33-year-old Jay Devi has five children and she is unusually married to TWO husbands at the same time in this postcard perfect Indian village near the Tibetan border.
Six years after getting married to Hirachand Soni, 37, Ms Devi was told to accept his elder brother, Roshan Lal, 50, as another husband.
Absence of cultivable land and tradition means people here have to practice fraternal polyandry or sharing a wife. Most of the villagers survive on tiny plots of croplands on the steep hills at an altitude of about 8000 ft.
“In this difficult terrain, there isn’t enough cultivable land, so instead of finding separate wives and splitting up the inherited property, we had to marry a single woman, to keep the land together,” says Mr Soni. “Nobody would like to share his partner, but we are forced by the circumstances.”
Perched on a hilltop, they have spent all their lives in this three-room house, accessible after an hour-long trek in the barren and rocky mountains of Himalayas.
Both brothers work as labourers with a governmental organization that takes care of roads in the area and are surprisingly happy with their lives. “Initially I felt very bad to share my wife with brother but now it is fine and we are prospering,” says Mr Soni.
How does a married trio deal with sex was a tricky and intrusive question to be asked to the common wife. “We have made shifts, otherwise there would be lot of issues,” Ms Devi blushes. “For a month, I would sleep with one and with other for the next month.”
For Mr Lal, whose mother was shared by five brothers, polyandry is a norm that needed to be followed in letter and spirit. “We have to control our emotions and make sure that we care least about sex,” he says. “Otherwise it is hard to survive in this place.”
What about the woman who had to take care of two husbands and five children, Ms Devi says: “I could feel a mountain falling on me when I was told to sleep with Roshan Lal who was like an elder brother then. I pleaded with my first husband (Hirachand) that he stopped this but I had to surrender to the situation.”
When asked what forced her to make this ultimate sacrifice, Ms Devi points at her children. “I accepted it for my children otherwise it would be hard to nourish and educate them, Ms Devi says. “Every woman dreams of a single man but I believe that blessing is for women born away from these mountains.”
After seven years of polygamous life, Ms Devi has learned to enjoy the life, and she is happy with both her husbands. “We can divide the work, and if one of them is out on a job, I have another one to take care of me and children. All the property would be registered against my name and I will provide good education to my four daughters and a son,” she says. “But I will make sure that they marry a single man of their dreams.”
Who is the biological father of the children, none in the family knows or cares. Mr Soni says: “They are our children and they call me younger Papa and Roshan Lal as elder papa.”
Three-and-a-half-years before, Ms Devi had the last daughter and since then both husbands would buy her contraceptives to avoid any pregnancies. “We have decided not to have any more children as we already have five and it isn’t easy to nourish them,” Ms Devi informs.
In this village of about 300 people, polyandry is a norm, so no one gossips but in the adjacent villages people do talk bad. “Whenever we pass by those villages, women there would point at us and say that she has many husbands. They would laugh at us but that doesn’t mean we are promiscuous.”
Marriages are arranged here and most of the women have two husbands but some have four or five, depending on the number of sons in a family.
With the advent of satellite TV and the mobile phones, lifestyle is changing in this Buddhist village, and the age-old tradition of polyandry is sure to take a hit.
Eldest daughter, Sumitra Devi, 12 says: “Both my fathers are good and I love both of them equally but I would marry only one man.”
“Love can’t and shouldn’t be distributed.”
Polyandry is illegal in India but socially acceptable here, and nobody from the government has bothered to take action against the tribals, who break the law.