Barter marriages: Watta Satta or Give and Take marriages: Can’t find brides, Haryana barters away little girls


It is a shocking practice of ‘Giving a ‘pair of brother and sister’ to be exchanged as a BARTER to another ‘pair of brother and sister’ in another family.

This BARTER SYSTEM is meant to be a check mechanism within the family.

This Barter System changes the family power dynamics of the extended family.

Sometimes, if an abusive man can ill-treat his ‘BARTER WIFE’ with the intention of demanding property from his sister and

This Barter System is common in India also.

Barter marriages: Watta Satta or Give and Take marriages: Can’t find brides, Haryana barters away little girls

A curious case recently came to light in Jandli Kalan village of Haryana’s Fatehabad district. One Nathu Ram was to marry Geeta. His sister was to marry Geeta’s maternal uncle on the same day. But Geeta’s father complained to the deputy commissioner of police that his daughter was just 15 years old. He said his wife and her family had conspired to marry her off in order that his brother-in-law get a bride under the ‘barter system’. The authorities swooped down on Jandli Kalan village and stopped the wedding, but the family had a contingency plan. They produced Geeta’s cousin Savitri as a replacement bride. But she turned out to be a minor as well. Under pressure, Geeta’s relatives frantically searched for a bride within the extended family and finally found a 20-year-old.

Fatehabad deputy Commissioner CG Rajnikanthan said that when his team went to stop Savitri’s marriage, her family tried to convince him that the girl was adult even though the girl herself admitted she was born in 1993. “It was only after I categorically told them that criminal cases would be registered against them in case they went ahead with their plan without producing evidence that the girl was a major, that they stopped and gave me an undertaking they would not marry off the girl till she’s of marriageable age.”

The Jandli Kalan case may be extraordinary but it is hardly unusual. The same thing happened almost 100 km away, in the Keharwala village of adjoining Sirsa district, except that the prospective brides were even younger 12 and 14.

Haryana is reduced to this because of its deeply skewed sex ratio. A state government report admits there are just 822 females for every 1000 men in the 0 to 6 years category. The ratio falls even further in the literate population: 618 females to 1000 males. In some villages in the state, notably Malerna and Duleypur, the sex ratio at birth is 370 and 400 females per 1,000 males respectively.

So rural Haryana operates a barter system so that its sons can find brides. But every family does not have a girl of marriageable age to exchange; some marry off minors to keep their end of the bargain.

“Families with large land holdings don’t face much of a problem finding brides for their sons,” says Chandigarh social scientist Manjit Singh. “But small and marginal farmers have no choice but to marry their own daughter or a female relative into the family from where they expect a bride for their son.”

No one is keeping count but the numbers might be huge in a state where more than 14 lakh people don’t have a house and live in slums, according to a 2006 state government report.

Singh says that the barter system was earlier limited to the Bishnois and a few other communities, but it is now being adopted even by Jats.

Asha Setia, officer of the state’s Integrated Child Development Scheme, says that few cases come to light but “we fear it goes on”. She says the state government has recently deployed one child marriage protection officer to each district. His job: to convince village heads such practices are wrong.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, takes an uncompromising view. “Only in Haryana are women treated as commodities they are bought, sold, killed, discarded and even exchanged. Honour killings, child marriage and female infanticide all are taking place in the name of custom. It shows a totally desensitized political class,” she says. Is this the state that was once home to the Arya Samaj movement, Kumari says scathingly.

Unicefs ‘State of the Worlds Children-2009’ report says that 40% of all child marriages in the world occur in India. Girl’s may be married off early in many parts of Africa too, some even before puberty. But there is a difference. The African brides parents are paid in cash, cattle or other valuables and her bride price falls steadily as the girl gets older. In Pakistan, the tribal custom of ‘watta satta’ has families betroth a son and a daughter together to another family.

Some believe Haryana’s practice could make daughters more relevant within the family but others believe it means the exploitation of minors. Kumari says, “The police may have been able to stop a couple of such cases but the ground reality could be scary. Many teenage girls must have been passed off as brides to middle-aged men only because their brothers or uncles needed a wife. Such a practice makes them victims of easy exploitation.”

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