Draupadi was married to all five Pandava brothers according to the epic narrative Mahabharata. This, perhaps, is the most popular example of polyandry. But did you know the age-old practice still exists in some tribal communities in India?
Take for instance the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. A case study published in academia.edu confirms that more than 13 percent of marriages among the Kinnauras or the Kinnauris, as they’re called, are polyandrous.
One might wonder why such a seemingly regressive practice exists in the first place. Is it just a tribal custom? And even if it is, what is the reason behind it?
If you were to ask the Kinnauris themselves, the biggest and the foremost reason of following polyandry for generations is — economic sustenance, by making sure that the land is not divided among families.
“Brothers here usually marry the same woman so that two separate families are not formed. If the two brothers marry separately, they end up dividing their lands and property,” explains Chandra Kumar, a 32-year-old local of the Kalpa Valley in Kinnaur.
This safeguarding of ancestral property led to a custom where two or more brothers in the family usually married the same woman.
Although illegal by law, polyandry has survived all these years because the women in question also get to make their own choice. The bride’s permission to marry more than one man is of paramount importance. Once she agrees, there’s apparently no law that can stop the union!
The age-old practice is on a gradual decline because of the advent of modernisation and education among the Kinnauri youth.
Millennials are breaking away from polyandry, due to which it is now limited to remote village regions only.
“Common marriages still take place in Kinnaur, but the number has declined substantially. Men from the young generation are choosing to be with only one partner,” says 29-year-old Kalpana, owner of Shankar Homestay in Kalpa.
The second least populated district in India, Kinnaur has a literacy rate of over 80 percent, with female literacy at 71 percent. So most young Kinnauris, irrespective of their gender, don’t believe in old customs — they like being in control of their own personal life. This is also evident in a recent report published by The Statesman.
As K Mann writes in his book Tribal Women: On the threshold of 21st century: Contact with outsiders has caused havoc with the custom of polyandry in Kinnaur. The local people have started despising this custom. Modern education and consequent employment have prompted the young man to take a separate wife who can accompany him to his place of work.
Sure enough, with education, development and even social media reaching the remotest of villages in India, polyandry might soon be a thing of the past. However, a part of their community continues to believe that it’s important to preserve their culture and traditions.
Polyandry might have lost its relevance in present times — but the contribution of common marriages towards the economic growth of the Kinnauri tribals will always be an interesting topic of debate.
Image Credit: Thenewskick