Written by Mansi Rawat for ED Times
A version of this post was first published here.
Procreation is a constant process. A progeny is not only a source of comfort but also a carrier of one’s lineage. The family name is passed on for generations, and therefore, it’s ‘necessary’ to have a child. The entire objective of marriage comes down to reproduction, unfortunately. The intimacy, sexual pleasure might be lacking, but the result is essential (a baby boy preferred).
This desperation to have a child has led to a lot of uncalled practices, one of them being Niyoga Dharma.
Niyoga means “delegation”. In ancient India, it was a practice of forming a temporary alliance to produce a child, in case the husband was impotent or dead.
In the Hindu religion, it is considered the duty of a man to provide his wife with a child. Only on the completion of this duty, a man can enter heaven.
In case the man is unable to fulfil his duty, apart from the shame he has to bear; he also has to assign a temporary partner to his wife to complete the ‘purpose’ of marriage.
Ideally, the closest option the husband should consider is his younger brother, and his next choice should be a Brahman. As per the Hindu mythology, sometimes, gods have also descended to produce kids.
We have several instances of Niyoga Dharma in our epics. In Mahabharata, Pandu’s wives Kunti and Madri had children, although this wasn’t considered a Niyoga.
Pandu expressed his despair at the prospect of dying childless to Kunti and advised her to go to different men. Kunti used the boons given to her by Sage Durvasa to bear three sons—Yudhishthir, Bhima and Arjuna.
Not only in Hinduism, practices such as levirate marriages have been mentioned in Christianity, Judaism, Islam and many other religions.
With times changing and development taking place in every field, our ideologies have also evolved. But, the importance of a child and family name continues.
The stigma around surrogacy still exists; as infertility is considered a curse. A lot of couples never come out in the open – because pregnancy and infertility are still hushed issues.
Surrogacy has been normalised now to a great extent, with celebrities like Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan resorting to it. India legalised commercial surrogacy in 2002. Since then, our country has been the favourite destination for people wanting a surrogate child. But the cheap availability of the service has also led to the issue of exploitation.
Thus, we can say that in modern times the practice of Niyoga survives in the form of surrogacy and artificial insemination. A new and more critical element is the consent within the couple. It’s an informed choice made by husband and wife and does not exist within rigid boundaries of caste.
We usually talk about how women are seen as the victims, but under the practice of Niyoga, men seem to be the real victims. The shame brought to them is unparalleled. Wearing a mask of ‘tough men’, while patriarchy strengthens its roots, makes the shame of being infertile a deplorable condition.