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Give and Take: Barter Marriages

August 3, 2009

And the consequences of female-feticide gather mass …

Yet another case in the news yesterday that draws attention to shortage of brides. In Haryana, families are getting into a ‘barter system’: if a family has a daughter and son, then the family, while fixing a match for their daughter, ensures that her to be in-laws have a girl in their immediate or extended family for their son. The girl is a minor? No problem.

The article reports the case of one man Nathu in Fatehabad, Haryana, engaged to Geeta while his sister is engaged to Geeta’s maternal-uncle. It turns out Geeta is a minor and police intervenes to halt the wedding. Geeta’s family now has to get a replacement for Geeta else the maternal-uncle’s wedding to Nathu’s sister is threatened. So Geeta’s family brings in Geeta’s cousin Savitri. Turns out that Savitri too is a minor and the police intervenes yet again. The resourceful family then scurries around frantically seeking a replacement and manages to find a 20yr old in the extended family for Nathu. All are smiles. Seems that had it not been able to get a girl for Nathu, the maternal-uncle would not have been able to marry Nathu’s sister.

The article also notes that the barter system, which was earlier restricted to the Bishnoi community, is now being adopted by Jat families too. But barter marriages are not a new concept to the Punjabi community either. There seems to be a difference though. Whereas the reported barter system in Haryana seeks to work around the low female to male sex ratio and the shortage of brides, barter marriages in the Punjabi community seems to be working around immigration issues. An article in a Canadian newspaper reprints a matrimonial ad:

Jat Sikh Canadian immigrant boy 29, 5’3″ seeks an Indian educated girl. Only those families should contact who can provide Canadian matrimonial alliance for his 33-year-old Indian resident brother, 5’5″.

It is likely that the community might soon see the message “I’ll get your son/daughter to Canada, you help get my niece/nephew out of India” changing to “I’ll get your son/nephew married, you help get my son/nephew get married”.


[Satta watta is the term in Pakistan for barter marriages. For a different take on this issue, you can download a paper here in which the authors empirically show that “watta satta may be a mechanism to coordinate the actions of two sets of in-laws, each of whom wish to restrain their sons-in-law but who only have the ability to restrain their sons. … The likelihood of marital inefficiency, as measured by estrangement, domestic abuse, and wife’s mental health, is significantly lower in watta satta arrangements as compared with conventional marriages, but only after properly accounting for selection.”]

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 18, 2009 4:27 pm

    We got to really appreciate the work done, very informative! keep it up.

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