sex, from the inception, were very closely linked.

      MISHLOVE: Now, I know your particular historical analysis is pretty much limited to the cultures of the ancient Middle East. But of course we know that this form of patriarchy and sexual suppression is more universal than that. Do you think it began this way in other parts of the world?

      LERNER: Well, I would think that it began in a similar way, but I cannot possibly know enough about other places to say with the same certainty that I say it about the ancient Near East. However, a colleague of mine in India has undertaken the study of the origin of slavery in India independently, and she came to the same results. So in India it certainly was the same way. There are certainly variations in history in every phenomenon, as to time and place. In every society eventually you learn how to build an arch, for example; but what the arch looks like, and how you arrive at it, and when you arrive at it, varies historically. And of course no one rule holds for the whole world.

      MISHLOVE: I suppose the deeper issue here is, was the suppression of women and the development of patriarchy, like the arch, a human-created phenomenon, or is it somehow biologically based and natural and inevitable?

      LERNER: Well, I think the former. I think there’s nothing natural about it. It was a historic creation. It solved certain problems at the time, because the Bronze Age had the effect on the one hand of creating agricultural surpluses, and on the other hand of intensifying warfare enormously. It was a tremendous technological advance in terms of the ease with which you could conquer other people. And so the people of those regions lived at that time, lived then, in a very unstable situation, and it was advantageous for women, if they wished to have protection for themselves and their children, to ally themselves to a man who promised to give them that protection. And that in effect was the initial underpinning of patriarchy. Women gave up their sexual freedom, in the sense of sexual promiscuity and the opportunity to select partners, and all that, in exchange for security in a war-torn world. So it’s quite conceivable that at the time patriarchy was quite a good solution to the problems of the people who instituted it.

      MISHLOVE: Are you therefore suggesting that prior to the Bronze Age it wasn’t this way?

      LERNER: That’s right, that’s right. Now, of course the problem with that is that we don’t have hard evidence for anything prior to the third millennium B.C. We only have artifacts and bones and diggings and things like that. And what has happened, of course, is that people tend to interpret findings of that sort always in line with their existing philosophy. So for example Friedrich Engels, who described the family in the archaic states, described a family that looked suspiciously like the Victorian bourgeoisie of his day. So did everybody else. And so the explanations that we have had up to now have all been from a framework of patriarchy looking back and explaining patriarchy as being natural. But I do the opposite. I step outside of it, look at it from the point of view that it is not yet invented, and what do we need to do? What happens in order to institute it?

    8. Jay: Your comment, though useful, is ultra long. Since the interview is available at this link: http://www.intuition.org/txt/lerner1.htm, can you please just post the link and not the entire thing?

    9. How come Live in relationship is against Monogamy ???
      Live in relationship is Monogamy . its just that they have not gone through the un necessary and shitty rituals .
      its s good opportunity to get over the “branding” of relationships by moral thugs

    10. First of all a Scientific declaration:

      Humans are humans,Our children have a long long growth period and it makes sense for us to be monogamous. A kid parented by two individuals is always better than that of a single ones(Most of the criminals are grown by single parents(Single dads or Single Mom’s). Hence we SHOULD remain monogamous.

      Regarding the live in relationships and marriage, I do not care. What we need is a committed male and female using their spiritual and economic energies on children. It may involve an expensive out of the top Indian wedding. Or it may be two consenting and committed adults coming together.

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