Fraternal Polyandry

Most of us know Draupadi's story, but does fraternal polyandry still exist in some parts of India?

I have had a busy month…no, busy 3 months actually having involved myself in the organization of a National Seminar hosted by our college and conducted by the Odia department of our college. I had to take two days off after the seminar got over to put my house in order.

Having had an unusually cold winter (we still need to wrap ourselves in the morning), I had to deal with winter wear as well. So the two days went by in sorting out clothes and hand washing a few, airing out a few more and machine washing the rest. Curtains and sofa covers had to be changed and the left over food in the fridge either consumed or thrown out. OMG! It was so much easier helping out in the seminar. At least I had some excuse to offer myself!I am glad to say that my presentation was well received. The resource person who attended my session asked for a copy of the full paper. She was a professor from Shantiniketan. Her husband who was also a professor from Shantiniketan joked that if all the matter from my 10 minute presentation was included in the full paper it would be very long. I could easily split it into 2 papers! Considering the fact that I prepared the power point in the early hours of the day I presented it and hardly had time to revise it I was glad not to have made a fool of myself.

While collecting material for my paper I chanced upon the fact that fraternal polyandry (3 or 4 brothers marrying one woman) was practiced by the primitive tribal communities of Tamilnadu living in the Nilgiris. It has now been replaced by monogamy. One reason given was the 5:3 male/female ratios. Another was the economic stability that it gave to a family since brothers would stay together if they were bound by matrimony to a single woman.

After my talk got over, a delegate rose to say that unlike the impression I gave, fraternal polyandry was prevalent even now in many states. Far from the dignified picture I gave, it seems women were often forced to have a conjugal relationship with her husband’s brothers much against their wishes.

This disclosure brought to my mind a problem discussed in the ‘personal problem’ column of a magazine where a young girl disclosed that her in laws were a crazy bunch and it was not uncommon for her brothers in laws to ask for any one among her co sisters to be sent to their bed room. And no one seemed to mind!

In fact her husband had told her that she was being spared because she was new to the family and once she got used to their ways she would not find it strange. I wonder now if hers was also a family where fraternal polyandry was being practiced.

I don’t wish to be judgmental since societal values keep changing. When men risked their lives as hunter gatherers to provide for their families this was perhaps a way of providing security to their wives. A brother with a family of his own could not be expected to take care of the brother’s wife in his absence. Kings were permitted to have many wives, not always for political reasons.

If a community permits polyandry and it does not bother the woman concerned it should not worry outsiders. But if it is forced on a person who would prefer a monogamous marriage it may have a psychological impact that may have disastrous results.

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About the Author

Hip Grandma

The Hip Grandma lives in a small industrial town called Jamshedpur and despite all its shortcomings, she would rather not shift anywhere! She began her career at a local women’s college for two reasons: read more...

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