KARACHI, March 4: When she was one, Rasheeda Begum’s late father promised to marry her off to a relative to settle a poker debt. Fifteen years later, the man came to collect his winnings.
The teenager’s fight to escape being handed over despite alleged threats to her family is the latest case highlighting how women’s rights in the country are still threatened by conservative customs. “I am not this man’s queen of hearts. I would prefer death if I cannot protect myself or my pride,” Rasheeda told AFP by telephone from her house in Hyderabad.
“When I was 10, my mother told me what had happened. But even at that time I could not believe my father could have committed such a crime,” Rasheeda said.
Her mother Nooran Begum said her late husband Rahib was a gambler and lost Rasheeda in the game with his friend Lal Haider in 1992. He promised to give his daughter to Haider in lieu of Rs10,000. She said she paid off the debt several years ago, following her husband’s death.
However, she said, Haider started visiting their house and demanding custody of Rasheeda, saying that it was his right under tribal customs.
Rasheeda said friends of Haider had started turning up outside their house and threatening them. Haider said he would take her to Balochistan, she said.
“We are poor people and can’t defend ourselves on our own. We cannot leave our house,” said her uncle Dur Mohammad, who lives with the two women.
The Sindh government stated it had ordered the arrest of several suspects in connection with the case and protection to the family. “It’s barbaric to sell a girl,” said provincial government spokesman Salahuddin Haider.
But rights groups and politicians say her case — and a string of other recent outrages — shows the wider problems women must still overcome in this country.