Watta Satta, or exchange marriages, are commonly practiced in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Women's rights activists flagged this tradition as regressive and more abusive for women. Photo courtesy of Getty Images
A 24-year-old pregnant woman in Pakistan’s southeast province of Sindh was allegedly stoned to death by her husband and members of his family who did not want to honour their end of the traditional exchange marriage agreement.The promise of the exchange marriage — called watta satta in Pakistan and Afghanistan — was made five years ago as a precondition to the woman’s own wedding.A World Bank report (2007) said that watta satta accounts for about a third of all marriages in rural Pakistan, and is known to cause friction, even violence, between the families involved. “A husband who ‘mistreats’ his wife in this arrangement can expect his brother-in-law to retaliate in-kind against his sister,” said the report.
Waziran Chhacchar was married reportedly with the understanding that her brother, then aged 8, would eventually be married to her husband’s niece, then aged 5. Police officers told news outlets that a row between the two families broke when the husband’s family went back on the promise.The dispute eventually went to the jigra — an assembly of local leaders — when her father brought Chhacchar back to his home and threatened divorce. Mohammad Ilyas, the local chieftain, settled the row and asked Chhacchar to return to her husband. Allah Waraya, Chhacchar’s relative, told The National that she expressed apprehensions about returning due to threats from her husband and brother-in-law.Her body was found in the early hours of June 28 near the village of Wada Chhacchar, where she lived.Chhacchar’s body was “badly mutilated” and had severe head injuries when it was discovered dumped along the Indus highway in the district of Jamshoro on June 28. Initial post-mortem reports stated that she was killed by a blunt weapon. “This can be a car, stone or any other object which is not sharp,” Amjad Sheikh, the senior superintendent of the police of the area, told Arab News.A statement by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said that she was two months pregnant at the time of her death.Pakistani news reports said that Chhacchar's husband and his elder brother are among at least two men arrested by the police. A senior superintendent of police said that the husband and brother confessed to “torturing” Chhacchar, but added that the police are also investigating Chhacchar’s father for “suspicious behaviour”.
In Pakistan, the hashtag #JusticeForWaziran trended on Twitter, along with a video of her father Muhammed — who is a livestock worker by profession — begging for the killers to be brought to justice.“In most cases, women become potential objects of revenge,” said an editorial in Pakistani news outlet, The Nation. “Waziran’s murder, married off according to this custom, clearly tears apart the false sense of security associated with bridal exchange.”An independent fact-finding mission set up by the HRCP found that several village residents dismissed the murder as an “accident” or “suicide” despite a post-mortem report indicating “extensive trauma” arising out of injuries by blunt and sharp objects. “It is also a matter of concern that, apparently, the autopsy did not determine whether she had been sexually assaulted,” the report stated.A “high-level inquiry” has also been launched by Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, an agency that promotes women’s rights in Sindh. “In the long term, it is imperative for communities to be sensitised to the sheer scale and incidence of violence against women in a systematic, effectual manner – to realise that this is not acceptable under any circumstances,” said HRCP’s Mehdi Hasan.Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.