A doubt is raised whether it is proper for a person to marry another woman when his wife is still alive. Even in the Self Respect Movement there are many who consider such a marriage wrongful. Among the public there are people who consider that a second marriage while the wife is still alive is contrary to the Self Respect ideology and is against the programme of social reform. These are the factors that prompted us to put forth our views in the form of this editorial.
Before taking this question into consideration one must have a clear idea of what a marriage entails. It is generally believed that marriage is a contract entered into by a couple for their convenience and well being, and there should not be any factor which restricts their freedom either jointly or individually. An analysis of whether such a belief is right or erroneous will enable us to get an understanding regarding the original question.
Nowhere in the world is human nature against a second marriage. Experience shows it to be acceptable. There is no law or regulation, including the tenets of all religions, which stand in its way. Hinduism permits up to sixty thousand wives. Islam permits four, and Christianity does not specify any number. But one is permitted to marry again only after the existing marriage is annulled, subject to certain conditions the purpose of which is only to ensure social security. Therefore, it is clear that no religion has disapproved bigamy.
In Hinduism, gods themselves have been polygamous and also have concubines, and are worshipped along with all of them. In Islam, Prophet Mohammed is said to have had many wives. If a Hindu were to question the propriety of marrying a woman when one’s wife is alive, the questions is not born out of religious dogma but out of a rational approach or personal experience. If a man puts to the question not as a Hindu, but as a rationalist or a worldly wise man, we have no difficulty in convincing him of our stand.
No one objects to a man marrying again (1) when his wife is dead, (2) has eloped with another man, (3) is afflicted with an incurable disease or (4) gets mentally damaged.
How can a man continue to live without even a bit of love or affection? After all, is it not for love, affection, pleasure and contentment that a man and a woman decide to enter into marriage? Or should they give up love, affection, pleasure and contentment just because they have got married?
We feel that there can be other such grounds also. They are (5) acrimonious behavior on the part of the wife owing to ignorance or rudeness (6) utter inability on the part of the wife to show love and affection towards the husband (7) in addition, displaying a tendency to go away, say to her parental home, frequently (8) being constantly opposed to the husband’s stand and causing distress and (9) hauteur caused by wealth, leading to total negligence of the husband. Can you imagine the condition of a man married to a woman possessing such qualities? Let the worldly wise who question men marrying a second wife ponder over such things. Suppose a twelve year old boy has been made to marry a girl of ten, are such couple to follow tradition imposed on them by the elders? Apart from all these factors, suppose for some inexplicable reason the man finds it impossible to show even a bit of love or affection to his wife, what can be expected of him?
Let the religious minded people, the worldly wise, the rationalists and the common people apply their mind to all such cases. In spite of all this if someone were to assert that a man must suffer his wife and never think of another marriage, he must explain the rationale and the justification for such assertion.
Whenever any matter is discussed, even illiterate masses question whether the solution is in keeping with the scriptural injunctions, logical analysis and practicality in actual life. Scriptures are repositories of the experience of our ancestors, who had their own experiences. Even, if the scriptural findings sound convincing, we are advised to ascertain whether they appeal to our reasoning. Thirdly, even if the two tests are passed, we are advised to make sure that the solution in hand is practicable.
We want to know whether the bar on bigamy will pass any of the three above mentioned tests. We say the bride is the life companion of the groom. Suppose the bride is endowed with the nine defects mentioned above, can she still be a companion? Will she not become a nuisance? People outside can a talk frivolously and without applying their mind to it, and blindly condemn the second marriage. But if we analyse the matter with our reasoning or on the basis of experience, even a harebrained person can see what is right.
Whenever the idea of second marriages is mooted, it is discussed only on the basis of what would happen to the existing wife. Suppose women also are given to right to separate themselves from the husband on similar grounds as discussed earlier, there will be no occasion for the woman to become a pitiable creature.
How can a man continue to live without even a bit of love or affection? After all, is it not for love, affection, pleasure and contentment that a man and a woman decide to enter into marriage? Or should they give up love, affection, pleasure and contentment just because they have got married? When a man and a woman are entangled in blind belief and meaningless bonds, it may not be easy to free them from their entanglement. Yet, no right thinking person will compel them to remain in that state. After all, this Movement has been started for the very purpose of freeing them from the bond, which causes nothing but misery to the persons concerned. Let our comrades judge objectively and without prejudice why customs which are opposed to reasoning, practicality, human freedom and happiness must be upheld at all.
Let us now turn to the aversion of the members of the Self Respect Movement for second marriage. Offering support to divorce is part of the programme of the Self Respect Movement. A resolution has been passed to this effect in the Chengalpet Conference and the Erode Conference has demanded the passing off an Act, upholding the right of the man or the woman to get out of the marital bond. If there is legal impediment for implementing it, should the person concerned go on mutely suffering? Or should they disregard law and act according to their own sense of fairness?
If they apply their mind to it, the members of the Movement will find no cause for aversion. Some of the weddings solemnized as per the policies of the Self Respect Movement are not legally tenable. Legal experts are of opinion that inter-caste weddings and those conducted without rituals may be legally nullified. Even then owing to their adherence to the principles, many people boldly get married as per the Self Respect policies disregarding the law and unmindful of the adversities that might follow. In the same manner, when the first wife cannot be legally divorced, apart from the second wedding being defiant of law, we can find nothing objectionable or disagreeable in it to the members of the Self Respect Movement.
Self Respect Movement is also in support of a man or a woman getting married again even when they are living with a spouse as a family. We do not think that love and affection can be controlled or be directed only towards a single person. Love being spontaneous, bringing it under artificial control will also amount to enslavement. How can people who agree that love is a natural emotion which is entitled to be free and honest try to impose such a restriction on it? All the same, we do not deny that in the worldly life there can be certain practical situations where such a control might be necessary.
Contractual obligations may demand certain restrictions to the emotion of love. It is best to leave the matter, whether to restrict it or not, to the discretion of the couple concerned.
A stage when there would be no need for such a question will arrive only when there is a substantial change in the condition of women. Whenever the idea of second marriages is mooted, it is discussed only on the basis of what would happen to the existing wife. Suppose women also are given to right to separate themselves from the husband on similar grounds as discussed earlier, there will be no occasion for the woman to become a pitiable creature. As far as we are concerned, all those factors discussed above must apply to women, allowing them to conduct themselves with equal freedom as men. Only then women will be sufficiently emancipated to choose what is good for their own lives.
(Viduthalai Editorial, 12 October 1930)
Translated by Prof. A. Ayyasamy