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How Pathani Mai Breaks a Forced Marriage in Pakistan


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Source: Sustainable Resource Foundation, Lahore, Pakistan

Like many countries in the world, Pakistan also happens to be a place where, in some areas, gender justice is denied to women. The most common forms of gender injustice are denying a woman her right to say yes or no to a marriage at the time of her nikah (Muslim marriage solemnisation ceremony) and the denial of a woman’s right to inheritance after her father has passed away. Both these rights are guaranteed by national laws as well as religious edicts. However, a traditional paternalistic social and hierarchical system, false and misconceived concepts of honour, greed and the will to deny women the right of expression of her will and to block their engagement in economic activities are the major reasons behind gross gender injustice practices. The true story below describes the heroic struggle of an old woman, Pathani Mai, living in a village in Bahawalpur, southern part of the Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan with more than 60% of Pakistan’s population. Bahawalpur is predominantly agricultural and a feudal system tries its best to ensure that gender justice is not allowed to flourish. The true story below shows that awareness can occur through community mobilisation and the support of civil society organizations.

“My name is Pathani Mai. I come from a very poor family. I have one daughter and three sons. My family has a tradition of arranged marriages and exchange marriages. In forced marriages, a woman is never asked whether she will marry a certain male or not. In exchange marriages, giving away a family’s daughter requires the “receiving” family to give a female in return.

In addition to other areas in which women were not given any rights, there was no concept of marriage outside the family and nobody cared to ask a woman’s consent at the time of marriage. There was a prevailing trend of early marriages.

Exchange marriages or vatta satta is a tradition in which only females and not males are exchanged. If there is no girl to exchange at the time a marriage occurs, “pait likhai” is properly documented at the time of nikah. “Pait likhai” is placed at the bottom of nikah nama (marriage contract) in which the couple and their family promise to marry a “female to be born” into the family from which the girl, who is being married now, came from!
We fixed the marriage of my daughter in another family but that family did not have a female to give in exchange of my daughter! So, to complete the marriage process, the other family had to give us “pait likhai.” It simply meant that whenever my daughter/their daughter-in-law gave birth to a daughter, she would have to come wedded in our family no matter what the age of the groom was!
After couple of years my daughter gave birth to a baby girl. At that time my son demanded that the “pait likhai” promise must be fulfilled and the girl had to be wedded into our family!

Mothers may be ignorant but they are mothers. Since they know that their daughters would be exploited in the same ruthless manner in which we are made to suffer, we find it very easy and natural to relate to our daughters. When my son insisted that my daughter Shaheen’s daughter is made a pawn in the “pait likhai” fulfillment, I took an unusual step and said my daughter’s daughter would not get married to my son’s son! The age difference between them was huge. My decision made everybody very angry with me!

I had been listening to an NGO’s awareness programmes on forced marriages and denial of women’s inheritance rights on the radio. The awareness through these radio programmes reinforced the pride of the mother and woman in me and I realised that an organization had lent its powerful support and voice to my meek and subdued voice. Since then, I have been working to neutralize gender injustice. I keep talking against violence against women in any form, whether it is forced marriage or denial of inheritance rights!

My sons are now against me and we no longer have a relationship! Other relatives have also boycotted me! But I am at peace with myself, living with my daughter whose daughter I refused to exchange as a “pait likhai” promise.

I love working with the NGO and their cause is my own cause. I will not stop working in our area even after the NGO leaves.”


Zahid Hussein is a sustainable development management specialist with a variety of professional and personal interests including conflict management, peace-building, campaigning against violence of all shades and hues and promoting diversity.

Written by Zahid Hussein and published on 29-April-2014




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