Well, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, is clear that it recognises only one ongoing marriage between a couple.
In fact, there is one loophole in the Hindu Marriage Act that does make two wives possible. For a specific charge of bigamy, the aggrieved party—in this case, the first wife—has to approach the court. But instances of women approaching the judiciary for redressal are rare; in most cases, they just resign themselves to the new arrangement. This is particularly true if the husband is rich and powerful.
Karunanidhi's having two wives has been criticised in the past, but the decibel levels increased after the fracas over ministerial berths. His rivals, particularly AIADMK chief Jayalalitha, have often linked the DMK chief's inefficient handling of issues to pressures from his family. She has often remarked about the many power centres in the patriarch's household, oblique references to his wives.
Karunanidhi married Dayaluammal four years after his first wife, Padmavathi, died in 1944, leaving behind a son, M.K. Muthu, a singer-actor who defected to the AIADMK. It was sometime in the '60s that he fell in love with Rajathiammal during an election campaign and 'married' her as per a tradition started by the DMK known as the swayam maryada kalyanam—marriage of self-respect—eschewing the official sanctity of court marriages or priestly presence and instead seeking the blessings of elders in the party. According to insiders, Karunanidhi referred to Dayaluammal as manaivi (wife) and Rajathiammal as thunaivi (companion). It was in 1968, when Kanimozhi was born, that he referred to Rajathiammal in the state assembly as "the mother of my daughter".
In Tamil Nadu, where the moral brigade does not forgive trespasses easily, having more than one wife is somehow acceptable. In fact, politicians guilty of breaking the one-man, one-wife code are often voted back to power in the state. Chinna veedu (the other home) has been the staple of Tamil classics and cinema and continues as a tradition in politics too. DMK leader T.R. Baalu—left out of Manmohan Singh's team—in his affidavit to the Election Commission furnished two names, Renuka Devi and Porkodi, under the spouse category. Of course, the two-wife trend in Tamil Nadu is not restricted to the DMK alone.
Things, though, may not remain the same for long, thanks to the Domestic Violence Act, 2007, under which any offence that causes hurt to a woman is subject to legal scrutiny. This may well allow women to protest. "Till now," says Saroja Thiruvengadam, protection officer, Vellore, "due to lack of financial support or any kind of moral support from the family, a woman would keep quiet. Now she is gradually mustering the courage to speak out."
Besides, having more than one wife has pressures of its own. Valmiki could write an entire Ramayana on it. Besides, says Kamini, "It is only after the death of the patriarch that the real wrangling in such families begins, with each member claiming his or her rightful share." And there is no dearth of instances in our country that can validate her claim.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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