Pakistan floods sweep away young woman's marriage hopes

Loss of a painstakingly accumulated dowry underlines impact of the disaster on the country's rural poor

Mureed Hussain sits amid flood-damaged furniture that was to be part of his daughter Nousheen's dowry. AFP
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Lorry driver Mureed Hussain was planning his daughter's October wedding when floodwater inundated his home, taking away the entire back wall and, with it, her hard-earned dowry.

“I had been collecting her dowry for almost three years,” Mr Hussain, a father of seven, said from the courtyard of his four-room house, which he shares with his brother's family.

“I would provide for the house and also spend a little on her dowry.”

Record monsoon rains have caused devastating floods across Pakistan since June, killing more than 1,200 people and leaving almost a third of the country under water, affecting the lives of 33 million.

The hardest hit are the poor in rural parts of the country, who have seen their homes, belongings, life savings and crops washed away.

Mr Hussain's village in Punjab province was badly affected, with floodwater destroying or damaging scores of buildings.

Also washed away were the marriage plans for his daughter, Nousheen.

Each month Mr Hussain would put away a couple of thousand rupees for her dowry from the 17,000-rupee ($80) salary he makes driving lorries.

It is customary for families in patriarchal Pakistan to provide extravagant dowries when a daughter is married.

In many areas, parents are expected to start saving up for their daughters' dowries from the day they are born.

While demanding a large dowry is officially banned by law, it is still a practice observed by many.

The families of grooms frequently present the parents of their future daughter-in-law with an extensive list of demands, including furniture, household goods and clothing.

In the case of wealthy families, it can even include cars and homes.

Failing to come up with the goods is considered shameful, and the bride often faces ill-treatment by her in-laws if a decent dowry is not provided.

“I wanted to marry off my other two daughters after her and one remaining son,” Mr Hussain said.

“I had thought I would be able to do it gradually.”

When the floods reached his home, Mr Hussain fled with his family to a nearby railway station on elevated land.

When the waters receded two days ago, he trudged home through the mud with his wife and daughters.

“They started crying when they saw the damage,” he said.

His wife, Sughra Bibi, became tearful again as she recalled her shock at the condition of the home — and her daughter's dowry.

Quote
I have seen how difficult it was for my parents to put this dowry together for me. Now they have to do it all over again

Over the years, Sughra had bought a custom-made bed set and dressing table, as well as a juicer, washing machine, iron, bedsheets and quilts.

Everything was badly damaged by the floodwater.

“It's blackened, so whoever sees it will say we have given her old things,” Sughra said.

With the wedding called off, Nousheen, 25, is putting on a brave face.

“It was supposed to be a happy time for my family, and I was very excited,” she said.

“I have seen how difficult it was for my parents to put this dowry together for me. Now they have to do it all over again.”

“It's such a big problem for us now,” Mr Hussain said.

“Should we rebuild our house, sow wheat or get our children married? All three things are so important for us.”

Updated: September 04, 2022, 10:33 AM
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