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Monogamy Might Not Be Everyone’s Cup Of Tea. But, What About Polyamory?

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According to Dr. Rachel Kieran, a psychologist, the term polyamory “has been used as an umbrella term. However, this concept covers a vast range of relational agreements, each determined by the individuals involved. Terms used to identify such relationships are as numerous as the individuals who endorse them, continue to evolve within cultures, and are often dependent upon the particular configuration of the couple, triad, or family at a given moment.”

Representational image. Photo credit: It’s Complicated

Polyamorous (poly) individuals usually describe polyamory as having a network of lovers, rather than having just one. It means having different people who you can relate to and share different facets of your personality with; and it being both consensual and the same for one’s partner(s).

The affectionately named “polycule” symbol consists of a ring of five inward-facing hearts representing core elements of polyamory: love, honesty, openness, commitment, and consent. 

Polyamory In India 

India has had a long past of poly relationships which ranged from polygamy to polyandry to various other forms of group marriages, but there was a significant change in mainstream narratives as we moved from the past to the new. 

Several waves of cultural movements changed the sexual landscape of this country. Thus, a nation with the eroctic temples of Khajuraho, the sexual text of “Kama Sutra”, its several promiscuous gods and goddesses like Krishna, became a veiled society.

Here, modesty is the rule of thumb now, coexisting with Shiva lingams and scriptures dedicated to love making as an art form.

All this is, of course, being challenged today by the changing definitions of relationships. From LGBTQIA+ rights gaining more prominence in the mainstream, to the decriminalisation of adultery, there is a change in discourse around the universality of hetero-normative relationships.

A Radical Sexual Revolution

While the past might point to monogamy not being the default relationship, it does certainly throw light on the intersection of various social circumstances, like casteism and gender issues, within poly relationships of ancient India.

With the Vedas permitting “brahmins” upwards of three wives and a “shudra” with one, it clearly shows the discriminatory tint of ancient India. Islamic polygamy is codified in Muslim family law in India, in what seems like another anachronistic type of poly relationship.

In contrast to this, we have modern, consensual, poly relationships, where acceptance and power structures are challenged on a personal day-to-day basis.

In an anonymous survey I conducted, by asking people to sign google forms, 14 (63%) individuals out of a total number of 22, considered polyamory a way to challenge the institution of marriage.

Many poly people point out that they don’t want to accept societal systems, expectations or roles by default. They also reiterate that they try to be aware of the traditional power dynamics within a relationship and work against it, while empowering each other.

I Conducted A Survey

Here is the result of a small survey conducted by me among my friends and acquaintances. The demographic of the individuals was 9 females and 13 males. Out of them, only one identified as poly.

There were some contesting opinions about whether poly people face discrimination or not, but apart from four individuals who were unsure, 18 concurred to discrimination in their opinion.

And, on the opinion of the need for some sort of state intervention or the other, 10 persons were in favour; eight against it; and four considered it to be agreeable, but not requiring immediate attention.

 

Is Polyamory A Result Of A Hyper-Individualised World?

Consensual polyamory, although still not a mainstream notion, has amassed its fair share of criticism from both ends of the political spectrum.

The idea that polyamory is a result of the isolatory nature of the modern capitalist society, where individuals find themselves increasingly burnt out and seek emotional connections from various individuals, is gaining traction among various thinkers.

Many activists like Yasmin Nair, a co-founder of Against Equality, an anti-capitalist collective of radical queer and trans writers, thinkers, and artists, criticized polyamory by arguing that instead of being a radical notion, it’s a redundant and fetishizes “a peculiar form of monogamy…and long-term relationships.”

Nair goes on to add that most radical notions related to polyamory like having a better emotional support system and better financial and structural support are systematic issues and failures.

I believe that polyamory just treats the symptoms while hiding the causes. To change and revolutionize the various aspects of marriage and relationships without changing the existing culture notions of power dynamics isn’t enough. Long lasting changes are wrought by changing the base of economics and institutionalised systems.

Some Other Criticisms

Other criticisms say that polyamory does not account for the existing gender dynamics and issues, which might align against vulnerable groups like women, queer folk and financially unstable partners. This along with the added issue of there not being a legal code to deal with such issues.

Legal codes pertaining to polyamory, although in their infancy, are being discussed in the west. These codes are bound to run into enormous challenges in light of conflicting family codes of the land, based on religion.

Radical feminists argue that co-opting and rebranding of polygamy” is disturbing. They also point out that the idea of non-monogamy was actually developed by radical feminists “to challenge patriarchal heterosexuality”, which is not the notion behind polyamory. Rather, polyamory is a rebranding of polygyny

In the same small-sized survey conducted by me, among among young adults, on the question of women and vulnerable individuals being at greater risk of not having their needs met, the following results were evident:

The Philosophical Debate

The philosophical debate behind the morality, ethics and the issues surrounding the emergence of polyamory as a new form of expressing oneself into relationships, needs to face the criticism. It also needs to highlight the radical nature and revolutionary aspect of it.

Representational image. Photo credit: Holaa! Africa

The total number of polyamorous individuals, though hard to estimate, are being guessed by researchers who are just beginning to study the phenomenon. But, the few who do estimate, state that openly polyamorous families in the US alone number more that half a million.

India isn’t too far behind with its increasingly digitized dating space. The number of polyamorous individuals is on the rise

I think that the debate about poly relationships being the next big cultural and sexual revolution, or just an expression of the flaws of our sick society, still needs to be resolved.

Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: polyamorous relationships are here to stay.

Hence, it’s high time we acknowledge them and consider the advantages and issues arising out of such relationships.

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: Cocktail Movie Bollywood, Facebook.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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