It is true that polyandry existed in many primitive communities. In Tibet, Ceylon, Siberia and other lands polyandry prevailed in one form or the other. In the case of India, it has been given to understand that this custom existed right from the Medieval Age. There are no indications, however, that polyandry existed during the Vedic age. The fact that there exists no reference, whatsoever, to polyandry even when there are references to polygamy in the Aithreya Brahmana and the Thirirthrya samhithi makes it clear that that custom never existed during the Vedic age. However, from the story of Panchaali mentioned in the Mahabharath it may be understood that the custom of polyandry had arrived here by the age of the great epics. Indeed, polyandry had prevailed until very recent times in Kerala. It was customary amongst the blacksmiths and carpenters for a number of brothers to have one wife. There were places where this was prevalent among the Ezhavas and the Nairs. The marriages that existed amongst the Nairs of Malabar and Travancore are famous. Beautiful women had four or five husbands.
Why does Islam disallow polyandry? It is simply because human nature does not approve of polyandry. The plain fact, therefore, is that polyandry will exist only as an obstacle in the path of creating a morally sound society.
Polyandry is not a right like polygamy. While through polygamy the woman is protected and certain other social problems are curbed, no rights of the man or the woman are fulfilled nor is any other problem solved through the practice of polyandry. polyandry is never the solution to any problem. On the other hand it is merely a problem which, in itself, creates many more problems. Its result is the disruption of family life and the destruction of social security. Not one amongst the fundamental purposes that is meant to be served through married life is fulfilled through polyandry. The practical outcome of polyandry is that the position of woman is degraded and is ultimately reduced to that of a slave.
The problems created by Polyandry are legion:
One: It becomes necessary to exercise a time-sharing procedure between different husbands. An incident from the life of Draupadi who had adopted polyandry in the Mahabharath is proof for this. It is said that Panchali had allotted two and a half months to each of the five Pandavas. The mutual agreement that existed between them was that each would not trespass into the retiring room while the other was present therein. However, Arjuna once broke this agreement by trespassing into the retiring room while Yudhistra was with Panchali. The story goes that as a repentance for this act, Arjuna had to go into exile in the jungle for twelve years. The impracticability of devicing time sharing schemes as regards sexual relations is very evident from this story. Indeed, it becomes the cause of infighting and turbulence amongst different husbands.
Two: Problems which arise in the matter of paternity. If a woman with more than one husband becomes pregnant it becomes impossible to determine as to which of the husbands is responsible for the pregnancy. Furthermore, this will adversely affect the quality of care and treatment that the woman is to receive during the period of pregnancy. The pregnant woman will thus be entitled only to a situation wherein insecurity and worry will be her lot. As it is not known as to who the father of the unborn child is, none will come forward to offer care and protection with sincerity. Love is an emotion that is necessarily a spontaneous outpouring direct from one's heart. It is never a feeling that can be created artificially. Care for the pregnant woman proceeds '“ indeed, must proceed - from that feeling of love. Otherwise it becomes lifeless, mechanical and in such situations there can be little difference in the care received from the husband and the midwife. But that is never the desire of the pregnant woman. She is more in need of the loving care of the one responsible for her pregnancy. Since that person cannot be identified she misses out on that love and affection. Indeed, for this reason alone polyandry stands as an affront, and as a stark injustice, to womanhood.
Three: The problem of the children's security. It is not possible to ascertain the father of the children born in a polyandrous marriage. This becomes the reason for the children not receiving the love that is due unto them from the father. The protection of the children thus becomes the responsibility of the mother. This creates further difficulties for them. It is, however, possible to identify the real father by way of blood tests and of 'DNA fingerprints'. Nevertheless, it is a gross injustice that a child, to receive the love and care of its father, has to wait until the laboratory test results are produced. Further, the degree of warmth and emotional attachment that may exist in a fatherly relation that has been proved by way of medical tests can be imagined only too well. In short, therefore, the custom of polyandry is opposed to the very nature of the emotional ties that are meant to exist in a natural father-son relationship.
Four: The problem of inheritance. This is a problem that results from the inability to identify the father. To which husband's wealth will a child born in a polyandrous marriage be entitled? It is not possible to assume that the wealth be divided equally amongst the children. For there is every chance that one husband is rich while the other is poor. Which children will be entitled to the wealth of which father in all such situations? Should all children be provided with their inheritance if any one husband meets with his death? Or is it that only his children are to receive the wealth of inheritance? Many such problems abound in the case of polyandry.
Five: The problem of protection due in old age. Who will protect the woman who has more than one husband? Who will support her in her old age? Even if the responsibility for her protection is shared by each husband, in such a system it can prove to be nothing more than a mechanical function. For it is not the protection that is bestowed through the agency of a truly loving disposition. It is also possible that there may arise differences between the husbands on the matter of her protection with the end result that the woman eventually goes discarded. Indeed, Polyandry may be deemed fitting only by those who are bound to ever transgress upon the system sanctioned by the Lord of the universe for the protection and welfare of the woman.
Six: The friction between the men. There is every possibility that there will arise disputes amongst the husbands over the subject of the wife. Such disputations can occur in the name of sexual relations, the child born or in the name of the child's fathership. All these disputes may serve ultimately to disrupt the harmony of family life and the woman's peace of mind.
It may thus be seen that Islam which is the religion of nature has prohibited polyandry as it is against all norms of a natural way of life. Why has Islam, which allows for polygamy, disallowed polyandry? This is the question that has been raised. While polygamy is the solution to many problems, polyandry is nothing more than a problem in itself. It is never a solution for anything. The question may arise: what is the solution for women when they are faced with situations similar to the compelling situations that push men towards adopting the option of Polygamy? Examine the said situations.
One: Physiological problems. It can be fairly stated that there are few instances when the sexual satisfaction of the woman calls for the need of more than one man. A single healthy male is himself more than sufficient for the sexual needs of the woman. The woman is never forced to consider any natural disposition in the man when she is in need of sexual gratification which is very unlike the case of the man who is forced to restrain his sexual appetite during the periods of the woman's menstrual cycle, pregnancy and the like. It is for the same reason that there never is a need for more than one man as far as the sexual satisfaction of the woman is concerned.
Sexual impotency of the man and barrenness, however, are major impediments. Absence of sperms, lack of mobility of sperms, the fall in sperm count and the failure of the testes all form the reasons for male infertility. However, these need not be reasons for permanent barrenness in the man. For these can be remedied by effective treatment. Even if the man is sexually impotent the woman can take recourse to a divorce from him. Islam never compels a woman to lead her life with a sexually impotent man. In all such circumstances, therefore, divorce is the fitting solution, never polyandry.
Two: Social problems. Could not polyandry be permitted in cases where the population of men far exceeds that of women? This question may arise. The straightforward answer to this is that such a situation does not present itself under ordinary conditions. Indeed, it is hardly possible that the number of males born through natural pregnancies will increase. Furthermore, it is not possible that women are killed in more numbers in wars and that a situation comes by where more females are born in comparison to males. Then the problem of males being more in number than the females is a non-existent one. It is, therefore, useless to propose polyandry as a solution for a problem that cannot exist in the first place.
The fact that recent population surveys in India have shown that the number of males is actually more than the females may be used against this argument. But what is the reason for this being so? Female infanticide. This is the end result of the cruel practice of killing the unborn child in the womb after having determined its sex to be female. The consequence of the barbaric practice of female infanticide. This the Qur'an has condemned in the strongest terms (16:59,6:137,17:31,81:9). Thus, there can never occur male or female infanticide in an Islamic society. And in a society where child delivery takes its natural course, it is the female population, which will be greater. For such, indeed, is the scheme of nature.
Now even if the female population in a country is lower than that of the male, the men who live in that country could always find suitable wives by moving out to the neighboring lands. Indeed, as compared to women, it is the men who are more capable of travel to other lands and in finding mates therein. It is in the least practical to ask excess women in a country to find husbands for themselves from neighboring lands. But that, however, is not the case with men. It will not be similarly difficult for them to seek out mates from other places if there is, indeed, a shortage of women in the land where they themselves reside. Although such a state of affairs is not normally possible, the point here is that even if such is the case a solution is also readily available. This would then imply that it is simply because polyandry is never an inevitability that Islam never permitted it in the first place.