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As in 2019

Kanwardeep Singh, July 21, 2019: The Times of India

In this UP village, polygamy is the key to respectability

With over 100 pucca houses and a population of around 3,000, Lakhimpur Kheri's Fattepur village is better off than many other villages in the neighbourhood. The reason being that many of its inhabitants are in government jobs. But that alone doesn’t make it well known. Its fame comes from its best kept secret: Polygamy —which is an accepted social norm among Hindus here.

Men in at least 30 families of Brahmins and Thakurs in the village, 45km from the district headquarters, have married twice or even thrice. While those who work outside are maintaining two houses—one in the village and the other at the places of their job—and have a wife at both places, there are many families in the village where two wives have a peaceful co-existence. Many of these men are in government jobs and are aware that they could be sacked if somebody lodges a complaint against them. So, talking about the tradition with outsiders is not permitted. Even within the village, the issue is discussed in a hushed tone.

A school teacher, who recently passed away, had three marriages. Then there is family of the late Shambhu Deva, where every man was married twice. The new generation, however, has shunned this practice due to fear of government action.

“Though the reasons for second marriage differ in most of the cases, in reality, men wanted to carry on this tradition to earn more respect in the village,” said a local resident.

An elderly man who didn’t want to be identified told TOI, “Girls from poor families were often married to well-off men. Girls used to agree to marry a married man for better future. Men who could afford to keep two or three wives used to follow this tradition. Sometimes, money was offered to their families and the girls were married to elderly men against their consent. Now, women are aware about their rights and can send their husbands to jail if they practise polygamy. However, polygamy is still practised by a few men in the area after getting proper consent from their first wives.”

Village head Shyam Bihari Dwivedi told TOI, “We do have a few families where people have married twice but this was a common practice in every village in the area earlier. Now, all the youths are against polygamy and this tradition is completely abolished.”

A former village head told TOI, “Since there were many families following this tradition, the local panchayat decided to ensure that all the wives got equal share in the husband’s property. This decision also resolved many property disputes.”

Though people don’t talk about polygamy, Sundarlal Shukla, 75, agreed to share his reason for marrying twice.

“My first wife, Bitonai, was arrogant and would often leave the house. When she didn’t agree to come back even after six months once, I got remarried on the advice of my relatives. When Bitona came to know about my second marriage, she came back and I had to keep her as well. Later, I had to equally distribute my agricultural land to both my wives as the panchayat had ordered,” Shukla said.

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