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Watta satta – your daughter in exchange for mine

Watta satta – your daughter in exchange for mine

By: Sarfaraz Memon

SUKKUR: Parveen has to deal with an angry husband every time her brother has a fight with his wife. She has to make sure her mother and brother don’t do anything to shake the volatile situation she has at home.

It’s been three years and Parveen continues to walk on eggshells just like she did when she was a newly-wed. Her marriage to Ashiq Ali was arranged at the same time as her brother Arbab set to marry his sister as watta satta, a custom of exchanging siblings in marriage.

“Believe me, I always try to live up to my husband’s expectations,” she said. “I don’t argue and do whatever he says but all my effort go down the drain when my husband starts to hit me and blame me for what my brother does. If my brother is not taking care of my sister-in-law my husband hits me.” She added that she was four years old when her parents decided on her marriage to Ashiq. Parveen is one of the many women who have to suffer a lot of domestic abuse because of watta satta marriage. Her neighbours know her as a caring, sensible woman but the fact that they know she’s part of a watta satta marriage, means they know she will be humiliated or beaten up every now and then.

Village elder Mouran is strongly in favour of the watta satta system. “This custom has been a part of our culture for centuries,” she said. “Watta satta marriages guarantee protection of both the girls involved as the families would have to think very carefully before taking any action.” He added that there were times that a girl would be mistreated by her husband and in-laws, especially in such cases. According to Mouran, it was a matter of honour. “We marry our daughters into someone’s house in exchange for their daughter,” she said. “In some cases where people don’t have daughters they pay a certain amount.”

Mirzadi, 65, is the mother of eight children and had a watta satta marriage. “Even today my husband beats me,” she said. “When his sister faces any problem at my mother’s house or if my brother is being difficult, then I have to suffer.” She added that she was married at the age of 14 and doesn’t remember a single day she was happy in her marriage. She claims that she received her first beating three days after she was married because her brother scolded his wife for breaking a glass.

“I have never been to school but I know about equal rights,” she said. “Parents seldom ask a girl about the man they select for her to marry. So why do men have the liberty to choose their bride? We claim to live in the 21st century but we still are living in the stone age.” She added that it was a pity that parents got promised their children in marriage even before they took their first step.

“I will not marry my daughter off to a man without taking a girl in exchange,” said Ghulam Ali. “If I get her married without a watta satta then how will her interests be guaranteed?” He added that watta satta was a good way to create a lasting bond between two families.

He gave the example of his own children. “My son-in-law and his parents will never harm my daughter,” he said. “If they do, then they know that their daughter will suffer.”

Human rights activist Jamila Mangi strongly opposes watta satta marriages. Such marriages not only ruin the lives of girls but can take two families to war, she said, adding that even if one girl takes good care of her husband, children and in-laws, she will be blamed for everything wrong in her sister-in-law’s life.

Express Tribune

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